But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake 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 unexpected hour.
The words above closed out the gospel reading for this past Sunday, which for those who practice a liturgical Christian tradition was the first day of Advent. I've blogged here before about how different the seasons of Advent and Christmas in my religious tradition are from the secular season of Christmas - a holiday which has roots in Roman mid-winter practices more than it does anything connected to current religious practice. Advent is, for me, a time of quiet and welcome darkness, of reflection. It is the beginning of the church year, the calendar that my best self uses to mark and manage my time in the world. I have been doing my best to practice this sort of Advent in some way for a few years now but I still experience some dissonance around it each year. It isn't easy to find space for simplicity and quiet during a time that is filled with cultural pressure to buy and spend and indulge.
I also experience some dissonance around this particular reading from Matthew. I haven't been able to exactly put my finger on why in the past, other than it rings of a certain "end times" theology that I usually find unhelpful. So it wasn't until Mother Melissa's small homily at the evening mass this past Sunday that it really clicked for me why this image seems so odd.
"This is a different image of God, isn't it?" She said. "A thief in the night?"
And it's true. One stays awake to prevent what the thief is about. You don't wait in excited anticipation for the arrival of one, or for a flood, which God's coming is also compared to here. You grimly prepare, you take precautions, and in the end you deal with the aftermath of the event.
"I wonder," she said before opening the floor for reflections from others gathered around the table, "I wonder what you know of such a God?"
I thought about it. I am still thinking about it.
My experience of becoming a mother was, in many ways, like a thief in the night. Remembering the rollercoaster first month of J's life, two weeks before we knew about her and the two weeks after, I resonate with the total unexpectedness of that thief. We suffered the theft eagerly, of course, of our sleep and time and cozy two-ness. After all, like for the God of Advent, we had been waiting with great anticipation, not knowing the hour and trying our best to stay awake.
This year I look around and this time it is my wee babe who has been stolen away. There is a strong almost-toddler where the bobbly infant used to be and I find myself wondering when did that happen? What did I miss, in those times when I could not be fully awake to her, to the expected one she is ever more becoming?
I think the changes are obvious with little ones, but they happen to us big folk as well. I look at my husband and see a man who is so much more than the man I married. It would be easy to miss. It is not hard to fall asleep to our most intimate companions, or to ourselves. I wonder what part of myself I am not wakeful to, and what the creative force of change might be coming to take from me while I lay unaware and sleeping.
For me it is sometimes easier to come awake in dim light of the deep winter than to an alarm or the stark sunlight of the same time of day in a different season. I stretch gently and remember that I have toes and fingers somewhere under the blankets. My senses begin to inform me best they can about the conditions of the day - kitties on the bed, husband awake or asleep beside me, daughter stirring in the other room or still slumbering. Every day there is Mystery to enter, for the wakeful heart and eye to discover.
This Advent I hope to come ever more awake to my life, to Mystery, to the One that I am continually expecting.