SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT
The Devil We Know
1 Thessalonians 5.2 You yourselves
know very well that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
The old saying "Better the devil
you know!" has roots in reality deeper than many of us may realise. It's a
spry way of pointing out the genuine safety of well tried and tested
methods for dealing with life's uncertainties.
Change is a familiar companion to those of us who live
in the world's wealthy economies. It's sometimes hard for us to understand
that most of the world's citizens look on new ways very differently. For
the most part, they live far closer to suffering and death than do we. And
when one lives on the edge, when a relatively slight error could pitch one
into disaster, then the tried and tested is a better ally than risky
An acquaintance of mine tells how cattle experts spent
days carefully explaining to African tribesmen how to increase milk and
meat yields in their herds. After much talk, including quiet consultations
in clan meetings, the answer came back: "This is not how our forefathers
have done it. Your ways may be good, but ours work better."
Many Jews before and after Jesus, who lived on the
breadline, whose families were constantly at risk from war and famine,
stayed with the old ways so fiercely that they died in their tens of
thousands to protect the ways of their fathers. To this day in Palestine,
the killing continues on much the same grounds.
In this hopeless struggle, the Jewish people looked to
the Messiah to eventually liberate them from the oppressive yoke of Roman
power and High Priestly collaborators. That's why the Thessalonians to
whom Paul is writing, and who thought of Jesus as the Messiah, expected
"the end of the world" to come soon. Jesus the Messiah would liberate them
because they couldn't liberate themselves. The "Lord's coming" would be
soon, and they with the oppressed of the world, would at last be free and
secure from war, famine and disease.
Alas, as we now know, their expectation was false. Jesus
has not come again as they expected. We all still struggle against those
forces which bring suffering and death to us. There is no prospect of
anything changing. Far from it! The constant, wearing pressure from those
who would subjugate us, who would spend our lives for their own gain and
power, is a constant we ignore at our peril.
And so, where is this rescuing Jesus today? Can we still
look forward as our Christian forebears did to "... the sound of God's
trumpet" and Jesus coming down from heaven? As many of us know, perhaps
with a sense of astonishment and disbelief, some Christians are able to do
just that. I, for one, can't understand the world in those terms.
So if I am not to be taken by surprise, how can I remain
"awake and sober," as Paul puts it?
I think of it this way. When I am asleep or drunk I
cease to be fully aware of my surroundings. I am cut off from the messages
of my environment. When I'm like this, I'm at risk from the dangerous yet
promise-filled world around me.
It seems to me that Christians today should perhaps no
longer hang on to the so-called "Second Coming" just because "the Bible
says so". There's a danger that we remain with the concept because it's so
familiar and we've heard it so often. If so, it may become a "devil we
know" and prevent us from living in the real world of opportunity, growth,
excitement and adventure - in short, the real world of constant and
We must, however, stay alert. We know enough about how
Jesus lived to build on him as a sure foundation. For example, we try to
remain sure in our hearts that a full life, including all the changes and
risks it brings, is what God desires for us. Jesus thought that not even a
sparrow falls without God's knowledge. There is no need merely to stay
with the devil we know just to remain safe.
God speaks to us through Jesus, through other people and
through nature itself - but only when we remain alert, when we strive to
hear the still, small voice, when we look carefully for the signs of the
God comes to us unexpectedly, like a thief in the night
and we need to stay awake and sober.