For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! I Thess 5.2-3
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 ….’ Matt 24.37-39
Here on the threshold of Advent these chapters in Matthew are not for the faint hearted.
Advent, we says, means ‘coming’ … but it means more than that.
Venio is to come
ad venio is come against
An advent people know that they are up against it.
We get both Adventure and Adversity from the same word.
Well we know we are up against a world that is indifferent or even opposed to us.
But our deepest challenge is always theological.
We are up against God.
There is a sense in which we always meet God as both ally and adversary.
Every work of blessing is also a work of destruction – simply because to take us into a greater vision and life in God it must always be breaking through our defenses, our lesser securities, our narrow understanding.
In these chapters/this passage Jesus uses two contrasting images to speak of his coming.
He describes the deep, violent upheavals of the world as birth pangs. Contractions.
A world in labour.
He also speaks of his coming as a thief in the night.
So what is the difference between a birth and a burglary?
Both are unpredictable – no one knows the hour or the day.
Both tend to happen in the night
Both are shattering intrusions into our private worlds
But there the similarities end.
Birth – the arrival of one, we trust, that has been loved and longed for, joyfully anticipated, prayed for unseen for a long time.
Though out of sight there were signs of life growing and stirring unseen, kicking in the dark.
Before they were born I used to sing to my boys last thing at night. Jackie reported how they always moved vigorously at such times. But we could never agree if they were dancing or writhing.
And the moment comes when we greet and welcome face to face. I remember very clearly how as I held my first born Josh for the first time, he recognized my voice.
Simeon was born 25 years ago last weekend. It was a Monday evening. I had gone over to church for a PCC meeting. We had just got to matters arising when the phone went.
They were probably not the only PCC in the CofE to stand and cheer at the sight of their vicar fleeing the meeting. I’m sure there are plenty of other PCCs just longing to have the same experience.
He was born during ‘any other business’.
Burglary is something else.
Any of you had your house burgled? Those who have say that the house never quite feels the same again … knowing that a stranger has been through your most personal possessions.
But that of course is the point.
Burglary is an issue of possession.
It’s about what we think is ours.
It is very paradoxical that Jesus describes himself as a thief.
For all he is doing is coming to his own.
What kind of world only knows the coming of its creator as a break in?
It is a world unknowing of him and possessive of what it not ours to own.
Jesus once spoke of his coming as like the days of Noah
But he doesn’t then list a society steeped in sin and debauchery.
He days they were eating and drinking and getting married. Nothing actually wrong with that.
But it a picture of life lived completely unaware of the real priority and crisis of the times.
So ‘he came to his own but his own did not receive him’.
But this is not the coming of a possessive God determined to claim his own property back.
Give it back!
God is not possessive.
Not into ownership at all.
Phil 2 says: ‘though Jesus in the form of God he did not cling’ … but he emptied himself. Jesus makes himself pure gift . And this is what God is like. He does not grasp.
The Trinity is a community of divine poverty … lived out of the simple ecstacy of pure gift.….
This is a burglar to welcome … a loss to not resist …. because at last this human home will be complete … there will be no need to anxiously defend it anymore.
He will come as a thief, he warns. But why would Jesus behave like this at all, asks Barbara Brown Taylor? Because this is his only way to get in. We are so well protected the rest of the time. Only when we do not know are our defenses down. So ‘he will come as a thief in the night: so that we will not have time to lock him out. As long as we’re successful at that, we will never know what a peculiar thief he is, not to take but to give. The threat is not outside the door. It is inside: in our misplaced fears, or misguided defenses’.
So to this anxious world is the call to leave our defenses down. Leave the deadlock off the door. To let ‘the beloved thief’ in, who comes to give and not to take.
Far from robbing us – Jesus beings us home.
Far from some sort of possessive takeover he makes us complete.
He is our home maker.
In him all things find their true place.
The contractions are beginning.
He comes and we come against – ally and adversary – because we don’t yet know or can quite trust the difference between birth and burglary.
But our hope lies in the fact the Jesus can.
And our eyes at last shall see him.
Come Lord Jesus