First Sunday in Advent – Year A

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Mt 24:37-44

The Church has always believed and taught that Jesus will “come again to judge the living and the dead”, a profession made in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. In this discourse Jesus is emphasising the need to be spiritually prepared for this time of judgement. No one knows the exact ‘hour’ when Jesus will return, however, it could occur at any time.

There is an obvious need to avoid extremes when contemplating matters relating to the ‘end times.’ The first extreme is to assert with certainly that ‘the end is nigh.’ To hold such a belief could lead one to develop a ‘bunker mentality’ that results in withdrawing from the world or neglecting necessary duties. The second extreme is to believe that Christ is never returning or that his return is in the far and distant future.

In Matthew’s Gospel Christ is warning us specifically against this second attitude. To believe that there will never be a parousia or second coming or that Jesus’ return is only a remote possibility in a distant future could cause some to become spiritually self-serving.  Only by ‘staying awake’ can we be truly ready for Christ’s eventual return. Those not ready will be “taken,” that is, swept away, while the righteous will be mercifully spared.

There is a further dimension to Jesus’ warnings. Jesus will not only return at the end of the world, but he also ‘returns’ to each person at the moment of death. Therefore the warning to be ready for Christ’s return is equally as applicable in relation to being ready for our own death. Death, like Jesus’ return, is very much like a ‘thief in the night’ that strikes when we are most unaware. It is important therefore to take heed and remember that while one may not know the time and place of death, for such knowledge rests only with God the Father (Mat 24:36) we should remain awake for this inevitable moment and be spiritually prepared.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & identity