1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11 (NRSV)
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
This is one of Paul’s earliest teachings about the second coming of Jesus. Here, he talks of the imminent return of Jesus on the Day of the Lord when all things will be set right by God — for more details see Mary’s song in Luke 1, or Mark’s apocalypse in Mark 13. According to Richard Bauckham, a British New Testament scholar, Paul encouraged two quite different approaches — one was to tell people to wake up and get ready; but the other was to tell people to be patient because in the end the actual date depended on God’s final decision. We see that a bit here — wake up…leads to ‘whether you are awake or asleep’.
The point is that we are called to be ready, ready to meet with Jesus, ready to receive salvation. We need to be in a fit place to meet God — a sober place, a holy place, a worthy place. As such, Paul says, the way you live means you need to be ready all the time for Jesus’ return. What Paul is definitely not saying is that it’s OK to have a few days off being a Christian. What he is saying is live as though tonight might be the moment Jesus comes back! As the Boy Scouts’ motto says: “Be Prepared.”
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’m ready please
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’ve forgiven all the people I haven’t managed to forgive yet
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’ve told the people I’ve been dying to tell how lovely you are
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’ve sorted out my differences with the minister
Come, Lord Jesus, when I can share the peace with Maude, and Richard, and the rest
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’ve had a good week of Bible studies, prayers and devotion
Come, Lord Jesus, when I remember to give that beggar some of my change
Come, Lord Jesus, when I’m ready for you.
Come, Lord Jesus, when?
But Lord, you never gave me time to get prepared!
What do you mean you told me to be ready?
But Lord, when did I tell you to wait? When did I say I had things to do.
Just now. O Lord. I wish I had set the alarm earlier…