Last Sunday, being the first in Advent, our thoughts were turned to the second coming of Christ. I chose as my preaching text two passages: Mark 13:32-37 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:11. I said that the message of Christ's return does not sit very easily with this time of year as people are preparing themselves for the festivities and indulgences of the season. It's a bit of a reality check. The last thing on people's minds in the rush towards Christmas is that human history will one day finish its course, particularly as the trappings of Christmas can lull us into a false sense of security that 'all is well' with the world. The two above readings are unattractive at this time of year as we rush in haste to the baby in the manger. And yet they are instructive. So much of the NT breathes an air of expectation as we stand on tip-toe awaiting the final coming of Christ. And what a difference it will be to his first coming. As Eugene Peterson said at the National Pastor's Convention in the US this year, there wasn't any trace of celebrity in the Christ-child. He referred to his birth as 'the miracle that wasn't a miracle'. The baby born in obscurity and vulnerability will return in majesty and power.
But what are we to make of the image of Christ's return as being like a thief? It's easier to think of God as father, companion, comforter. I tend to think of a thief as violating what is personal and precious to me. But in Revelation 16:15 we read: "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed" (c.f. Rev 3:3). In a sermon at the turn of the millennium, William Willimon said "God is determined to have us, I know that from the Bible. Much of our holding, grasping, accumulating is evasion of God. I want to secure my life on my own terms. Sometimes, there’s no way for God to have us except to take us. Steal us? And God will have us." A sobering thought but a wonderful reminder that whenever it will be that God-in-Christ returns, He will be doing so to rightfully claim what is His own and our hearts shall then find their final rest in thee.