“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.”
Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
I think if I was completely honest with myself, I hate surprises. To be fair, I have had some wonderfully surprising moments in my life, but I typically like things to be predictable and well within my understanding. If I know something is coming, I can prepare for it and be ready when it arrives. Like when friends or family show up for dinner. It is great to know when they will arrive so I can be ready. If I don’t expect them, I panic a bit that I am not prepared to be hospitable. It can even be a little weird if they show up much earlier than expected when I am caught in the process of preparing and now have to spend time entertaining while trying to prepare. It’s tough to think you are prepared, but then end up being surprised and caught unprepared.
This reading for the first week of Advent sets the Advent stage with the story of Noah. Genesis 6 tells us that shortly after Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, things had gotten so bad that God was grieved he had even started this whole Earth and Humanity business. God decides to push the reset button on Creation by sending a great flood to rinse off the Earth and start from a clean slate. God chooses Noah, a righteous man who “walked with God”, to participate with him in this new beginning. God tells Noah to build and Ark and that it should be able to hold Noah’s family and a whole bunch of animals. Here’s the interesting thing that stuck out to me in this story as I was thinking about it in light of Advent.
God never tells Noah *when* the flood will actually happen. It’s going to be a bit of a surprise.
Well, eventually God does. In chapter 7 of Genesis, God tells Noah that it’s time to get in the ark because the flood will come in 7 days. But, God never tells Noah when the flood is coming until it is practically about to start raining. There were no weather forecasters in Noah’s day to predict when a large rain storm would be coming. There were signs, sure, but you probably never knew more than a few hours or a day or so in advance when it might rain. So, if we put ourselves in Noah’s shoes he has been told that there’s going to be a flood that will cover the Earth and he needs to build a boat big enough to carry a couple of zoos worth of animals, his family and food to feed them all, and…that’s it. The flood is coming at an unexpected hour.
There’s no timetable or deadline God gives for when Noah has to have the ark built by.
There’s no angel project manager descending from Heaven to oversee the project for Noah.
There’s no clue, hint or forecast.
There is only preparation and expectation.
Noah had to build the ark and prepare for the flood with only the expectation that a flood would happen someday. So it was with the Israelites in Jesus’ day as they were expecting and preparing for a Messiah that God had promised would come. Even this week as we lit the first candle of Advent, do we expect our Messiah to return someday. Not on a day that we had planned for, but on a day just like any other day. A day when people are eating, drinking, working and living life. As we light the candles of Advent we prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus the Messiah who has come already and who is coming again. Each candle lit, each song sung, each story read and each meal shared, are like nails hammered and wooden boards placed on the ark. Each step preparing ourselves for the new beginning that is promised when Christ returns. As we expect the return and prepare our hearts the surprise will not be like the arrival of unwelcome guests, but for guests we have been expecting and are ready to welcome in. Like Noah who had prepared the ark, when God finally told him it was time, Noah was ready. The animals showed up, the rains came down and the Ark floated over the rushing, roaring and chaotic waters of the flood.
May we be ready this season and prepared for the new beginning we expect in God’s Advent. A new beginning that is both already and not yet.