First Sunday in Advent  /  December 2, 2007  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church

Text:  Matthew 24: 36-44  /  Message by: Rev. Carol Kniseley  /  Title:  Like a Thief

If there was ever a text written with “morning people” in mind, this would have to be it.       Welcome to the season of Advent...meant to be seen…and heard…and experienced as a ‘wake-up’ call to the entire church year.     Matthew begins the season of Advent in reminding us of one of the most basic beliefs of our Christian faith, namely:  Christ is coming!      You hear it every Sunday when we profess together one of the creeds:   He will come again…in glory…to judge the living and the dead…and his kingdom will have no end.”     You can hear it in this morning’s Gospel lesson, which sets the tone for the new church year:   Keep awake…for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

There is no getting away from it…but there may be no reason for losing sleep over it either.   Christ has been coming back for so long that many people have given up on him.   Before he died, he told his followers he would be right back.   Many believed him and did not make any long range plans.    In fact, all of Paul’s letters were written with the belief that Jesus would be returning…soon.   Then a decade passed…and then another.    Those who had actually known Jesus began to die off.    Pretty soon the stories about him were being told by people who had known people who had known Jesus.    Case in point:  Matthew’s Gospel itself was written some forty years after Jesus’ death.    Needless to say, Matthew had a lot of explaining to do…to some folks who were tired of waiting…and who wanted to know the truth about Jesus’ delay.

Matthew’s twenty-fourth chapter is his answer to them, also known as “the little apocalypse” in which he recorded Jesus’ sayings about the end time.     The only thing was…the message that Jesus left for us to decipher…was mixed.    On the one hand, the implication was that Jesus would indeed be coming right back…and yet, on the other hand, only God knew when.    What Matthew ended up focusing on was advice from Jesus on how to live within that tension, as stated in verse 42:

“Keep awake therefore…for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Have you ever noticed that when times get bad…some folks seem to fixate on the end times…and especially in predicting that the end is near?    And that a great deal of energy and talk goes into our being prepared for whatever God has in store…as if such a thing were even possible.      For Matthew, this was about as laughable as believing that a thief would actually ring you up first to see when might be a good time for him to break into your house.   Would Monday be alright?   Or would Thursday be better?

It will never happen…anymore than Jesus will come back on a published schedule, surrounded by the press.   Instead…he will come back like a thief in the night with a wool cap pulled down low over his head and socks on his feet so that you don’t even know when he is there.    If we see this image of God as troubling, then perhaps what we don’t understand is what he is after.    If he is who Matthew says he is, then he is not interested in your jewelry or your latest flat screen television set.     He is interested in you.   

And not necessarily the daytime you as well…the one most people see and marvel at how you keep all those plates spinning at the same time.    From managing your work schedule to getting the kid’s to soccer games on time…to picking up the dry cleaning on the way home to feeding the cat and getting dinner on the table by 6…only to return to church for a meeting or two…and then back home to do a load of laundry.   Notice I did not specify a gender.     The evening passes the way so many do.   The day is over before you know it and you are the last one awake.   

Now is when you should listen up for the thief.    If you were expecting him he would not come, but since you are not expecting anything but a few hours of sleep…now is an excellent time for him to slip past your defenses, to disarm your security system and to enter you safe space.  

Why would a compassionate Lord do such a thing?   You know why.   Because you and I are so well protected the rest of the time, it is the only time when our guard is down.   After years of steady practice, we have all learned how to keep almost everyone and everything at a safe distance while we are awake.   But…any good thief knows that everyone has to sleep sometime.    That is why he comes when you least expect him…because he knows how badly we need to be broken into…and how hard we will resist.  

Look at verse 43:  “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.”    That is why God does not send registered mail.    And, that is why Jesus will come back…like a thief in the night:  so that we do not have time to lock him out.     As long as we keep guarding the door, we will never know that he comes…not to take…but to give.

If we…could ever once just let him in to do his work…then we just might find him emptying his pockets instead of filling them, giving us so much more than the mere piles of stuff that we spend our lives protecting.    The threat, dear friends in Christ, is not outside the door.    It is inside of us:  in our misplaced fears and our misguided defenses.

Keep awake…is still the words of the day.    Not to keep the intruder out, but to let him in.   Yes, he may indeed be a thief…but he is also God’s beloved Son…who has come to set us free.    Thanks be to God...the season of Advent is here!   And Christ is indeed coming…soon!    Amen