Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.… Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. … Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming ... (from Matthew 24)
Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover led with authority. We read of a young FBI man who decided to impress his boss by cutting costs through shrinking the office memo paper. When the new pad reached Hoover’s desk, he took one look, didn’t like the size of the margins, and scribbled, “Watch the borders!”
The memo circulated. For six weeks, it was extremely difficult to enter the United States from Mexico or Canada. The FBI was watching the borders. Why? They thought they’d received a warning. But instead, they’d transformed an innocuous comment into a solemn directive. It’s easy to get carried away.
We’ve entered Advent, where we prepare for infant Jesus, who shapes and reshapes us into God’s image. Jesus teaches us to be ready for God all of the time. For God makes God’s self known to us often — when we least expect it.
But we don’t like that direction. We want the details of God to our satisfaction and schedule. So sometimes we launch into a different direction. Instead of waiting expectantly and working on our hearts as God’s all the time, we try to manage the Word.
In this text, many folks have changed the focus from continual readiness to determining when readiness is needed.
In the 17th century, Archbishop Ussher was determined to nail down God’s dates. In intense but flawed scholarship, he calculated creation’s date as “the nightfall preceding 23 October 4004 BC.” Ussher’s work is behind some of today’s fighting about evolution and creation.
By the way, here I have one thing to say: They are not contradictory.
Gospel texts like this have spun fantasy including the “Left Behind” books — best-sellers based more on Mesopotamian Gnosticism than Christianity, yet gobbled up for their fantastic stories — and possibly a glimmer of self-righteous relief. I wish the time was spent on the real story of God.
The bottom line? Only God knows the moments that we will see God. And in that understanding, we let go of our need to pinpoint God’s way and live as if it is today.
Advent points us to lives of love and service, emptying ourselves of all that’s not God — and be filled with God-ness.
To live non-anxiously, letting God handle the details, following Jesus’ way, surrendering our need to know and control to His only real safety.
Letting God be God even though we cannot grasp God’s enormity.
Cambridge Professor Martin Rees articulates our limits: “I think the most we can hope for is some incomplete and metaphorical understanding and to share the mystery and wonder. ... Perhaps the most mysterious is that we exist and are conscious and able to wonder about how we came to be here.”
Advent invites us to embrace the mystery. For God is with us — Emmanuel — and that’s enough.
Now, I’m sure that some of you are not satisfied with this notion. So let’s stop and think of a few things we think we know.
First, gravity. It’s the law, right? Yes, but in truth, a mystery. Science has no proof for why and how — only that gravity is.
How about closer at hand: fingerprints. While there was a hypothesis that they were gripping improvements, it’s been disproved. Another mystery.
We could go on about things familiar but not understand.
So instead of the exercise in futility of nailing down details of God, what if we change the questions to: What do we do knowing that the Son of Man is with us? How do we live in each and every day?
That’s harder, because it’s up close and personal.
In Jesus, we live in truth — honorably, without quarreling or jealousy — loving God and our neighbor.
Advent prepares us anew for life in Jesus. It’s ours for the living.
For the real answer to the question “When will we see the Son?” is, He’s already here.
The Rev. JANICE JONES is rector of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Killeen.