Monday, February 3, 2014

Surprise in the Skies

Photo courtesy of Kevin Bridge
“I told you I'd be back,” the customer said to me, now ready to come through my line at the grocery store.

With business a little slow at that hour on a Sunday morning I'd been standing at the end of my lane, looking for people who might be ready to check out. I had spotted the man earlier, and had tried to wave him in as he passed by, but apparently he wasn't finished shopping yet. With one more item yet to pick up in the far end of the store, he pointed in that direction as he pushed on, saying, “I'll be back!”

True to his word, there he was. His order was quickly processed and he went on his way, but the words he said echoed loudly in my mind, to the point that I grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote them down.

“I told you I'd be back.”

Maybe because it was a Sunday morning and I was sensitive to missing church, his words to me were more than just a casual comment after crossing the last item off his shopping list. They were a reminder of a spiritual scenario in which we are all participants, whether we're aware of it or not.

When Jesus was gathered with His disciples the last time before His crucifixion, He tried to explain to them that He was leaving for a time, but would return. They didn't understand. He said that He was going away to prepare a place for them, and that He would come back for them, so that they would be together once more.

Since that day, Christians everywhere have been awaiting the fulfillment of that promise. I've noticed, however, that we wait in different ways. Truly, some of us have quit looking for His return altogether, much as I did the customer who walked away from me to get the last item on his list. Out of sight, out of mind, and I quickly forgot about him, until there he stood some time later at the end of my lane once more. And so do we simply carry on with the duties of our days, loving God and living out our days to the best of our abilities, but no longer really expecting Him to return to our world before we leave it and join Him in His.

Others of us, however, are in a hurry to get out of here, to leave the trials and troubles of our earthly existence behind, to check out of this life and get on with the better life promised in the next one – no sorrow, no pain...just joy unspeakable and full of glory. We look for God to come back as impatiently as do the customers in line behind someone who forgot that one item he absolutely has to have! Off he dashes to get it while everybody behind him groans in unison at the delay. They busy themselves for a minute or two looking about them and checking their phones, but after a while every head is turned in the direction the errant customer went, muttering, “Where is he?”, their eyes searching the aisle for the first sight of his bobbing head, hurrying in return.

The truth is that God is busy crossing items off a list, as well...not food items, but the names of our friends and neighbors. He is busy looking for the last of the lost souls that were invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb but have yet to make their commitment to attend. If your loved one's name is on that list, then you are grateful for the patience of the Father Who longs with all His heart for every one of His children to make it Home for the feast.

That doesn't mean we just stand idly by in the meantime. Unlike the other customers in my line, we, too, have work to do to hasten the process along. We should be about the Father's business, but with an open eye and an ear cocked to hear the trumpet's call when the guest list is complete and the Hall is filled. He expects us to be watchfully waiting, as He told His disciples when they pressed Him for details about the timing of His return. He told them to look for the signs of His coming in the world around them.

There are a multitude of strange and unusual phenomena happening around us these days. Arctic snowy owls are spotted in Florida, of all places, while bears not yet in hibernation because of the warm weather wander on ski slopes empty of people because there has been no snow. Devastating extremes in weather conditions bake our hometowns in heat and drought, wash them away in record-breaking floods or bury them in overwhelming snow. Are these simply the result of cyclic changes in weather and animal population patterns, or are they something more? At the very least they should remind us to be looking for the signs of the end of the age that Jesus said would signal His soon return, that we might not be caught unawares.

My Sunday morning customer's sudden reappearance startled me, I admit. He looked at me with a question in his eyes, a tilt to his head and a slight smile on his lips, as if perplexed at my reaction.
“I told you I'd be back.”

Jesus said “...raise your eyes and observe the fields and see how they are already white for harvesting” (John 4:35, emphasis mine)...words to live by, that His return doesn't likewise take me by surprise.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come...So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
(Matthew 24:42,44 NIV)

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