Meditation on Matthew 24:36-44
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Sunday of Advent
Nov. 27, 2022
My husband, Jim, and I traveled to see our family in Cambridge, Mass, on Thanksgiving. Did anyone else go out of town for Thanksgiving? Did any of you have family or friends from out of town visiting you? This was the first time we have been able to gather on Thanksgiving with our two granddaughters, 5 and 8, and their parents.
While many good memories were made on our trip, two things stand out to me as being especially good. One was when Grandpa Jim, who is usually very serious and extremely competitive, let 5-year-old Maddie beat him at chess. She was so proud to have “won”!
The other remarkable thing that happened was on the ferry ride back from New London. We were traveling with our toy poodle, Minnie, so we were sitting in a special area for people with pets and people who like pets and want to be near them. We had dogs of all sorts around us. At times, it sounded like a scene from the movie, 101 Dalmatians, when the puppies are stolen, and Pongo alerts the neighborhood dogs through the Twilight Bark.
A young couple with 4 or 5 children sat in a booth diagonal to us. The youngest was a girl of about 18 months. The others were boys. She was showing signs of fatigue right from the beginning of the one hour, 20-minute-long ferry ride. About 40 minutes into the journey, she started to cry inconsolably. Nothing the parents could do could calm her down.
One by one, the people in our pet section started to leave, until there were just a few of us left.
I sat there wishing there was something I could do to help, but I knew there wasn’t. Suddenly, a woman with a black lab came over to their table. Jim and I had ridden the elevator with the woman and her dog. The dog was old and could no longer walk up or down stairs. We could see large lumps on the dog’s back and neck.
The woman asked the little sobbing girl if she wanted to see her dog do some tricks. Although she was an old dog, she said, she was a smart dog and could still do tricks.
The crying stopped immediately. A hush fell over the room.
The woman bent over her dog and gave commands. The dog raised her paw to shake hands, she lay down, rolled over and “played dead.” Then the woman asked the little girl what else would she like the dog to do?
The little girl giggled, and yelled, “Sit!”
“Of course,” said the woman. “Sit,” she told the dog, and the dog who was too old to walk up and down stairs on the ferry sat—and brought joy and peace to a little girl and to all of us watching.
Maybe it was 10 minutes. That’s all the time it took from the woman’s journey. She didn’t have to come and visit the little girl and her family. But she did it, anyway—with the ease of someone who probably has done it many times before, perhaps for schools, hospitals, and nursing homes.
She said goodbye and walked away, smiling.
The girl waved and said, “Bye bye, dog! Bye bye!”
And the mother turned to Jim and me and said, “Thank you. Thank you for staying.”
In my mind, we hadn’t done a thing. Then I realized the Spirit had led us to stay—when others left to escape the crying child—and by staying, to be kind, a witness to the kindness of the Lord who says in Revelation 22:20, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
The One for whom we are waiting in hope and prayer,
“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
To help prepare us for Christ’s promised return, our reading in Matthew provides images from our Lord’s daily life and from the Scriptures Jesus learned from childhood. He compares his coming to a thief in the night and to the flood of Noah—a story that everyone in his faith community would know, just as most everyone knows the story today. We can imagine how those who didn’t know the flood was coming or believe in Noah’s God were doing ordinary things—eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. We can picture how it will be for us, when Jesus comes again, and we are working at jobs, some not so unlike the workers in the fields of Christ’s time and others preparing food for their families, like the women “grinding meal.”
I admit, the image of two in the field, “one will be taken, and one will be left” is unsettling. Is that unsettling for you? This phrase is repeated for emphasis in verse 41, “Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left.”
Honestly? I think it’s supposed to be unsettling. God’s word is meant to challenge and convict us, when we get too comfortable with our routine, our faith, and circle of friends and family. We can take for granted our salvation and forget about our neighbors who may not know the Lord. This passage helps us remember who we are, because of the gift of Jesus Christ. It reminds us that while we are waiting—not just for Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth, but in anticipation of our Savior’s return—we have work Christ himself has called us to do—sowing seeds; discipling the nations; nurturing faith in our children and youth; loving our neighbors; forgiving those who hurt us; feeding the hungry; gathering for worship, study, and prayer; healing and caring for the earth; and more.
When I read this passage about one being taken and one left, while the people are doing ordinary things, I can’t help but read it, also, through the lens of what is happening in our country. It is hard to hear about the violent acts committed against innocent people gathering in public places. And maybe it feels more terrible because of its seemingly randomness—lives taken, while other lives are left to grieve and try to heal from the trauma.
But let the grief stir us not to lash out in anger or to live in fear or to remain quiet and passive when the Lord stirs us to speak and act. My prayer is that our grief will help us to be more kind and seek understanding, wisdom, and reconciliation. For this is what Christ would want us to do—and we want the Lord to find us at our best, being faithful! As we wait and work in hope for peace, anticipating when all things will be made new. When Jesus comes again.
I near the end of my message today still thinking about the woman and her dog on the ferry—and the precious gift she gave that family—and to all of us who stayed.
I know what you are thinking. It isn’t going to change the world—these little acts of kindness. It won’t stop the violence, the seemingly random shootings in public places. But I promise you this: it will make a difference when we pray and respond to the Spirit’s leading and do what is right. It will change us.
When the pastor of Nanume Church invited me to share a message this afternoon, I was excited, and said yes. But then, last night, I suddenly felt nervous. I wondered if my knowing so little of the language and culture would be a barrier to my being able to connect with this congregation, share my heart, and be understood. Then, I thought, as I had when Pastor T.J. asked me, it’s the best way for me to get to know the flock. And it’s a good way for the flock to meet me and know my heart.
God reminded me that Nanume, like First Presbyterian Church, has come to hear what the Spirit is saying—and not my voice. And that, just as God needs us to stay and be present with people in need, the Lord also just needs us to be obedient and go where God desires to use us. We have to trust that when we get there, the Lord will accomplish God’s purposes.
The message is the same for all Christ’s followers. Be watchful and present, in this world, in the here and now. Don’t look back and dwell on yesterday’s flaws or missteps. Don’t worry about the future. While we are waiting in hope and working for peace, let us be ready for the One who is coming at an unexpected time, like a thief in the night.
The One who says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”
“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we thank you for the Spirit’s message today, to both our communities of faith under this one roof. Thank you for all the people who are Your Church and this beautiful place where we are being equipped for and doing ministry together in Christ’s name. Wake us up, Lord! Stir us from spiritual sleep. Slow us down in our busy-ness, especially this time of year. Open our eyes to the needs around us and lead us in your will. Strengthen us to be ready for your Son’s return at an unexpected time. And come quickly, Lord, and make all things new. We long to see your face and for every tear to be wiped away. Fulfill your promise, “I am coming soon.” Amen.