You remember when you were a kid and Christmas seemed to take forever. My mom used to use that old tried and true way to get me and my brother to behave through the year: “Boys, Santa is watching and Christmas is just (fill in the blank) away!” Well, the older I got the shorter that line would get me to behave! And Christmas seemed to come quicker and quicker as my birthdays increased! Now it seems Christmas is every other week!
Anticipation is a powerful tool to help we humans sort priorities, make choices, and even delay gratification for a good cause. But, as any good thing, the purpose of the evil one is to distort and to derail the good aspects of anticipation with the counterfeits of fear and dread. Hence, he desperately wants we Christians to look at the Second Coming of the Lord with all kinds of distractions, gossip-like speculation, and even fantasy-driven Hollywood productions. All the while distracting us from the real power of the promise of the Parousia to accomplish the one, central goal of that promise made by the Lord: to mold us and shape us into a fit habitation for His eternal Presence.
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Matthew 24:27-33, 42-51. Let’s set the context of the passage; the Lord is preparing His disciples for the inevitable moment when He will face a Roman Cross. He uses the classical language of the Hebrew scriptures and the style of the words of the Hebrew Prophets of old. The disciples are quite familiar with this type of teaching, having heard the Prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Nehemiah all read in the synagogue all their lives.
Jesus tells them “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. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (Matthew 24:42-51)
St. John comments on this teaching of the Lord when he says “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
Today, be awake to the purpose of the Creed we declare at each Divine Liturgy when we say “And He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” The purpose isn’t to satisfy our curiosity about an increase in earthquakes or a seeming escalation of Middle East tensions. The purpose of our healthy anticipation of the Parousia is to become wise servants who know how to watch, how to stay awake. For wise servants, the Parousia will not be a surprise because they have learned how to so discipline their lives to be ready to receive Him at any moment.
Why do you think the Church has you recite the Creed at every Divine Liturgy? Why do you think the Church calls you to pray, fast, and give alms? The disciplines of the Church are designed by the Holy Spirit to create wise servants who have healthy anticipation. So many treasures for you! So many spiritual medicines to give you and your community everything you need to be ready, to be at peace! Jesus Christ will come again, and those who prepare will be filled with joy to see Him whether they meet Him at their own physical passing or they are part of the generation that sees Him coming in the clouds. But make no mistake, the promise is to make you ready for either moment! And to make you Orthodox on Purpose!