My dad had slipped into the house late on Sunday night, after spending the weekend with our family up north at the summer cottage. He was tired, and after brushing his teeth, went straight to bed. Perhaps the thief had been casing the joint, as the family lore goes, and noticed no one was home for the last couple days, that, the coast was clear. My dad had come in the back door from the garage, and the bathroom was also on the back side of the house where he turned on a light only briefly. It probably looked like no one was home again on that night. So, the thieves’ found a way in through a basement window, helped themselves to the family silver on the first floor, and then made their way upstairs. My dad was sound asleep, not sound enough to be snoring yet, I guess. And so the thief entered my parents’ bedroom and casually flipped on the light switch. My dad sprang to attention, wide-eyed at first, looking far more awake than he really was, before he squinted into the bright flash-bulb like effect of the over-head light. In the aperture of his mind, he caught a glimpse of a figure, frozen in a split-second in time, standing unexpectedly in the door-way to his bedroom.
We’re not sure who was more startled, dad or the thief, because the thief darted out double-time down the stairs and out the front door. Dad, his heart pounding, checked to see if he was still dreaming, before noting the time and then calling the police. He wouldn’t get the sleep he so desperately wanted, after all. “…you know what time it is,” said St Paul, “how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep… the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Like the suddenness of a thief in the night, like a babies fever, like the love of God, we can never be totally prepared. And despite the lightness and humor I have, as I look back on the story of the thief in the middle of the night, it must have been scary for my dad when it happened.
The darkness of night in our readings, as in this season of Advent, as we await the light about to be born into our world, represents the uncertainty and fear that we have in waiting for the day of the Lord, the second coming, the vague warning of the end-times, the Final Consummation. Some are calling these dark times. Dark days, in regard to those who have lost a job, lost their pension or savings, lost their home. Fear is real! Fear of being burglarized on the streets, some of which have occurred in this neighborhood, not only in the dark of night, but in broad daylight. Fear of being broken into, as fear and desperation increases for the unemployed.
Add to that, the fear of terrorism, hopefully far away, but none-the-less, something we carry on our hearts and minds constantly. We feel it more acutely in the increased security at airports this week. Full body-scan, or pat-down? Pick your poison, which is the better of this pair of bad choices, the more tolerable of two very objectionable intrusions! And then hope that it really does offer greater protection once you are up in the air. No one knows when the next terrorist attack will come, but the experts warn that, sooner or later, it will.
“The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour!” It’s also like a baby’s first sickness, which you never see coming. It’s a terrible ordeal to see your child suffer when they are toddlers. They can’t tell you where it hurts, and you can’t tell if it’s truly serious or not. Practically every parent goes through it, that night of wondering what to do! Is this crying different than the normal cries? Is this a new rash? But you don’t know how bad it is, which doesn’t help the anxiety and fear. When it happened to little Owen, as Dave and Jennifer recalled the story to me, they were anxious and frightened too, but happy they took the proper precautions, and then, greatly relieved to have the doctor tell them it was simply a cold he had caught.
We don’t know what time the baby will come down with a fever, or when the next terrorist will strike, or when the thief will break in! But Jesus tells us not to worry, do not fear. “The night is far gone and the day is near,” as Paul said. And this is the beautiful new day we live into as a baptized people of God. It was exactly that hour of dawn, between the coming of the first light and the full revealing of day, when the women went to discover the empty tomb, and that Jesus had risen from the dead-end darkness, and conquered death. This first light was a sacred moment for the early church, which came to symbolize where we are in the sweep of salvation history. Jesus has been raised, in baptism we are saved, but the new day has not yet been fully revealed. The women, the disciples, and other witnesses who came to believe, experienced a mixture of joy and fear on that first new day, that all followers of our risen savior, still experience.
But one thing was for sure, the night was far gone. It was time “to wake from sleep and put on the armor of light; the Lord Jesus Christ,” which is the new baptismal clothing we wear. In baptism we die with Jesus, and rise with Christ. We are baptized into his death, and made as dead as we can ever be. And we rise to a new life, and put on the armor of light and our new resurrection clothes. Now there is nothing we need fear. We have been saved already, and are freed to live courageously with a song of thanksgiving in our hearts. Fear, if not totally banished, is conquered. The thief may still come, but he cannot hurt us or take anything from us that we have not already offered up to God. We don’t know what time the Son of Man will come, but we are ready and awake. “The night is far gone.” “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers.”
We can say that, even for little Owen, who is on his way to his new life in Christ. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is nothing that ultimately can hurt him. He is freed up to live confidently and courageously into the new dawning day, he is saved and redeemed and wide awake to the call of Christ in his life.
Together we keep watch, taking turns at the watchers look-out, unafraid of the thief, protected in our baptismal armored clothing, eyes wide open, as the sky brightens, and the light and grace and love of God pours down upon us, and we are filled with a hopefulness, for the new day dawning.