‘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. (NRSV).
Much of the lectionary’s readings have recently centred, uncomfortably, around the second coming of Christ and our noting of the accompanying signs. We have considered war, famine, earthquake, persecution, betrayal, a darkened cosmos, and the terrifying might of gathering angels.
It all seems so other-worldly and strange.
Given the myriad of interpretations that accompany these apocalyptic visions we do well to approach carefully. Many before us have seen these signs in their own time and made wild – and unfulfilled – predictions. Jesus’ opening reminder of what we do not know is appropriate: ”…about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’
Clearly we do well to read these passages with extra care and humility.
There is, of course, in the midst of this drama, a simpler, more grounded call. It may not be accompanied by the sensational appeal of predicting the end of time, but it is at least as distinct and consistent.
It is, of course, the call to simply, and actively, wait. Jesus puts this in a number of ways: ‘watch’, ‘beware’, and, in this passage, to keep or stay ‘awake’.
The clear implication is that we can be a people who sleep through the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus’ points his listeners to the great flood and indicates how people were going about their daily lives. They were oblivious to the activity of God. They simply expected tomorrow to be that same as today.
According to Jesus, it will be somewhat similar for the those in the ‘field’ and ‘grinding meal’. One taken and one left appeals to the image of harvest so prevalent in Jesus’ parables. It speaks of a sifting.
These are, to say the least, terrifying images. They are also, however, identify a consistency between the past and the future. As the flood ‘sweeps them all away’ so too will come a time when ‘one will be taken’.
The pinnacle of this passage, however, is not God’s judgment. It is, rather, the call to be a people who are ready and awake – expectantly living in the hope of the second coming of the Messiah. It would, indeed, be wise to remain up all night to prevent an expected burglary. Even if the homeowner ‘knows’ the ‘time of the night the thief’ is ‘coming’, he would still be prudent enough to stay awake throughout the night. Sleeping through would simply be too much of a risk.
In the same way, we are to be a people who are ready and expectant.
Throughout Advent – the period that leads us to celebrate of the birth of Christ – we will look back on those who faithfully and expectantly waited for God’s most gracious act. It will be more than a history lesson. They will become examples for us of readiness.
After all, we too have our own expectant waiting to do. As the church weekly affirms: Christ will come again.