He loved scaring me. I had a buddy of mine who thought it was hilarious to sneak up behind me and yell as loud as he could. Of course, I’d jump two feet off the ground and he’d just laugh and laugh. After I stopped shaking, I’d laugh with him. It was fun. After a while though, I started expecting it and he didn’t scare me anymore.
That’s what happens when you’re expecting something; it doesn’t surprise you when it happens.
Look at our lesson today in 1 Thessalonians 4:18-5:10:
BRETHREN, comfort one another with these words. But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him.
St. Paul write the church in Thessaloniki to help them get over some bad teaching circulating among them about the Second Coming of Jesus. And he does this by appealing to their memory of his teaching them when he established the church there.
Paul assures the Thessalonians and us that the Parousia, the Second Coming, is going to be when the world least expects it. Those that rule will be saying “Everything’s Fine” then, as they go about their daily routines where they have exiled God and the care of the soul, the Lord will return. Paul warns “there will be no escape.” For the unexpecting world, the Lord will come as a “thief in the night.” But not for us!
For those who live their lives by the rhythm of the Faith, the Second Coming will be no surprise at all. Just like those who live their lives preparing for their own death are not surprised by that moment as well. So, how can we be ready for the Lord no matter when He comes for us; at our physical death or at the “glorious Second Coming?”
First, we stay awake! Just like the five wise virgins of the Gospel lesson, we prepare for the “coming of the Bridegroom.” We realize that the easy stupor of a disconnected life causes the sleep of delusion to overtake those who can’t stay awake! And it is precisely because we stay awake to the nearness of the Lord, to His presence, we are not caught unready. And it is the wisdom of the Faith that teaches me how to stay awake to all that would tempt me with the “sleep” of sin.
Next, we stay sober. Notice how Paul connects sleep and sobriety with darkness. The time to sleep is when it’s dark. People get drunk at night. And the connection is the darkness that we foolishly believe hides our actions. It doesn’t. The sobriety of a prepared Faith keeps me from the intoxicating stupor of fooling myself. Those who struggle with sobriety, no matter what they use to get drunk, always seem to believe no one else can tell they are not sober. The internal lie that we must believe to stay drunk, whether physically or spiritually, never fools anyone else for very long!
All the wisdom of the Faith is meant to teach me how to stay awake and sober; to be free from the intoxicating blindness of my own ego or pride. That’s why the three basic disciplines of the Faith – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving – are at the heart of being able to stay awake and sober and ready no matter when the Lord comes!
Today, are you awake, are you sober? If the Lord were to come this moment would you be surprised? Would you be scared? It is in the hard and daily work of a purposeful Orthodoxy that is the absolute remedy for the easy sleep and intoxication of this world. And, as we travel this path together, let’s keep each other awake and ready! This is the power of Winter Lent; to keep us attentive!
P.S. Lord, I believe You will come again and I believe there will be a time when my earthly life will be over. Grant me, O loving Lord, an attentive heart and mind so that that moment catches me asleep or unprepared. Give me, O Lord, the humility to see my own death without fear and with the blessed hope of Your eternal Kingdom. Amen.