ADVENT (Frederick Buechner)
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.
In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.
You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you've never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.
But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.
So far in Matthew's account of Jesus' discourse on the last things we have been presented with the signs of the times and encouraged to understand them. The aim of these predictions is not the satisfaction of curiosity, but the strengthening of faith. In this passage we are encouraged to be faithful and wise servants. The only problem we face is that the "work" is left undefined.
Still, it's not hard to identify the "work" Christ has in mind. If we think in terms of ourselves, then our preparation for the coming day concerns the strengthening of our faith, of reliance of the grace of God realized in Christ. This would also be so for our brothers and sisters the strengthening of the faith of the community and its life. If we think in terms of the world then surely the "work" is that of communicating the gospel.
24:36 Obviously referencing the day of Christ's coming. The "coming" of Christ refers to his coming to judge. The immediate realization of this coming is the "desolating sacrilege" (v15) of the armies of Rome gathered before Jerusalem, which led to the destruction of the city and the desecration of the temple in 70AD.
These events, which occurred in the lifetime of "this generation" (v34) and serve as a paradigm of Christ's ultimate "coming" to take up his throne and execute judgment. So, "that day" is a day of divine judgment upon Jerusalem, and as with all such days of divine judgment culminates in the final day when everything wrong is set right.
οιδεν (οιδα) perf. "[no one] has known” the perfect here is best expressed in the present tense.
της ημερας (a) gen. "[that] day" a measure used to determine a period of time; ουδε ..... ουδε "not/nor" των ουρανων (ος) gen. "[the angels] in heaven" an adjectival, possessive, the angels belong to heaven ο υιος "the Son" – which is missing in some manuscripts. It is obvious why it would be left out as it represents limitations attached to Christ's humanity ει μη "but only" – read the Father alone; expressing contrast by designating exception.
v37 The day will catch people by surprise, so be ready. The first example of people being caught unaware by “the day” is Noah's generation. As with them this divine "coming" will catch the people of Israel unaware, but as Noah and his family were able to prepare so also watchful believers will be able to prepare. Tradition tells us that the church evacuated Jerusalem before the Roman siege, moving to Pella across the Jordan.
ωσπερ "just as" - or “so also” - a comparative construction, producing a comparison between the days of Noah and the coming days of the Son of Man. In both people were caught up in daily life and then faced an unexpected judgment.
η παρουσια (α) "the coming/ the arrival”, a word best understood as a divine appearing in judgment. For example, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was a "coming" του υιου του ανθρωπου (ος) gen. "at [the coming] of the Son of Man". The genitive is temporal, "at the time when the Son of Man comes." The genitive του ανθρωπου, is relational.
v38 τρωγοντες (τινω) part. "eating/consuming (noisily)” fig. partying as with "drinking", marrying and "being given in marriage, is modal, expressing the manner of their being in those days before the flood – they were absorbed in their lives.
αχρι + gen. "up to" – until- a temporal clause of time; "right up to the day when Noah went into the ark".
v39 ουκ εγνωσαν (γινωσκω) aor. "they knew nothing" - they were ignorant; εως "until" - ηρεν (αιρω) aor. "took/swept away/destroyed” απαντας (απασ) adj. "all" - everything.
ουτως "this is how [it will be]" η παρουσια του υιου του ανθρωπου "at the coming of the Son of Man"
Jesus' adoption of the enigmatic messianic title "Son of Man" is apt here as he is referencing Daniel's "Son of Man", the one who comes to the Ancient of Days to receive glory and power, Dan.7:13-14. The "coming" is heavenward for enthronement and judgment, rather than a coming to earth. The direction of Christ's coming is somewhat confusing, but in the end the consequences of this "coming" are indeed experienced on earth, eg. the destruction of Jerusalem/the destruction of the world in the last day and the gathering of the "watchful" in heavenly assembly.
v40 τοτε adv. "at that time", rather than "then". παραλαμβανεται (παραλαμβανω) pres. "will be taken" - is taken; a futuristic present. It is interesting how we automatically assume that the person "taken" is taken to heaven, but the Greek is very unclear, the one "taken" may be the one "swept away" – that would discomfort many an evangelical. So also in v41 where the two women are grinding.
v42 ουν "therefore" - a logical conclusion; γρηγορειτε (γρηγορεω) imp. "watch" a figurative meaning "be prepared" – an agricultural allusion, the root word means to farm, or till the ground, which requires a large dose of patient watchfulness. οτι "because" a causal clause explaining why believers should keep watch. ποια/ ημερα/ (α) "on what day" - a Dative of time which may be properly translated "when".
v43 γινωσκετε (γινωσκω) pres. imp. "know/understand [this]" possibly an emphatic imperative, "keep this clearly in mind". It is also possible to take the verb as indicative, "you know (you understand); it seems is obvious that… η/δει (οιδα) pluperf. "had known; had any inkling ποια φυλακη at. "at what time of night" (lit. in which watch). The dative is local, expressing within which watch, although the sense is temporal- the night watch consisted of blocks of three hours. διορυχθηναι (διορυσσω) aor. pas. inf. "be broken into/wall dug through" - as in digging through a mud brick wall.
v44 ετοιμοι adj. "must be ready" - be ready οτι "because" ωρα (α) "at an hour/at a time when you are not expecting him."