When I think of Advent, it’s usually thoughts of warm coffee mugs with smells of pine trees and peppermint. I think of little plasticky chocolates in a cardboard calendar with my favorite cartoon characters. I think of big family gatherings (the great ones and the terrible ones).

Over the years, my perspective on advent has deepened. I’ve come to appreciate the liturgy of the historic church calendar. The purple and pink candles. The Scripture readings. The traditional hymns. The broadened theological significance— looking both at Christ’s arrival in Bethlehem and his future coming.

What I rarely think of, is warning.

In Matthew 24, Jesus warns that his return will be sudden and unexpected. He says that two people will be working next to each other, one will be taken and the other left. Growing up reading the Left Behind series, my first thought reading this was “I don’t want to be left.”  But we need to look back at the context of the warning to see what’s going on here.

We cannot underestimate the gravity of this warning — Jesus compares it to the days of Noah.  He says “people were eating and drinking…and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.”  Being “taken” by the flood has a clear meaning. It’s not rapture, it’s the sudden and unexpected meeting with death.

The people in Noah’s day gave little or no thought to God or his law. They did not heed his warnings. They did not trust in his promises. They went about their business as though God did not exist. They walked through their daily routines paying little or no attention to the Creator of life itself.

But we should not think we are superior to Noah’s contemporaries. How often do we operate as functional atheists? How easy it is in our constantly-notified, always-connected, never-slow-down culture to go through our whole day with little or no thought of God! Christian, I am talking to you! Are you marching to the rhythm and beat set by the drum of culture?  You may find yourself eating and drinking, going about your business, knowing nothing of what will happen until the Lord comes and takes you away!

Advent is a season that reminds us of this fact — we don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t know when we will be called home.

Jesus gives us this command in verse 42:

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Life is short. Let’s be mindful of the Lord’s presence with us, thankful for his kindness toward us, and watchful over our own hearts and minds, knowing that he can return or call us home at any moment.