Growing up in the religious world of my friends and family, from my earliest years I remember hearing talk and sermons about Jesus coming again. In fact, I would say that this subject competed with the other central message I heard in church – getting other people to become Christians. So, Evangelism and the Second Coming dominated the religious talk I grew up with.
That’s not surprising since we evangelized because Jesus was coming again, and very soon, if you believed the thunderous sermons of my youth. We had to make sure everybody was ready to go!
We even sang a song on Sundays that said “Jesus is coming soon, morning or night, or noon. Many will meet their doom. Trumpets will sound. All of the dead shall rise. Righteous meet in the skies. Going where no one dies. Heavenward bound.”
It might be easy to dismiss this apocalyptic focus as the natural result of shallow theology and revivalist fervor, but the truth is Christians have always believed in the return of Christ. The Fathers of the Church have even enshrined this “blessed hope” (see Titus 2:13) in the Symbol of Faith we declare at every liturgy – “And He will come again with glory to judge the living and dead. His kingdom shall have no end.”
So, the purifying hope of the Second and Glorious Coming of Christ is a central message of our Orthodox Christian faith.
In fact, it is the theme of our Gospel Lesson today. In Matthew 24:42-47 our Lord Jesus declares “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.”
This passage sets the proper, Orthodox, tone for any discussion of the Second Coming. Far from a shallow and superficial, tabloid mentality concerning the Last Days, far from the cartoonish, Hollywood movie inspired silliness of this or that modern interpretation of the Parousia, this passage reveals to us just why the Fathers of the Church insisted we always contemplate the Second Coming of Christ.
The central reason we are to always hold before our eyes the Promise of the Second Coming is the sobering truth that, no matter who you are, all of us will come before the awesome judgment seat of Christ. History is moving toward a definite “teleos” (end). And that End, whether our personal end on our death bed, or the end of the earthly story of all history, is focused and centered on my relationship with Christ!
So, our Lord Jesus commands us to “WATCH.” The Fathers call this “nepsis” or wakefulness. The ability to stay awake and not be caught unprepared for anything life throws at me is at the heart of all the spiritual disciplines of the Church. All the discipline of the Church, from Her constant call to prayer, to fasting, to alms giving, to liturgies and gathering for worship; these disciplines are meant to wake me up so nothing catches me by surprise.
How many times have you reacted badly to something that happened in your life that caught you by surprise? How many times have you over-reacted to a situation simply because it was unexpected? How many words have you said in haste, and later regretted, because what you were confronted with in a moment was unforeseen?
The remedy for this common malady is watchfulness. Because watchfulness creates proper priorities. Watchfulness feeds peace of soul. Watchfulness makes faithful lives possible. Watchfulness tames the tongue. Watchfulness calms the heart. Watchfulness makes authentic love possible.
Today, the message of the timeless Church is that Jesus Christ will come again. When? Not relevant. How? Speculation is a distraction. No, this message is given to you today for one purpose: To keep you awake and ready.
Far from the shallow motivations of my youth, I now see the “blessed hope” of the Second Coming through the eyes of the wisdom of the Church. This is meant to be one more tool the Church drops in my lap to help keep me awake to my own faults, and not to judge my brother. This hope is given to me to wake me up from the lethargy of delusion that I have all the time in the world. This hope is meant to give me the faithful disposition and loving devotion that transforms my everyday life into one awake and always preparing to see Him as He is, so that I might become “like” Him.
Today, Jesus is Coming Soon! Wake up!