It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…

Heritage Presbyterian Church

1st Sunday of Advent 
November 27, 2022

Scripture reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

I’m sure you’re all familiar somewhat with that favorite old Christmas song, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”  In the song, the singer points out all the things – obvious things – that are beginning to show up and reveal to the observer that Christmas is getting closer.  That old nostalgic tune points to things like:

“Take a look at the five and ten, it’s glistening once again

With candy canes and silver lanes that glow.”

Or: “There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well

The sturdy kind that doesn’t mind the snow.”

In our own time, it might be a little difficult to look around and tell for certain that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas because in the stores, it’s looked like Christmas since early September…

Still, you get the point.  Just by looking around, you can tell what’s beginning to happen.

This skill can be used to also look at what else it’s beginning to look a lot like…

  • It’s beginning to look like the Houston Texans are going to have another dreadful season;
  • It’s beginning to look like there will be no hurricanes in Texas this season…which is becoming a rare thing;
  • It’s beginning to look like all American politicians have forgotten what it says in the US Constitution…that in order to run for President, you must be at least 35 years old. So far, our major candidates are miles from this point.
  • It’s really beginning to look like Christmas, especially now that Thanksgiving is over and the shopping has begun! 

The Scripture readings for Advent are all used to bring us to the celebration of Christmas Eve when Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world.  Yet, the whole story begins with an unusual skip in the whole Jesus story, namely it skips to a discussion of the End of the World when Jesus will undergo his Second Coming.

My message from two weeks ago was Luke’s take on this discussion, but today’s text is from Matthew.  Think of the great and wonderful scenes that appeared in your mind when you heard Luke’s version, and compare that with the version from Matthew the Tax Collector, the detail man, the “just-the-facts-ma’am” writer.  Now we have a version in which we picture exactly how it will go down – two working, one will be taken, and one left behind.  We also get an Old Testament comparison to the days of Noah when nonbelievers ignored everything until the floodwaters overwhelmed them.  

There’s your details, there’s your facts:

  • Overwhelming like the days of Noah
  • Two working but only one taken
  • Only God knows the date and time.

Now we have one more thing to look at: a transition from the predictions described in Luke’s version to the exhortations to the faithful who wait for the Second Coming in Matthew’s version.

Matthew’s version also emphasizes that Jesus did not know the date…neither did the angels or the saints or anyone else.  So, asking is a waste of time.  And speculating is a foolish waste of time.  And claiming that you actually know because God told you is a dirty lie.  Throughout history, there have always been those Christians who were not satisfied with this uncertainty, even though Jesus clearly addressed this point.

Jesus told us what to look for…he didn’t tell us when it would occur.

To me, it looks like Jesus answered the question – and we didn’t like the answer.  I read a commentary that called that type of thinking “spiritual arrogance” because it presumes to pry into God’s secret plan.  It also reminds us of our disobedience in the Garden of Eden when God told Adam and Eve they could go anywhere and eat any of the fruits they saw, but they must not eat from one specific tree.  “Leave it alone!” in other words.

Compare this to Christmas in my house:

  • Presents hidden in closets, perhaps even wrapped up.
  • Presents under the tree.
  • LEAVE THEM ALONE.  This is not the time!

The next section of the reading for today refers to our reactions on that day that only the Father knows.  First, we are reminded of people’s reactions to the work Noah and his sons were doing; the people laughed at Noah and went right on doing what they were already doing…right up until the rain began to fall.  

“It’s beginning to look like rain” is a little too late.

Then we have those unsettling pictures of two people working side by side, one is taken and one is left behind.  Truly a frightening spectacle if you are the one left behind.  And this certainly seems to fit the description in the popular book series and movie set called “Left Behind.”  The “Rapture” is what this phenomenon is commonly called.  One of the big problems with this interpretation is the Greek verb that used in these scenes.  It’s beginning to look like a clear example of the Rapture until you know that the Greek verb is often mistranslated as “taken” when in fact, it actually means “received.”  If one is taken, that has a negative connotation, even if it means taken by Jesus.  Whereas, it one is received, as in received in the Kingdom of God…see the difference?

The debate over this portion of the Bible continues…and it’s beginning to look like most people would rather ignore that verb or go with the interpretation they saw in the movies.  But maybe… we don’t know what’s going to happen.  Maybe we really don’t.

The Lord also warns that this Second Coming will occur like a thief in the night.  Again, a very scary, negative connotation!  If you hear that phrase “thief in the night” you are instantly on guard and ready for trouble.  In fact, you are ready to fight and protect and shoot and go down swinging to the last soldier…by God!

But here’s the thing to look for: Jesus was comparing the unexpectedness of that coming, NOT how it was going to occur.  Jesus is hardly a thief in anyone’s night.  He is not coming back to sneak into your house, steal your children, and then run away leaving you without them.  Does that sound like the Jesus you know and love and worship?

Again, it’s beginning to look like Jesus is using his words very effectively to get us to be alert, to pay attention, and to be ready when he comes again.  He does not want his followers to be surprised!

What else is something we should also see?  What else fits into the phrase “it’s beginning to look like…?”

  • It’s beginning to look like church attendance is falling all over the country.  Oh no!  I guess that means the church is dying!  I guess that means Jesus will be coming back soon!
  • It’s beginning to look like we are experiencing pandemic weariness as rates of RSV and the flu are skyrocketing, which means more vaccines we have to take, more mask wearing we have to do, more washing our hands, more covering our coughs, more staying home from work when we are sick, and all that! Oh no! I guess that means our population is dying.     I guess that means Jesus will be coming back soon!  
  • It’s beginning to look like we need Jesus to come back RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW!  BECAUSE WE CAN’T POSSIBLY HANDLE THIS ON OUR OWN!


We are not called to make life so awful that only Jesus Christ can improve it.  Only Jesus Christ can make it perfect, but we can still make it better.

We are not called to give up.  Give in on occasion, yes, but not give up.

We are not supposed to go through the motions of serving while looking toward the horizon…toward the clouds…uneasily waiting for Jesus Christ to reappear.

Let me close with one quote from the big set of books that the founding pastor, Ozzie Lutz, left behind for other pastors to use.  I found this gem:

We misjudge even our own human nature.  We cannot predict what one day may bring.  Why, then, should we imagine that we can read with accuracy the scroll of history, or be sure when it will be sealed?  It is a mercy that we do not know.”

Perhaps that old book of Ozzie’s was right.  Whether it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas or football season or Easter or summertime or birthdays or anniversaries or graduations or weddings or baptisms or school, all of us are still called to serve with our whole hearts, our whole energy, and our whole focus.

Let the Father take care of when to send his Son again.

Meanwhile, it’s beginning to look like we’ve got work to do!