Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pleasant Legends

But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:43-44)

Lake Town is a thriving, bustling marketplace. It is the successor to an earlier town built on the shores of the Long Lake but destroyed years ago, when Smaug came and took over the Lonely Mountain, driving the dwarves away (those who survived, that is). Although the dragon occasionally ventures out to wreak havoc among the men on the lake shore, most of the time they give little thought to history and its implications. Tolkien describes the scene thus:

"But men remembered little of all that, though some still sang old songs of the dwarf-kings of the Mountain, Thror and Thrain of the race of Durin, and of the coming of the Dragon, and the fall of the lords of Dale. Some sang too that Thror and Thrain would come back one day and gold would flow in rivers, through the mountain-gates, and all that land would be filled with new song and new laughter. But this pleasant legend did not much affect their daily business."

Little do they know that Thorin, son of Thrain and grandson of Thror, is about to enter their town and declare his intentions to reclaim the dwarves' treasure, and that their pleasant legends are about to become very real.

How many of us generally regard some of the more difficult teachings of the Bible, such as Jesus's second coming, as "pleasant legends," things that seem even more remote now, two millennia on? I suspect that most people would be as surprised as the citizens of Lake Town if Jesus were to walk into our churches today. I suspect also that most people would react as the lake men did, as well, thinking the visitor to be a fraud or impostor. How would we determine if he's who he says he is? How would we prepare ourselves for something that he has already told us would be unexpected?

On the other hand, he also told us that "the kingdom of God is among you" (Luke 17:21) and "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40). Maybe instead of worrying about when he may come back, we act like he is already here.

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