December 2, 2001

Matthew 24:36-44

[In response to "the end"...] "But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven's angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.

"The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah's. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing -- until the flood hit and swept everything away.

"The Son of Man's Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field -- one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill -- one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up."

<The Message >


1. Advent is a most joyous time. We are relieved from any particular action but that of waiting expectantly. No one knows the exact day and hour. The "angels" don't know. The "son" doesn't know. "I" don't know. "You" don't know. What sweet to relief - not to know.

e.e. cummings has it that we are all so full of knowing that we are empty, empty of understanding. To stop having to know is actually a step toward understanding. What a weird way this universe has been created.

2. To stop knowing is also to stop carrying on as usual, as though these were not days of transition. If one knows anything about the way the world works, there is a flood a-comin'.

Early after September 11 I might have thought that was a seminal flood moment. It hit hard but it has not swept everything away - particularly it has not swept away our attempt to handle human issues mechanically and militarily. In fact this flood has in many ways given us an excuse to do things in the same old way, to not understand any more about our ability to know.

3. So one person was on a particular flight and other wasn't. So one person was on a particular floor and another wasn't. So one person is living your life and another isn't. To be vigilant is not necessarily to know how to avoid sorrow, pain, and death. To be vigilant may be to be ready to metaphorically pray, "Thy will be done" and to go ahead and live in the midst of the rain which comes to good and bad alike.

What will help here is not a small personal God to blame for every "unfairness" and to manipulate to our advantage, but the ecclesia - the community of love - in which we hold and are held. When the flood waters beat upon this foundation they lose their fearsomeness.

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