Summary: We are called to be "ready disciples," accountable for our living in such a way that we will ready for the Second Coming of Christ, no matter when it takes place.
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."
I personally have never received or sent a telegraphed or cabled message across the ocean, but apparently the telegraph and cable companies used to have a certain code which they required for each punctuation mark, and they would use that code for the punctuation marks instead of spelling them out as they do today.
The reason they changed is this - some years ago a woman was touring in Europe and she cabled her husband this message - "Have found wonderful bracelet. Price seventy-five thousand dollars. May I buy it?"
The husband promptly cabled back - "No, price too high." Unfortunately, however, the cable operator missed the signal for the comma when transmitting the message, so the reply which was actually received by the woman in Europe was NO PRICE TOO HIGH, therefore she bought the bracelet.
Well, the husband was quite displeased about this, so he sued the telegraph company and was victorious in the litigation. Ever since that time, the users of Morse code have been very careful to spell out all punctuation marks.
This morning as we celebrate the season in the church year which we call Advent, this story serves to remind us that we too must pay careful attention when it comes to sending and receiving messages, especially messages which help shape and impact the relationship we have with God. We don’t want to leave out a comma, or inadvertently add a semi-colon or make incorrect use of an exclamation point, and in so doing lose part of the message which Advent would try to bring.
And this is a reminder worth paying attention to, because Advent is not always so easy to understand. There are varying themes and truths and messages which wrestle with one another to gain our attention and lay hold of our hearts.
Indeed there is a certain irony in what Advent expects of us - we spend our time looking forward with mounting expectation to a near-future event, the birth of the Christ child, the eruption of the Kingdom of God, the dawn of a new age, and yet these are events which have already occurred at a specific moment in past history, almost 2,000 years before.
It reminds me of the mother who noticed that her 9-year-old son was saying his prayers with more than usual fervor, and when she asked why he was saying his prayers so well tonight, he told her - I’m asking God to put the Mississippi River in Russia because that’s where I said it was on my geography test this morning.
Well, sometimes that’s the way I feel about Advent, and this morning that feeling is intensified by this Scripture passage from the gospel of Matthew because it has its own share of difficulties and ambiguities, we’re just not always sure what to make of this talk in the Bible about Jesus coming once again to earth.
Of course every once in a while a pseudo-prophet will rise to claim the headlines by asserting that they have read the astronomical signs and matched current events with the descriptions in the Gospels, and they know precisely that hour when Jesus will make His return.
But then too these prophets have had to live with a red face when the time came and went without the heavens breaking open and the trumpets blowing and Jesus descending to be with us forever. On the one hand we can only be puzzled by anyone who takes what is reserved for the mind of God alone and turns that secret into false prophecy.
On the other hand, though, this abuse of God’s word can be understood a little bit when you pause to remember that very few of us care for the unknown. We would prefer having all the answers in a neatly wrapped package, and so we look for signs, we hunt for clues to unravel the mysteries of our future.
Therefore it frustrates us that Jesus seems not the least interested in helping us learn the time of that final hour. What he seems to be far more concerned with is the "now" of God’s coming into our lives, how we are living our lives at this present moment.
The Lord of history is the Lord of present and future, as well as past. He still holds the clock in His hands. One day at a time is still the way it goes, and any one day could be the last day.