1 Advent – November 27, 2022
Matthew 24:36-44

         Our Advent Season begins with Jesus taking us back to the story of Noah and the Ark. It’s a favorite children’s story. But it’s important to notice that Jesus is not doing this to comfort us – he’s doing it to warn us, and to wake us up. Just as the story of Noah once did.

Like the people in Noah’s day, or the men in the field and the women grinding meal, the owner of the house might have chosen a different course if he had known a thief was in the neighborhood, but none of them knew. You know something interesting about this gospel passage is the comparison of our Lord to a thief in the night.  Jesus, a thief?  Let’s wonder about that.

Advent is a time in the Christian tradition when we acknowledge that even as we anticipate something we know is coming — the Word, incarnate — we can’t comprehend it.  Unknowing, as it is imagined in this passage, is more like being in a fog — the fog that ordinary life brings. This unknowing, this lack of perception, and we might say, this lack of attention, lasts until the kataklismos sweeps the people away. You are just going about your business — checking your email or grinding your grain, as the case may be — completely unprepared for what is to come.

Jesus suggests that the answer to what plagued the people of Noah’s time and even us today is the quality of “being on the alert” or being “ready.” In order to do that, we have to accept that the true future — the coming of the Lord — is so obscured, so hidden in the mind of God, that no one knows anything about it — except God. The Son of Man doesn’t know; the angels don’t know (Matthew 24:36).

And then, we need to see that God is actually not safe, and I mean “not safe” in the sense that we need to be vulnerable in order to see and allow God into our lives. God is imagined as no less than a thief, breaking into our houses. If God is a thief, and you knew when God was coming, you sure as heck would build up your defenses, right? We’d rather live in the fog of the ordinary than meet God in the uncertain. But acceptance of uncertainty prevents us from building up our defenses; it increases rather than decreases our vulnerability.

The implication of the thief-in-the-night analogy is that Jesus isn’t going to come in the guises we expect.  If we think we have religion pinned down, if we think we know what revelation looks like, if we think we have Jesus all figured out, then we’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

If, on the other hand, we approach with our hands wide open; if we confess that we don’t even know what to look for, or where; if we empty ourselves of all preconceived notions of God and train our hearts to expect the unexpected, then we will be able to receive the real Jesus with joy when he appears.

At Advent we connect two horizons — the celebration of Jesus’s past birth and the expectation of his future coming. We live our present days in light of that future day. At our best, we live with a presence of the future, and even usher in that future day today in ways large and small.

So, the question of the day is – are you ready?  “The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”.  You might say that our lives are already filled with unexpected, surprising, and life-altering events. And in the midst of all of this, we are invited – actually, commanded – to keep watch for the presence of the God we know in Jesus. This isn’t always easy, especially when the unexpected event is tragic. Sometimes you have to wait a while to see where God is at work and that can be painfully hard. Yet the promise throughout Scripture is that God reliably meets us at our point of greatest need and accompanies us even and especially in the most difficult of circumstances.

I’m sharing again this little piece of wisdom about a train and it’s from an unknown source:

Life is like a journey on a train…with stations…with changes of routes and with accidents!  At birth we boarded the train and met our parents, and we believe they will always travel on our side. However, at some station our parents will step down from the train, leaving us on this journey alone.

As time goes by, other people will board the train; and they will be significant, for example, our siblings, friends, children, and even the love of our life. Many will step down and leave a permanent vacuum. Others will go so unnoticed that we don’t realize that they vacated their seats!

This train ride will be full of joy, sorrow, fantasy, expectations, hellos, goodbyes, and farewells.

Success consists of having a good relationship with all passengers…requiring that we give the best of ourselves.

The mystery to everyone is: “We do not know at which station we ourselves will step down. So we must live in the best way—love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.”

          It is important to do this because when the time comes for us to step down and leave our seat empty—we may leave behind beautiful memories for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.

I wish you a joyful journey for the coming year on the train of life. Reap success and give lots of love. More importantly, thank God for the journey and do your best to be aware of Christ’s presence in and around you.

And, lastly, I thank you for being one of the passengers on my train!  Amen.