The Good Thief

1st Sunday of Advent. Cycle A
November 2010
Isaiah: 2: 1-5. Romans: 13:11-14. Math: 24: 37-44
Tony van Vuuren

We can sometimes find ourselves stuck in a dull, lifeless routine, just doing the same things over and over in a mechanical way. Well, it is the season of Advent and the liturgical New Year and the readings tell us that we need to change our routine. We need to shake ourselves up a bit, stay awake, and be prepared!!
Tis the season to be ALERT!
We have heard the three voices of this Advent season: Isaiah the prophet – Paul the apostle and Jesus, the long awaited for Messiah.
They form one consistent voice.
Isaiah urges us to climb the Lord’s mountain that the Lord “may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths”. Paul encourages us to “conduct ourselves properly” and “let our armour be the Lord Jesus Christ”. The Gospel passage according to Matthew contains the image of a burglar coming and breaking in, warning us that we will not know when the Son of Man will come.
Three straight-forward messages; messages of HOPE that can help each of us prepare for this Advent season; Advent is not a do-nothing season waiting for some distant intervention. Rather it is a waking up time. Let’s make the most of our time, and be encouraged by Christ’s promised return. How totally discouraged we would be if we did not have the HOPE of His return!
“Prove that he is really returning!” —you might say. I can’t; for we are hoping against hope. This HOPE causes us to trust that even now Christ is near, working with his alert disciples to bring to fulfillment the reign of God.
The Gospel gives us a reminder though that Advent isn’t just about waiting for Christmas. There is no mention of Christ’s birth in this Gospel account. The voice we hear is not a baby’s cry, but the adult Jesus’ call to look to the day of His coming.
We await Christ’s coming with hope and joy, but are reminded that our days must be marked by alertness. Since we do not know the exact day or hour of His return, we must not be lulled into a routine that makes us individually unprepared.
Not knowing is one of the theme’s in today’s Gospel. The people in Noah’s time were not prepared, they were doing everyday things; “eating and drinking, marrying” but they did not know, and so the flood came and carried them off. Events suddenly changed on them, as they can so easily do on us.
We go about our daily lives, one day melts into the next. Nothing much changes for a while, but that is no guarantee, for life is so fickle and we can find ourselves short on reserves when we need to face “the flood” of unfavorable events in our lives. Christmas and Christ’s Second Coming, while emphasized in different parts of Advent, nevertheless have a lot in common. Both are about salvation; both events point us to Christ’s saving power.
He came into the world to save us and show us a new way of being human. He gave us his Spirit as His lasting gift to us so we could live out our daily lives the way He showed us in His own life. Now we await His coming, living with a consciousness of His return. Meanwhile, we live in the light of His teaching and strive to love others as He has loved us.
Matthew wrote this Gospel for an early church whose sense of anticipation for Christ’s return was dulled. They had been waiting a long time and still no sign in the heavens that He was on his way. Matthew seems to be addressing this delay and encouraging his readers to rather look closer to see Christ’s frequent entrance into our lives. The parable about the burglar shows this shift in emphasis. It seems meant to wake us up to Christ’s return into our daily lives in unexpected and undetected ways.

The way he speaks about himself is startling though. He says that when He comes again He will come like a burglar in the night–unexpectedly, without notice.
It’s not a very flattering way to describe Himself, is it? Hardly the good shepherd image to which we are accustomed and would surely recognize.
We don’t exactly welcome thieves with open arms. We surround ourselves with all sorts of protective devices and bars. In fact, we go out of our way to protect ourselves and our possessions against them.
But while the image of Jesus as a thief might not be the first one that comes to our minds; it is a bold, realistic metaphor. He wants to steal into the troubled places and enter into the hidden-away spots of our lives. He’s a thief all right, but a good thief. He walks off with the unwanted stuff that we carry around, that burdens and weighs us down — sin, regrets, grudges, envy, coldness of spirit, etc. But he leaves something valuable– depending upon what we really need in our lives. There is no private guarded place in our lives to which he does not have access. He is coming to the hidden places, to the places where we store so much of our materialistic values and all the other stuff of our lives.
He’ll break in and show us how vulnerable we are and how dependent we have become on having that stuff. We must give thanks that Christ is clever enough to get to us, to get into our locked lives and locked hearts; to slip in when we are not expecting him and our guard is down. Maybe Advent is the right time to deactivate our burglar alarm.
Truth be told, we need Him to come, we need Him to come past our well guarded defenses. We need Him to break in somehow, get past our delusions and illusions, our excuses and procrastination. We will always put up a fight of course, suddenly get extra busy and even make promises for future changes. But the thief will hear none of it. He is here now and wants a response right away. If we are really alert this Advent we will figure out some way to recognize and give in to Him.

When we find ourselves taking liberties with the truth and then we make a choice to be more honest, that’s His doing–the good thief has arrived.
When we have been insensitive or impatient with another and we hear ourselves saying, “I’m sorry” — the good thief has arrived.
When we realize someone doesn’t have to show that they love us this Christmas with expensive gifts — the good thief has arrived.
When the needs of the poor touch our hearts and we find ways to respond — the good thief has arrived.
When we are drawn to prayer in a deeper way — the good thief has arrived.
When the Word of God becomes more alive to us at the Mass and we have a renewed experience of his presence in the Eucharist — the good thief has arrived.

Advent is a time to wake up, to be prepared for this thief’s entrance in a new way into our lives. He is a thief we need to keep our eyes and ears alert for so we can recognize the signs when He is making his entrance.
We pray to be vigilant this Advent.
We pray that the routine of our lives doesn’t dull us to his arrival, nor have us looking only in the places we usually expect him to appear.

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