One of my favorite cartoons depicts two little creatures watching the ark pull away from the shore. One remarks to the other, “Oh, shoot. Was that today?” Apparently they are the only ones who miss the departure.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent tells a similar tale.
For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away . . . (Matthew 24:38- 39).
Jesus offers a warning about ignoring the working of God in his time, and the text surely pertains to our own time, as well.
Matthew’s purpose is not to calculate the calendar for the return of “The Human One”; rather, it is to urge people to be attentive to the work of the Reign of God while there is time. The Reign of God will come in its fullness, and the faithful work of the present participates in that realization.
We sift the news and try to remain engaged for the common good, while the world seems more turbulent than ever. Our nation is deeply divided, and our friends and enemies around the world are wary. The United States has sent many conflicting signals, and no one is quite sure what to expect.
As the Christian year begins again, we are summoned to frame our lives according to the redemptive trajectory God marks out in our world. The coming of Christ in human flesh unveils God’s trinitarian history with humanity. The Triune God draws humanity into the divine life, which is surely the story of Jesus. It is our story, too, as the Spirit invites us to find our true home in God.
The Gospel urges us to “keep awake” for we do not know when the consummation of the age will be. Rather than spending time trying to decode the apocalyptic texts of Scripture—even Jesus pleads ignorance—we are to give ourselves to what can be done now to ease suffering, enact forgiveness, and testify to inclusive grace.
Too many of us are slumbering through the time we have been given. We always think we have more time, but life teaches otherwise. We have today, hopefully.
My great-grandfather, W. S. Wiley, was a pioneering Baptist preacher in Indian Territory. Traveling by horseback on his faithful friend, Morgan, he helped plant churches over what is now northeastern Oklahoma. I recently found one of his prayers, and it speaks to keeping awake in the present. In an early morning prayer he writes:
Relying upon Divine help, I hereby promise and affirm, that I will be kind to everyone, considerate of the feelings and rights of others, will think pure thoughts, be honest and truthful in everything, and seek to live this day in keeping with God’s will. To do this, I invoke of blessings of God upon myself.
My prayer for this Advent season is a new sense of where God is urging the people of God to join in the holy work of salvation.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders to participate in God’s trinitarian mission for the sake of the church and the world.