First Sunday of Advent

Posted by Rev. Matthew Johnson on November 27, 2022

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 hour you do not expect. — Matthew 24:43-44 (NRSVue)

About the time the pandemic made its way to the North American coasts, I had put up two, inexpensive wifi cameras on our family home. One faced the street, and the other covered the back of the property. We were traveling, and our usual helpers weren’t around to check in, so I hoped the cameras and their recordings would provide me with alerts if something out of the ordinary happened. Save the occasional neighborhood cat or red fox, nothing ever did.
After returning home, I disabled the alerts and paid no attention to what was recorded. Then the shelter-in-place order was issued, and with it came an unknown that I had never faced; an unknown that bred paranoia on multiple fronts ... including my neighborhood. If I heard a noise in the morning, I’d pull up the camera feed. If I saw a light go by the window at night, I’d check the recordings to see what caused it. Insomnia became a real issue, too. It was as if I were on the set of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” and I was Jimmy Stewart’s understudy. I’d lay awake most nights, wondering if that bump or thud was an intruder intent on malfeasance.
Just before his trial, execution and resurrection, Jesus describes an apocalypse that we equate to his return. He references the stories of Daniel, and then emplores his friends to be ready, because the desolation and restoration described in the Hebrew texts will happen ... they just won’t know when.

“I’m telling you all this so you will be prepared,” he says in essence. “The ‘when’ of it is unclear, but the ‘will’ of it is a certainty.”

And, with that, comes an allegorical inference that troubles me almost as much as Jesus calling the Syrophonecian woman a dog. The Son of Man’s arrival, in Christ’s colorful language, is akin to that of a thief. His anticipated return that is baked into Advent is described not as the arrival of an unexpected-but-welcome guest, but rather like the terror felt throughout the slow burn of a horror script.
What I am now noticing, though, is what this analogy expects of us. With these words, Jesus is implying that, if we knew when he was coming, we might be hostile to him. We might fear him, stand our ground, and defend ourselves from what he’s arriving to do.

Sadly, this is true more days than it’s not. I (and most people I know) would much rather the apocalyptic Jesus stay away. We’d rather he stay small and needy — the way he arrives at Christmas — than someone who might steal our treasured things or expectations. We don’t want him to upset our lives. Instead, we want the mess confined to his manger bed.

We know that won’t happen. The child grew up, after all. But, we still want it to be true. And, because it is likely that we won’t participate willingly, Christ needs to break in to do what needs done. Because, I won’t help; because he knows I will resist.

If so, then steal away, O Jesus. Steal away.

Tags: advent

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