Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Best Thief

This week’s reading is always a little unsettling for me; I still have trouble picturing Christ as the thief.  This minor musing of our pastor in his homily jolted me; I’ve never read this week’s passage that way.

That’s the great thing about Advent readings.  They tend to upset our notions, turning images upside down.  Last week we found Christ the King crucified in the company of thieves.  Perhaps it is no surprise that He continues to keep that company this week.

Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

I remember my first brush with a thief.  I was about eight or nine years old.  We lived in a quiet neighborhood in the indolent South.  No one locked doors for good reason—none of us had much that would be of interest to a thief.  But one Sunday afternoon, my parents and I returned home to find the house ransacked.  I don’t remember what was taken, but I remember the cold sense of violation that fell on me even then.  A place that I thought safe, wasn’t.  An order of life I thought everyone shared was suddenly fragile and foreign.  We called the insurance company and replaced what we could.  We were not robbed again; we started locking our doors.

Some years later, I would come from my comfortable (and security-alarmed house) to get into my car to go shopping on a Saturday morning.  Something seemed not quite right.  It took a minute or two to realize that the CD player had been wrenched from the dash, useless wires dangling.  It would happen again in the lot of the car repair shop the day after the CD player had been replaced.  Again, the loss of the CD player was secondary to the loss of ease in the world-as-I-knew-it.  I was left off balance and uncomfortable; we would ultimately build a garage to protect our cars.  And like the Master of the House in the reading from today, had I known when the thief was coming, surely I would have been there to prevent his from upsetting my comfortable world. 

But isn’t that the very nature of thievery—no thief announces himself; every thief carries away the placid comfort of those he robs far more than he steals their goods.  And, as it turns out, all our efforts to protect ourselves against thieves amount to nothing if the thief is skilled and persistent; alarms and locks only dissuade the casual thief.

It’s easy to read this lesson as an admonition to be prepared for the coming of Christ, a directive to realize that we will be judged at the second coming not by what we think or feel but by who we are and what we have done.  Are we to be found Children of God, living in faith and producing good fruit?  In Advent we look to the this great Second Coming when time passes into eternity, but there are small advents—many of them, really, if we are aware and ready in our lives.  In those comings, Christ enters very much like a thief, the most skilled and determined thief of all, come to steal our hearts, to make us ready for that time of judgment when the whole Creation is made new.

When Christ enters our dwelling, whether openly as He entered Peter’s boat, or covertly, as He came in the Nativity, He disrupts things as they are; the world changes radically.  By our leave or without it, once inside our hearts, He leaves us unsettled, knowing things as they were will never quite be so again.  He startles us and—sometimes by the force of loss—removes those things and ideas that keep us feeling paradoxically self-sufficient and complacent and comfortable and prevent us from searching for the heart that loves us so much He took it to Calvary. 

Once He has entered our dwelling, this Divine Thief, we have a choice.  We can push Him aside, close the doors of our dwellings, adding locks and alarms to keep Him at bay so that what we have so carefully crafted can be repaired or replaced and, perhaps, kept safe for a bit longer.  Or we can recognize that those things were never that important in the first place, and can never be kept safe except by excluding Him who made it all possible, He who claims first place in our lives.

Perhaps it is better, harder, more painful and infinitely sweeter, to abandon the locks and the alarms, leave the doors of our innermost dwelling unlocked and be watchful indeed for the arrival of the Thief who wants nothing more than to carry us away with Him.  And of course, that makes Christ no thief at all, for He comes to claim that which is already His.  Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, it is we who are the thieves…

But then, even thieves can be welcomed to Paradise in the company of Christ. 

Let me be watchful, then for the small advents of my God in these coming weeks so that He comes into my life, not as Thief, kept out by locks and bolts but a welcomed Lord, claiming what is rightfully His.

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