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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Time’s Up!

First Sunday in Advent

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24:36-44

Happy New Year! That’s right – today is the first Sunday in Advent, the first day of a brand new Church Year. The short Advent season begins at the 4th Sunday before Christmas and continues up to Christmas Eve. The word “advent” means literally “to come” and looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, or as the Greeks would say, the Christ.

Since the season builds up to Christmas, we naturally think of the coming of Jesus the Christ as a baby – as one of us – but also still as God. God in the flesh. God incarnate, we call Him. The birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary is the event pictured on our Christmas cards, sung about in most of our Advent hymns, and pictured in our manger scenes. And, of course, this is all right and proper – and very good. But, the season of Advent also speaks about the Second Coming of Christ – “when He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” (Nicene Creed) We don’t speak or sing as much about His Second Coming as we do his First Coming – and that’s because at His First Coming He came to die for us – to pay for our sins on the cross – to redeem us with His blood – to reconcile us with God. That’s the Gospel – the good News of salvation and eternal life through Christ.

But the Second Coming is also very relevant, for the day is coming when Jesus “will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then He will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:32-34,41,46)

In our Gospel lesson today Jesus spoke of His Second Coming. You have a little hymn in your worship folder, “For God So Loved The World.” It speaks of both Jesus’ First and Second Comings.

“For God so loved the world He gave His only Son To die on Calvary’s tree From sin to set me free; Some day He’s coming back, What glory that will be! Wonderful His love to me.”

Now I’d like to read you an Advent story. I like it – I hope you do, too!

If things kept up like this he wasn’t going to get anything done all morning. After the telephone calls, that paper-jam in the copier, and now this, he was beginning to feel that it was pointless to try.

She stepped into his office, “Sorry to interrupt you Pastor, I know you are busy, but I need to talk to you!” She went on to tell him about a problem a dear friend of hers was having, and how it would be really “nice” if the pastor could stop by for a visit sometime. Soon. He wanted to say that if people would just stop bothering him long enough to get his work done he would be glad to go out and visit, but he smiled instead and thanked her for stopping. She had gotten his attention. Four other members had stopped by in the last two days worried about the same couple. One of those worriers was even a son of the couple. He believed it was Shem, although he never could tell Shem, Ham, and Japheth apart. And they all said the same thing. They were concerned about them. Well, not both of them exactly, mostly just about the husband.

And that wasn’t all. Just yesterday, during his Kiwanis luncheon, the pastor overheard others at the table talking under their breath about how the old man had “gone off the deep end,” and that, obviously, “retirement just didn’t suit him well.” Apparently all that extra time on his hands had gotten to be more than he could handle. Somebody said it looked like “The old guy’s oil didn’t even register on the dipstick anymore!” The pastor couldn’t help but chuckle along. It was all so strange.

The couple had made great plans for retirement. They would plant a huge garden, he would tend his roses, and they would take plenty of time for travel. But the only traveling he did was back and forth, to and from the lumberyard. In the backyard, the rose bed and the spot staked out for the garden, was covered over by this big, uh, wooden thing.

By the way, the guy down at the lumberyard felt a bit guilty about selling the old man all that lumber. And the nails. Noah was no carpenter, and bent more than he drove in. But the old man had made it clear that if he couldn’t buy his materials there, he’d just get them someplace else, and, after all, business is business.

But none of this was news to the pastor. He had been aware of what was going on for months. It had all started back that week when Noah told his Sunday school class (which he had taught for 27 years) about the dreams he had been having. Since that morning, a couple of class members had made it their mission to keep the pastor informed as to what was being taught. Each week it had become stranger and stranger, and the pastor had begun to wonder how to talk to the old man about retiring (without hurting his feelings) when one Sunday morning after class he walked right into the pastor’s office and resigned. It seemed he just didn’t have the time to prepare a lesson each week and still get enough work done on the “project.” And, he said without a smile, “I’m almost out of time.” It sounded a lot like this retirement was really getting him down.

But about this thing in the backyard. At first the neighbors were intrigued. They all thought it was kind of cute to see the old guy out there climbing around with his hammers and saws, although some mornings he started hammering way too early, and some evenings kept sawing way too late. And it was cute how his wife kept yelling at him about how she knew he was going to fall off the ladder and break every bone in his body.

And it was kind of fun to try and guess just what it was that he was hammering and sawing on. First, it was a deck for the yard, then a greenhouse for the roses, then a garage. By now they were betting on a very big greenhouse, but thought there really should be more windows. And no one could understand why he built it to look so dog-gone much like a boat, until someone remembered that his hometown had been over on the river and that it must bring back some pleasant memories for him.

But it was getting way too big. The cuteness was beginning to wear as thin as the sunlight that was getting to the neighbor’s flowerbed. It seems that a windowless-greenhouse-shaped-like-a-big-boat casts one whale of a shadow! There definitely was a zoning problem. Those same neighbors had a backyard wedding set for next Monday afternoon for their only daughter, and this pile of wood cast its shadow all over those well-made, and highly-paid plans.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the camels. And the elephants, and the chickens, and the lizards, and the penguins. Enough, after all, was most definitely enough. When they asked him about moving the shadow the old man mumbled between nails “There just isn’t time,” which left them with no choice.

On Friday afternoon, the papers were filed at the courthouse. They would be served first thing Monday morning. The “Big Boat” as it had come to be called, would be dismantled and carried away in time before the big wedding. So would the old man. This latter part was the reluctant decision of the old guy’s family who felt that some time in a safe, peaceful setting might help him come to terms with the “stresses of retirement.” Monday morning would come as quite a surprise. The family called to ask if the pastor would be there as well, to help them help him understand.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the surprise came one day early. It was midway through the second hymn on Sunday morning. “Crazy Old Noah” was sitting in his usual every-Sunday seat, with his family looking rather embarrassed as everyone smiled at them. The pastor closed his hymnbook and started to reach for his sermon notes. But right at the spot where folks usually sang “Amen,” God sang instead. It was a bass note. It kind of rumbled around the sanctuary, and down the street outside the church, bouncing off the bank and the furniture store, just thundering its way to wherever thunder goes. And it started to rain! Now, you need to understand that it never rains around here this time of year. But it was raining! Everyone got up and walked to the doors and windows to watch. The pastor saw old Noah just sit there in his seat. The old fool let out a big sigh, looked up at the preacher and said, “Time’s up!”

All that the pastor could think as he looked around was that if the rain kept up like this, there probably wasn’t going to be any wedding tomorrow afternoon after all.

Jesus said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You don’t know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:32,33) One of these days, right in the middle of our busy schedules, God is going to say, “Time’s up!”


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