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1 Advent - Matthew 24:36-44

In case of rapture, this pulpit may remain occupied.

When Jesus returns, I'm not sure he'll pick me to play on his team, because I’m too much

sinner and never enough saint.

But it's not just me that I have doubts about.

I also have my doubts about the rapture itself.

Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken, and one will be left.

Taken where, by whom?

Jesus doesn't say.

If I'm one of two women standing at a bar, I'm not sure I want to be the one taken.

The Christian dream date when the Son of Man strolls in to sweep the faithful off their feet holds no specific promise that we're all going straight back to Jesus' safe, well-lit townhome.

"Given the choice," said one of my seminary professors, "I'd rather stay here!"

That, of course, is faithless heresy, to hear some Christians talk.

This gospel text is a favorite of many American Christians who believe in and speculate

vigorously about The Rapture, when Jesus returns to hand-pluck the faithful off the earth

into the safety and security of heaven, a gated community.

Whether we are Bible students, sports pundits, real estate investors, or family gossips, we as

people do love to speculate.

It can be great fun trying to guess the future, and lucrative too when we get it right or capitalize on this impulse by creating a fantasy franchise with lots of blood and terror and zombies.

A few years back, the wildly popular Left Behind series of novels combined such speculation

with video game violence to mix the perfect American religious cocktail.

Diligent Scripture detectives, intent on cracking the code that God simply must have buried in the Bible encrypting the secrets of the end of the world, sift through passages like today's

gospel to try to glean clues for expert predictions on the destinies of the two women

grinding meal.

I am struck by the weird similarity of Trinity Broadcast Network programs forecasting the end of the world and college football playoff analysis on ESPN.

The bald truth is, we want to know what's going to happen before it actually does, whether because we are control freaks who want to be prepared for it or because we are

opportunists who smell money and power to be gained from insider information.

Imagine what you could make in Vegas if you had the right day and hour for the coming of theSon of Man!

Jesus, who does not know the hour, does know his disciples, including us, well enough to warn us against our speculative tendency, which can snowball from harmless fun into idolatry and gambling addiction all too quickly.

He states it as plainly as Jesus ever states anything:

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the

Son, but only the Father.

Yet earnest Bible codebreakers, many of them weaned on a literal, face-value interpretation of Scripture, somehow miss or conveniently ignore this clear statement.

It's an unwelcome truth, that God's privileged information isn't available to us, that there are hard limits on our ability to know and to control, which has basically been our problem since

Adam and Eve started the fashion industry.

And so, to mitigate our frustration—and of course our fear—we speculate.

There is yet another attractive danger to our speculating, however, which a little elementary code breaking reveals.

The word "speculates" is just another way to spell "escape lust."

Speculation transports us to an unreal future, which allows us to escape the present reality

just like the Rapture promises, rewarding the well-behaved with luxury boxes in heaven from which to watch the entertaining carnage downstairs in comfortable safety.

Christ or Calgon, take me away!

Life is hard and cruel and fast and random and complicated and unpredictable and slippery and uncertain and stressful and overwhelming--don't you just want to get away from it all sometimes?

Who doesn't want to escape, especially if the destination is a utopian heaven?

Who doesn't need to daydream, take a vacation, find a way to escape now and then...even

if that escape is into frantic busyness, into the overscheduled madness we ratchet up all the more this time of year that protects us from having to reflect, remember, listen, wonder, worry, and all the other perils and unpleasantries of truly paying attention?

For those of us sleepwalking through life either with our heads in the clouds or our noses to the grindstone, Jesus comes with a terrifying command: Keep awake.

The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour, he says, but if the weight of the Bible’s witness is to be believed, it is not to airlift us out, but to enter in.

If you want to know what happens in the field and at the mill and in the house, watch.

Wake up from both the stupors of business-as-usual and escapism from it and look deeply into daily life.

You might begin to see that is infused with mystery and miracle and the holy surprise that God is present in it, active but hidden in what we overlook, the modest and mundane stuff like beans and blankets, stuff we take for granted like bread and wine and water and work and one another.

The good news is that we celebrate Advent, not Departure; we don’t wait for some fiery escort to take us away but for a fragile child to join us here.

We are invaded by grace so unexpected and plain and beautiful and common and abundant that we might just miss it.

Jesus tells us that God will come like a thief in the night, unannounced, unexpected, out of

nowhere, so be ready.

God will come like the famous burglar in southwestern Turkey, who was notorious for sneaking in and out of homes utterly undetected.

This was no ordinary burglar.

Instead of stealing things, he left things for the poor, food for the hungry, toys for needy children.

When they finally caught him, they identified him as a follower of Jesus named Nicholas, and he has since been punished by being forced to wear a funny red suit in live in exile at the North Pole.

Old Saint Nick came like the Son of Man, a thief in the night, turning burglary from a crime into an art form of generosity and being a sign of what God does: sneaking into the world not to transport us away but to transform us.

God comes to turn a criminal into a savior, a cross into a crown, violence into resurrection,

swords into plowshares, warheads into wheelbarrows, wanderlust into wondrous love,

darkness into light, death into life, earth into heaven’s new home, a cattle stall into the

cradle of salvation.

I’d rather stay here.

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