You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:40)
The belief that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead is of course part of the creed which we recite every week, and even though the Church has been reciting these words for almost 2000 years, in almost every age there have been Christians who have taken passages like this very literally and proclaimed that they are about to be fulfilled. “The End of the World is Nigh” they proclaimed.
From what we know of the first generations of Christians, it seems that many of them believed that end was about to come, very soon. It was also a common belief at other points in history - at time to time throughout the Middle Ages, in Elizabethan England, and at the start of the nineteen century. Some groups - like the Jehovah’s witnesses - base their whole faith on a conviction that the world will end soon, and there have been plenty of tiny cults and sects in ancient and modern times who have been convinced that the end is indeed very close. And this belief has not been restricted just to the religious - political and environmental activists have also shared a conviction that everything soon will come to an end in a nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
Well, whatever the merits or craziness of any of these convictions and ideas, they are not a very intelligent understanding of the teaching of Jesus.
Jesus is not speaking about the date and time of his second coming, but rather of our readiness to meet him now.
He is describing to us not the events of tomorrow … but rather challenging us in the way we live our lives today.
Here is the question he poses to us: are we prepared for him? Are we ready to greet him? The trouble is, much as we may say that we want to meet Christ we are never quite ready for him.
And we are in good company.
It was St Augustine who said "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" The great Roman Emperor Constantine, the one who took Christianity from an illegal practice to the official religion, was baptised only on his deathbed. Others too, wait till the time is just right - which of course may never come - to take the Big Step. So many of us want to delay the moment, put off the day. And many of us, perhaps most of us, make compromises in our lives, do deals, stretch the truth, cut corners, and tell ourselves we’ll sort it out later.
Yes, even if once we feared the burglar, who Jesus speaks of, in time we settle back into our routine. We speed the same shortcuts, run the same risks and chase the same chances.
But for Christ we must always be vigilant - not because he might catch us out, but because it is right to be ready now. Honesty, Truth, Commitment cannot wait for our death beds. We can’t save regret only for when we are caught out. Compassion does not only come with contrition. Saying sorry is easy, but living a caring, devoted and prayerful life requires perseverance, tenacity, practice.
When we pray “thy kingdom come” we do not mean soon, we mean now.
So we have no reason to fear tomorrow - but neither should we wait till then to do the will of God.