Rev. Rachel Fay Beam is an ordained UCC pastor who has served congregations in both Pennsylvania and Connecticut. She currently resides in Bethel, CT.
Scripture: Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Reflection: Still Here
Some years ago, I read an article in which the author maintained that our homes are less likely to be burglarized by strangers than they are by people we know. Burglary, this author said, is a crime of opportunity. A friend stops by to visit and pockets a pretty item found between the bathroom and the kitchen. A neighbor who knows our habits sees that we have accidentally left our door open as we left for work. The neighbor walks in and filches a few items that look interesting. In other words, I suppose, if we are looking for danger “out there,” we may be surprised to find it much closer to home.
Isn’t that part of the point of this multi-faceted text from Matthew? Here’s Jesus, someone we think we know pretty well, comparing himself to a thief breaking into a home. This “thief” seeks to capture our attention, not with a thunderous, glaring entrance, but with silent stealth, in the night. He calls us simply to pay attention, to become more and more alert as the day dawns. He instructs us to remember who has already been “left behind” in this world. He calls us out of hiding in the darkness of fear and into the light of love. In the conclusion to this great sermon, he reminds us of our task: to follow Jesus is to remember the injunction, “I was hungry, and you gave me food….” When did we see you, Jesus?
This First Sunday of Advent reminds us that we are in the “almost-but-not-yet” of God’s kin-dom, that beyond the cradle comes the cross, beyond life comes death, and, ultimately, beyond death comes resurrection. Matthew’s text sets us up to welcome the baby, yes, but to look beyond the baby to the adult Jesus and, ultimately, to the crucified and risen Christ. We live out what one preacher calls our “quiet apocalypses” – illness, addiction, fear, division, loss – and if we understand anything about the One who comes like a thief in the night, we remember that he is present with us, in all of our mini-deaths and mini-resurrections. And, once we realize that he is present for us, it begins to dawn on us that he is present for everyone else, too, even those whom we fear or dislike.
The “Son of Man” does not come to us with trumpets, but with the quiet insistence of a thief on a mission. He is looking for an opportunity. We may carefully guard our houses, but the thief just may find an unlocked door or an open window, and, if our guard is down, he will enter the humble manger beds of our hearts and change our lives. And then we will awaken to the dangerous truth: we can’t miss him – we will find him in the immigrant child, or the disabled veteran in crisis, or the vulnerable senior on a fixed income – those whom the world says should be left behind, socially, politically, economically. Why, Jesus may even walk into one of our sanctuaries and take a seat in a pew. Will we recognize him then? Will we be awake enough even to see him? Will we welcome him to worship? Will we speak with him during coffee hour?
Jesus was born quietly in a manger, with only farm animals and humble shepherds to witness his birth. And Jesus still steals quietly to earth like a thief in the night, perhaps in the pricking of a conscience awaking to new life. His is not a rapturous, thunderous entrance, but our own quiet awakening to the daylight of his presence, knowing that Jesus has never gone anywhere. He is still here. We are still here. And there is no time like the present to follow Jesus and do good in this world. That way, no one will be left behind – in this world or the next.
Holy One, may we be awake to the presence of the crucified and risen Christ in our hearts, in our world, and in our lives. Help us to keep watch for Christ’s presence in all of our kin, so that we may not miss his coming into our lives. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the safety of those traveling this week for the holiday
- For those grieving for two boys shot to death while sitting in a car in an elementary school parking lot in Union City, CA
- For those grieving or suffering after a shooting in Cottonport, LA which left 2 dead and 2 injured (this is the 380th mass shooting in 2019)
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the generosity of soup kitchens, food pantries, and organizations which provide holiday meals for those who cannot afford them
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches In Your Prayers:
First Congregational Church of East Hartford, UCC
South Congregational Church, UCC
The First Church in Hartland, Congregational
First Congregational Church of East Haven
First Congregational Church of East Windsor, UCC
This Week in History:
November 25, 1999 (20 years ago) The United Nations designates November 25 as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Countries in Latin America had recognized the day since 1981, but a resolution brought by the Dominican Republic was formally passed by the UN stating that UN nation would recognize the day. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are subjected to severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”