God’s grace and peace be with all of you.
Have you seen those commercials for security systems? Regardless of the brand, they usually follow the same pattern: there’s a nice, attractive family that tells a scary story. The wife says, “Our neighbors’ house was broken into one night, and they were terrified. If it happened to them, it could happen to us!” Or the husband says, “A thief broke into our home while we were out—but what if our kids had been home? What could have happened?”
This scary event prompts them to get a security system. Then they say, “With ABC Security, we can rest easy. Our family is protected by 24/7 monitoring. Now we’re prepared for anything.”
These security system commercials play on our fear of the unknown, the unexpected. Something bad could happen at any time—will you be ready? Anything can happen, and you need to buy this product. You need to be prepared.
Our gospel reading today is Jesus’ version of a security system commercial. He’s speaking to his disciples, actually near the end of his ministry, near the end of his life. The disciples have asked him for signs of the “end of the age.” They want to know what Jesus’ second coming will be like. What we heard today is just one piece of a long discourse Jesus gives about “that day,” and it’s pretty scary stuff.
Jesus tells his disciples, “No one knows about that day, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” No one knows for sure when the end will happen. Not even the Son knows; only the Father knows the day and the hour. Just like it was before the great flood, people will be living their ordinary, day-to-day lives, with no idea that the end of the age is about to happen. They will be eating and drinking, celebrating weddings and births, enjoying all the pleasures of life. And then it will happen—suddenly, unexpectedly.
The disciples want to know when the end will come, and Jesus tells them that no one but the Father knows when it will happen. He compares it to the flood that came unexpectedly for everyone except Noah and his family. He compares it to a thief breaking in during the night. “If the owner of the house,” Jesus says, “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.”
Therefore, Jesus says, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. And I just have to say, that doesn’t seem like very helpful advice, does it? If we can’t know when it will happen, how can we keep watch? How can we be prepared all the time for something that could happen at any time? How can we keep watch for something we can’t see coming?
There are different ways to keep watch. You could stay up all the time waiting for a thief to break in, but we all have to sleep sometime. That’s why we prepare in other ways: we lock our doors at night; we set up lights with motion sensors outside our homes; we buy security systems. We prepare in various ways for the unexpected so that we don’t have to stay up all night waiting for the thief to break in.
The security system keeps watch for us. It alerts us when the unexpected is happening. It allows us to be ready for the things we can’t predict.
Now, of course, there were no electronic security systems back in Jesus’ time, so that wasn’t exactly what Jesus was recommending to his disciples. But I think the point is this: you can’t be completely alert all the time. You have to prepare in advance so that you’re ready for the unexpected.
Buying a security system now will protect your house later. Having an escape plan with your family will prepare you in case there’s a fire. Keeping an emergency kit in your car will make you prepared for a breakdown.
Prepare yourself now, so you’ll be ready when the unexpected, the unpredictable, happens. To most of us, that’s just common sense.
But notice what Jesus has done here. Jesus has compared his own arrival to that of a thief breaking in during the night. The coming of the Son of Man will be as unexpected as a burglary.
Jesus is telling us that he will be breaking and entering. That’s the analogy he uses. He doesn’t describe himself as a king coming into a city, or a victorious general coming back from war, or even a joyful homecoming of a family member. His arrival will be like a thief. Jesus’ coming into the world is breaking and entering.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of preparing for Christmas. And every year, we begin getting ready for the celebration of Jesus’ birth by hearing about Jesus’ second coming. The first coming of Jesus at Christmas is somehow illuminated by hearing about Jesus’ second coming, the one that hasn’t happened yet, the one that will be the end of the age.
According to our gospel reading today, that second coming will be like a thief breaking into a home in the night. Jesus’ coming is breaking and entering.
We don’t normally like to use such negative metaphors for Jesus. We’d rather compare Jesus to something nice, something positive. But Jesus chooses this metaphor of breaking and entering, and I think there’s something interesting there.
The second coming of Jesus will be unexpected, unpredictable. That’s the point—only the Father knows when it will happen. And Jesus’ first coming was like that, too. The birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas was unexpected, unpredictable.
On Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The fancy term for it is Incarnation—the divine taking on flesh and blood, becoming human, being born as a helpless infant. God the Son becomes a human being, a mortal, who experiences hunger and pain and death just like the rest of us. It’s shocking. It’s unexpected.
In the Incarnation, in the birth of Jesus, we see the divine breaking and entering. The divine picks the lock on the window of creation and sneaks in during the night, when no one is prepared. Jesus comes into the world like a thief in the night. Jesus is breaking and entering.
Now, of course, unlike a thief, Jesus doesn’t come to steal things from us. Jesus is a thief who breaks in during the night to bring us something—he comes bearing gifts. So perhaps he’s like another late-night visitor, one who comes when everyone is asleep, sneaking into the house unannounced, and bearing gifts for all.
But I love the image of the divine breaking and entering our world. The Son of God comes to us in unexpected ways. Who would think to look for God in a baby wrapped in scraps of cloth, sleeping in a stable among the animals? But that is how the Son of God comes to us. That is how the divine breaks in to our world.
In the season of Advent, we are getting ready for Christmas. We are preparing our hearts as well as our homes for the celebration of Christ’s birth. So I invite you to prime your security systems to be on the lookout for the divine in your ordinary, day-to-day life. Set an alert that will tell you, “Look! God is here! Pay attention!” Because before you know it, when you least expect it, the divine will break into your life in unpredictable ways. Be prepared. Amen.