PEOPLE have been predicting the day of Christ’s return for as long as Jesus said that He would. As a result, people get cynical—to the point where any discussion of the signs of the times is considered "fundamentalist" and fringe.
Did Jesus say we would not know when He was returning? This has to be answered carefully. Because within the answer lies another answer to the question: How I am to respond to the signs of the times?
SO, WHAT DID HE SAY?
In the first Gospel of Advent this year, we hear Jesus say,
Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched 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 hour you do not expect. (Matt 24:42-44)
So we will not know when Christ is returning, right? But then, just a few verses earlier, our Lord said,
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. (Matt 24:32-33)
Jesus says we would not know the hour or day, but clearly He tells us that we will know when He is near, in fact, "at the very gates." Jesus says in the Gospels that He will come like a thief in the night, and thus He says, "watch." Furthermore, He leaves us signs so that we will know "in what part of the night the thief" is coming. We will not know the hour, but we will know "in what part of the night" if we are watching and ready. St. Paul tells us which part of the night it is:
You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep… the night is advanced, the day is at hand. (Rom 13:11-12)
What is the night, but the night of sin? That is, sin will have advanced in the world such that it will demand the dawning of justice; for the planet, nations, and peoples will be convulsing, groaning under the weight of man’s crimes and startling abominations.
Remember, my dear friends, what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ told you to expect ‘At the end of time,’ they told you ‘there are going to be people who sneer at religion and follow nothing but their own desires for wickedness.’ (Jude 1:17-18)
SLEEP, BUT NOT IN SIN
The preparation Jesus calls the Church to this Advent is not that of hiding in our homes and storing up mounds of food. The preparation, rather, is one of the heart.
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. (Luke 21:34-35)
Jesus tells us a parable which contains an interesting statement—the one with the ten virgins (Matt 25). In it, five virgins brought oil for their lamps, and thus, are ready to meet the bridegroom. The other five did not. But in the story,
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. (Matt 25:5)
That is, because of the delay, they all went on with life. They lived in the present moment, the duty of the moment, instead of sitting on their hands looking at the door. But what makes the 5 virgins with oil ready to meet him? Their hearts did not become drowsy! They did not fall into the sleep of sin. They were all virgins—that is, they were all baptized. But only five of them kept their baptismal garments unstained by washing them in the Confessional whenever they were soiled, putting their trust in God’s love and mercy.
This is a warning first and foremost, not to unbelievers, but to the "churched."
The Lord rescued the nation from Egypt, but afterwards he still destroyed the men who did not trust him. (Jude 1:5)
I cannot tell you when Christ is going to return. But it is time, for the love of God, that we ceased the foolishness of burying our heads in the sand and pretending the world is as it always has been. The signs of the times cry out to our listening hearts:
The hour is near! He has drawn close—to the very gates! The day, the great Day of the Lord is at hand!
It is time that we began to speak as the prophets Christ has fashioned us to be, bought and paid for with the price of His blood. From both the pulpit of our daily lives and that of our churches, we must recognize that not only is it necessary to speak of the present signs, it is an obligation!
Now go to the exiles, to your countrymen, and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD!–whether they heed or resist! …If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. (Ezekiel 3:11, 18)
Yes, live in the present moment; for Christ could come for each of us at any time! But we must also be careful not to slip into denial when the signs around us become so unmistakably clear… nor fall into the sleep of discouragement, as did the Apostles in Gethsemane, when they forgot the hope which lay beyond the Passion.
We must stay awake. Those who do not recognize the fig tree will, I believe, miss the Season entirely.