Matthew 24:36-44 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 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, 39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 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. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
This year in the Advent season we are going to be using materials from the group known as Sanctified Art. They are the creators of the pictures that we used last year called “Faces of Faith.” This season of Advent they have created a series of art work entitled, “What Can’t Wait” and then they use the four Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. We also have some black and whites that they created for you to color. As I mentioned before please feel free to color your bulletins and we will display them throughout the Advent season in the fellowship hall. You do not have to put any names on them, so let your creativity shine as a light this season.
Our first painting is created by Hannah Garrity. It is entitled “Swords into Plowshares”. This painting is tied to the Isaiah text. She asks two questions. “What is God’s view of the world?” and “What does God plan for this world?” The prophetic book of Isaiah actually has two beginnings. The first chapter is filled with doom and gloom about the state of Israel and how the Lord will punish the people for their iniquities. But the second chapter of Isaiah gives us hope for a future that involves, “Beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isa 2:4b)
Garrity writes, “Here in acrylic on canvas, a man wields a grinder, burnishing the edges of a sword that has been reformed into a plow. Growth, not death; care, not fear. The simple analogy of the swords transformed into the plowshare reminds us that peace is at the heart of all that God envisions for this world.”
Advent is like comfort food for those who gather for worship, especially for those whom the church feels like home this time of year. It is Mac-n-cheese and meat loaf all wrapped together to help us feel at home in the church world. So often we listen to the verses and we see ourselves trying to fit into a prophecy that is hard to understand. Yet we look at the world from a point of view that is human-to-human rather than the vertical relationship between God and human. Isaiah warns that the all-consuming emphasis of society keeps us focused on the earthly issues and God wants our eyes fixed on God.
Garrity writes, “How might you make God’s vision come into reality?” When we shift our focus from the end of times known as eschatology to ethics our view changes. Jesus reminds us that we are called to serve one another. When we treat our neighbors, no matter where they came from ethically, we see God’s promise in caring for one another come to life. This is the theme of the first week of Advent, hope. We have hope for a better tomorrow and it does not come in worrying about the future but in making our corner of the world a little better.
Our second painting is by Lauren Wright Pittman and it is entitled “Peace Without Your Walls”. The text that she used was Psalm 122. She writes, “We all desire peace and security for ourselves, our families, and our communities. It seems; however, we often disagree about how to achieve peace and security, and about who is deserving of such well-being. Often, those who have realized even a baseline sense of peace and security quickly forget what it was like to be without. Fear creeps in and we separate ourselves with walls and isolate ourselves within towers. We worship and exist with people like us because it feels safe. We hoard peace and security as though they are finite resources, and elevate our own peace and security above that of other nations. We pray for ourselves, even if our answered prayers result in our neighbor’s harm. This self-focused, defensive ideology is becoming increasingly pervasive in the United States, and it’s finding strongholds in other countries too. Powerful people appeal to this inward-turning gaze, stoking fears and encouraging division.
This text celebrates refuge. As we know well from the news and the growing volatility at our borders, there are many who have become refugees—those seeking security and peace—while those within their walls and towers seek the good of themselves.
When I began to paint this piece, I kept wondering how walls and peace can coexist, but if I’m honest, if true shalom were to be realized, there would be no need for walls or towers. For me, peace looks like open doors leading out of the confinement of stone walls and into a field of poppies. For me, peace looks like flowers scaling walls, weakening the strength of stone foundations, and over time, bringing the barriers down. Peace looks like open arms—open to the difficult work of welcoming peace, and open to receiving the boundless gifts of a truly peaceful world.”
That’s powerful. I am struck by the walls that we too often build in our hearts to keep us from experiencing the peace that the Psalmist writes of in verse 7&8. “Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers. For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘peace be within you.’” There are so many levels to this peace. We pass the peace each week, but do we mean it? Is it just a way to say hello, or is it a way to truly wish peace within our neighbors? In order to wish that type of peace, it means we need to get to know them. How well do we know the people that we gather with each week? Do we ask them? Do we open ourselves up to those we gather with? Do we stay and have fellowship? Or do we dash out the door and on to the next thing. This Advent season we are called to live in an alternative lifestyle: Living in Advent.
Our third piece of artwork is by Sarah Are and inspired by Matthew 24:36-44. It is the bulletin cover, that some of you have been busy coloring. She writes, “When I was a little girl, my mom asked me to recount the best part of my day every night before bed. If I had a bad day I would promptly tell her that nothing was good. There were zero positive moments. However, my patient mother would not accept that answer. Before I could sleep, I had to name at least one thing worth celebrating. This ritual taught me to look for the good in my days, and in many ways, I think that is what this text is inviting us to do.
For years people have wondered how to interpret this particular scripture. Is it implying that God will come and some will be left behind, or that some are being called forward into new lives with new vocational callings? How do we understand verbs such as “taken” or “keep awake”?
When I read this scripture, the thing that stands out is how love surprises us. Throughout scripture, God’s love for this world and for humanity shocks the system. Tables are turned, people are healed, the outcasts are seen, children are welcomed, and boundaries are broken.
In this Advent season, I think we are invited to look for God in our midst—to look for the surprising places that love shows up. We are challenged to stay awake so that life and the divine do not pass us by.
The repetitive language of fields and water led me to create the line drawings around the text. As I began to draw, I was able to see the worker’s fields described in the text, as well as the Shepherd’s fields, and the scenery Mary and Joseph may have passed on their way to Bethlehem. These simple lines serve as a reminder that God’s surprising love and grace shows up in ordinary places along the way.”
It is a challenge. Matthew calls us to live in a world precisely because of Advent. Precisely because we have hope that God is doing God things in our midst every day. The hope of Advent is found within us. We are called to pass God’s hope for God’s people to those we encounter. May you have hope, each and every day. Amen.