Audio Worship, 12/17/2023, "Advent Readiness" Matthew 24.36-44

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1617

December 17, 2023 - Advent 3

Matthew 24.36-44              Click here for audio worship.

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“Advent Readiness”


36“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master 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. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.



  • Christmas Preparations


There are two gospels that tell us about the birth of Christ, Matthew and Luke. In Matthew’s gospel we begin with Jesus’ family tree. The birth narrative then proceeds to tell us that Mary is expecting and then Joseph has a dream explaining the whole situation. Only one verse actually speaks of the actual birth, “she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus” (Matthew 1.25). Matthew chapter 2 then tells of the visit of the wise men and Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt and later their return to Nazareth.

Luke’s version is more detailed and expands to include both the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist as well as Jesus. The angel Gabriel visits Mary to tell her what is to come in giving birth to Jesus. Mary visits Elizabeth, the soon to be mother of John the Baptist. In Luke 2 we have the actual account of Jesus’ birth which is longer than Matthew’s version. The narrative tells of the census being taken which sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and the birth takes place there. It is in this story that we get the details of the manger and no room at the inn. Luke tells us of the shepherds in the field who have a visit from the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

We put those two gospel presentations together to visualize our manger scenes and delight in the good news of Christ’s Advent into the world. We consider the wise men and the gifts given to Jesus, as well as the gift of Jesus to us so that giving gifts has become a tradition in our practice of faith and even among those who may not believe in Jesus, people exchange gifts in the workplace, among friends, and with family. It is so deeply ingrained in our cultural practice, and certainly in our religious practice, that it might never be eliminated by the enemies of God as an intricate aspect of our December calendar.

Most of us, if not all, are in the stage of preparation to celebrate Christmas. Gifts are being purchased or made, travel plans underway, decorations up, menus planned, and a host of other details to honor and celebrate Christmas.

I heard an updated version of a famous Christmas song that has a new lyric. Andy Williams released It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year in 1963,

It's the most wonderful time of the year, With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you, "Be of good cheer!" It's the most wonderful time of the year.
It's the
hap-happiest season of all, With those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call. It's the hap- happiest season of all.

I do not know who was singing the version I heard on the radio recently, but the change came in this way, “With those holiday greetings and great happy meetings”. Some words of old have changed a great deal over the years. Several Christmas songs from that era may need some new lyrics. But it is a shame that it even needs changing. As I heard that change, I thought about how sad it is that we have to deal with new meanings for old words. But I also thought about how we will have all these things corrected with another great event in the Bible. Christ’s First Advent brought the good news of salvation and His Second Advent will bring restoration to all things. While we prepare for Christmas, we can also look forward to a new day in Christ coming again.

Matthew’s gospel inspires us to be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus speaks to the disciples about the signs of His coming and that no one knows when Christ will return, except for God the Father. But Jesus says two things about our responsibility toward that day: stay awake and be ready. Stay awake so that we might be attentive to the signs of Christ’s Advent. Be ready all the time because we do not know when Christ’s Advent will break through.


  • Stay Awake for Advent


Therefore, stay awake – Stay awake so that we might be attentive to the signs of Christ’s Advent. What does it mean to stay awake? How do we stay awake? Awareness? Stay on God’s path? Make preparation through prayer, worship, Bible reading? Yes!


Stay awake because you do not know when!


Two Sunday’s ago I read from Isaiah and his vision of God’s Advent into the world:

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the
Lord from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Last Sunday I read from Paul’s metaphor in Romans of what I called Advent clothing:

11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.


I think when we combine Jesus’ words with Isaiah’s vision and Paul's metaphor, we are called to be ready by keeping the vision of God’s prophetic imagination always before us. The teaching is that we cannot forget that Jesus will return. We “see” (in Isaiah’s vision) that Christ is returning, we “see” it in the Word, and we consider how that vision affects how we will live today in a world with troubling problems. That is, because we see the coming of Christ, we cloth ourselves in the things of God, with the armor of light. During this Advent time, we are able to rejoice in the vision of Christ’s return, affirming for the world that there is a new future, there is more to come that is good news. In this way we stay awake!


  • Be Ready for Advent


The second way Jesus speaks of preparation, is readiness. Therefore, be ready - Be ready all the time because we do not know when Christ’s Second Advent will break through. What does it mean to be ready? How do we ready ourselves? The promise is that He will come again, but the promise is not given a time line.

Isaiah and Matthew affirm a connection between vision and readiness. Our readiness depends on how well we see Isaiah’s vision and Christ’s Advent. Our readiness is marked by how the vision of God’s activity and promise shape our lives, or as Paul forms it, what we will wear. The invitation for Advent is to stay focused on what will be. We stay focused in Advent on what shall be and who shall come. That is why Advent is a crucial season in the life of the Church. Advent tempers the Christmas frenzy of our society and culture by enabling us to look to God’s coming reign in accordance with Isaiah’s vision and Paul’s teaching. It allows us to remind the world that it is not just about giving gifts, but goes far beyond that to the coming Savior and the coming again of the Lord and Savior. Believers need not worry about today’s troubles, for God has promised a better day. We do not know when that day will come, but it will come. It will come. Advent reminds us that it will come and that we can find our way through today because of the promise of a new day to come. Be ready. Share in Isaiah’s vision and in Paul’s teaching. Be like wise virgins in the parable:


Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25.1-13)


The Chosen TV series has an ongoing humorous take on the word “soon”. Jesus is coming soon. How soon is soon? A day, a month, one thousand years? Jesus has this conversation in the show with Simon Peter and I trust they took that ongoing humor from Peter’s second letter in the New Testament, But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3.8).

I am looking forward to Christmas – the joy of Christmas morning, the excitement of the season. But I am also not ready to rush too quickly because I want to be ready and I want us to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man. I hope we will all share in Isaiah’s vision and in Paul’s metaphor of wearing the armor of light. For Advent is a season of great vision, a season to make proper preparation by what we “put off” and “put on”, and a season of great readiness. For the time is coming when all will see, along with us, the future of God’s promise and will see the coming of the Son of Man. Stay awake and be ready. Amen.