Matthew 24: 36-44
“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.
Kate is a pastor friend of mine who lives in Maryland. A few years ago she met a guy. They fell in love and he asked her to marry him and she said yes! They set the date for their wedding. May 21, 2011. Soon after setting the date, Kate Googled her special date and found that Harold Camping, President of Family Stations Inc. had determined that there was incontrovertible Biblical evidence that May 21, 2011 would be the end of the world!
Well, it turned out that we all enjoyed her wedding. We did go outside at the appointed hour and, who would have thunk it! Nothing happened! Jesus, Paul and all the early Christians suspected that the end would be “soon” but never offered a date. Instead they advised us to live each day ready for Christ’s return. “Soon,” however, took longer than people thought it should, and ever since then folks have been unsuccessfully predicting the end. Here’s just the smallest sampling of a few of the more interesting failures:
- 90 - Saint Clement
- 400 - St. Martin of Tours
- 500 - The antipope Hippolytus (round numbers are popular.)
- 992 - Good Friday and the Annunciation fell on the same day and the Germans thought that would be the end.
- 1000 – Lots of panic…another round number and lots of people gave their stuff to the church in preparation for the end. By the way, the Church didn’t give it back when it turned 1001.
- 1179 – based on the alignment of planets
- 1284 – Pope Innocent III predicted the end by adding 666 to the year Islam was founded.
- 1496 – which was 1500 years after Jesus was born.
- 1533 – which was 1500 years after Jesus’ death, Melchior Hoffman predicts the New Jerusalem to come to Strasburg Germany.
- 1669 – the Old Believers in Russia predicted the end and 20,000 people burned themselves to death to avoid the antichrist.
- 1794 – Charles Wesley liked this year for the end.
- 1832 – 1890 - Joseph Smith founder of the Mormon church predicted the end before he turned 85. He would have been 85 in 1890 if he hadn’t died in 1844, which, it seems he also didn’t see coming.
- March 21, 1843 – William Miller of the Millerites predicted this day.
- October 22, 1844 – William Miller’s second try, billed as “The Great Anticipation” is now remembered in history as “The Great Disappointment”.
- 1850 and beyond – Ellen White founder of the Seventh Day Adventists predicted the end a lot.
- 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994 were all dates for the end predicted by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- 1919 – Meterologist Albert Porta predicted the conjunction of 6 planets would generate a magnetic field that would explode the sun.
- April 22, 1959 – Florence Houteff, founder of the Branch Davidians predicted this end. Only a few members remained when this didn’t happen.
- 1960 – based on secrets hidden in the dimensions of the great pyramids.
- 1981 – Predicted by Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
- 1982 – Predicted by Pat Robertson. (and people still listen to him)
- 1988 – Hal Lindsey author of the "The Late Great Planet Earth" predicted the end this year, and 2007 and now 2018.
- 1994 – Harold Camping (Yes, the same guy)
- 2000 – Y2K…enough said.
- March 24, 2002 – Paul Smirnov predicts God will destroy the world with an asteroid hitting the Oscars ceremony. Later that year he tried October 26 and when that didn’t work Nov. 8.
- March 21, 2008 – The Lord’s Witnesses predicted this date which was 666 Hebrew months after the founding of the U.N. the world didn’t end and the U.N. didn’t take over the world.
- 2009 – Jerry Falwell predicted in 1999 that the end would be in the next ten years.
And THAT is just the highlight reel! When I looked at all the end of the world predictions I could find, just in my lifetime there were almost 70! In spite of the lesson we read today telling us nobody knows, not even JESUS knows, people still try to predict it and they do it because they really, really want to be in control. They WANT to be in control but the reality is that we aren’t in any more control of our lives today than the people were in Jesus’ day.
Back then, two people would be working in the field and one would just die, right there, for no apparent reason. Back then a couple of people would be working at the mill and one would drop dead and the other wouldn’t. There was no reason why it was one instead of the other and there was no way to predict that it was about to happen. That’s how life was back in the days of Jesus and you know what… it really hasn’t changed, has it?
When I was a volunteer fire fighter I saw people every time I was paged out that had not been able to predict the day before that they would need a firefighter or an EMT the day we pulled up in the truck. A young, apparently healthy person suddenly had a massive heart attack. A family returned home from eating dinner out to find their home burned to the ground. They simply had no way to know! Like the lesson says, “if the owner of the house would have known in what part of the night the thief was going to break in, they would have stopped it.” If that women knew she was going to have a massive heart her husband would have driven her to the hospital before it happened. If that family knew their house was going catch on fire that night they wouldn’t have gone out for dinner and stayed home with fire extinguishers at the ready.
No matter how badly we hate it, the fact remains that we are not in control. We don’t know when the end will be and what Jesus is trying to tell us here in this lesson, is that we don’t really NEED to know. The fact is, only God knows and confidentially I've got to tell you, God can and does handle it without our help.
Knowing you aren’t in control can either drive you crazy or it can set you free. God intended our not knowing to set us free. Because we have been freed of needing to know about that end of the world stuff, then we can take all the time we would have used worrying about that and use it doing what God has called us to be doing out in the world. We can be ready for Jesus to return someday in the future by being ready for Jesus to return right now and that means living this life we’ve been given doing what God has called us to do.
So what is it that we have been called to do? Well, as we start this new year with Matthew’s Gospel, we’re going to hear that Matthew tends to be pretty clear about what God is calling us to do with all that free time we now have since we gave up worrying about the end of the world.
We are to bear fruit - both telling people about how God wants our world to work and practicing the radical forgiveness, love and inclusion that Jesus taught to try and make the world work that way.
We are to worship God and live in community. Private rooms may be good for prayer but God says we need each other and when a few of us get together, Christ is with us, and we’re all better for the company.
We are to teach each other God’s way of living in this world, which Jesus neatly summed up as “loving God and loving neighbor.”
We are to practice good stewardship; caring for one another and the earth we have been given and get rid of the things that compete with God for our attention and allegiance.
We are called to work for justice to be done in the world. To be merciful; lift up the lowly, care for the poor, the widows and the orphans. Work against poverty, ostracism, hunger, disease, demons and debt; the things that prevent others from having the life God intends.
We are called to be pure in heart; to have an integrity that can be seen by others. To say what we mean and act on what we believe and finally to be peacemakers; working for reconciliation in our community and in our world.
It turns out that we have quite a lot God would like us to do. We really don’t have any extra time to worry about the end of the world in the future or rehash what’s happened in the past. All it seems we have time for is living our lives to the fullest right now and Advent is meant to be a season to remind us of that and remind us again to let God take care of the rest. Amen.