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First Sunday of Advent, Year A

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.