1 Thessalonians 5: 4 – 6
4But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober
This is probably Paul’s earliest letter, which means it is the earliest bit of writing in the New Testament. ‘That day’ in the first verse, is the forthcoming ‘day of the Lord’. The second coming, if you like. Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended into heaven for ten years or more. He promised he was coming back but in the ten years or so since the first Easter he had not yet returned and the young Thessalonian church were waiting in excitement and trepidation for that day. St Paul was aware that ‘no one knows the day or the hour’, but they all thought it was going to be sooner rather than later. St Paul was warning them not to be caught unprepared. Put your house in order!
2 000 years or so later we are still waiting. ‘That day’ does not seem to keep us awake at night with such force as it would have the early Church in Thessalonica. Indeed many people today might assume that ‘that day’ refers to the day we die rather than the day Jesus returns. And actually is there very much difference? However as this year has shown, we can never predict the future, and whether we are looking at Jesus returning, or looking ahead to our death, or just struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of change in outlook that each week brings in 2020, the same advice is true. Keep awake. Keep sharp. And switch the light on so we can see.
And the light of course, is Jesus Christ. When I’m getting anxious about decisions I’ve made, Jesus grounds me. When I’m getting frustrated because my mask gets muddled up with my hearing aids and my glasses, thinking about Jesus reminds me how ridiculous I look and makes me smile. When I’m feeling lonely and wondering if anyone takes any notice of what I say, focussing on Jesus reminds me that I do it for him, which gives it purpose. When I feel low and find it hard not to focus on my failures rather than the things that go well, I remember the King of failure, Jesus Christ, who died on a cross and turned failure into success… And when I worry about the future and the effects of climate change, Jesus gives me hope that a loving God will not let it all go to waste.
Conversely, when I get too involved with my own ambition, praying to Jesus gently reminds me that the road to peace comes from serving him rather than ourselves. When I stop bothering about how ethically I live because it won’t make any difference in the bigger scheme of things, it’s hard not to hear his voice in my ear asking how my grandchildren are going to think of me if I just consider my own future rather than theirs. And most of all, when I find myself complacently thinking that I’m a good person, it’s everyone else who is at fault, he has a way, when I remember to include him, of helping me to see just how much I need his love and forgiveness!
How is his light shining in your own life? Keep awake. Keep sharp. And switch the light of Christ on, so you can see!
A prayer (The third Collect for Evensong)
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;
and by thy great mercy defend us
from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A song from The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir