24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
I am a word guy. I love words and their convoluted history and meanings. Consider the word “sincere.” It comes to us from Latin. “Sin” means without and “Cera, -ae,” is the word for wax. Sincere thus means “without wax.” Apparently second-rate potters would “fix” a pot by sealing up a hole in the base with wax. This worked until a hot liquid or just a hot day melted the wax, leaving the unsuspecting buyer with a leaking pot. When shopping for a pot, you wanted a “sincere” pot, one without wax. Now, when people tell me they are sincere, I will say, “So, no wax for you? You will hold water?” They stare at me and slowly back away.
On this first week of Advent Jesus speaks of his second coming. As we get ready to celebrate his first coming in Bethlehem’s humility, he is looking ahead to his second coming in glory. Advent would have us be ready, but will our faith hold water? Are we sincere? Does our celebration of the first coming reveal a life which gets far more excited about the Black Friday deals than about the occupant of that stable? Does that faith hold water? Will it hold water on that other day of Jesus’ coming? Is our faith held together with waxen seals that will melt in the tribulation’s heat?
The Christian who asks that question must feel a bit of terror rising. We know our faith and our weakness. We cannot stand that way in the judgment. And Jesus does not ask us to stand that way. When he appears, it is the angels who gather the elect. The elect people do not come. They do not even RSVP, for no one knows the day or hour.
Jesus makes to us a solemn promise and gives us an emphatic command in this reading. The promise is that His Word does not pass away but outlasts even the created world, this earth which seems so solid to us. That Word is His Word of grace and love spoken to us despite our failures. He comes to rescue us, not judge our faith. This leads to the emphatic command – Stay Awake! This is not a recipe for sleep deprivation, but an admonition to live a wakeful, watchful life, the sort of life which pays attention to what Jesus is up to in our world. He has commanded us to love and forgive, to serve and care. This is what he would like to find his servants doing upon his return. This is how we watch for Christ. Have no fear. His promises are without wax. He is truly sincere.