This is, by far, one of my favorite signs to see. Despite the well worn jokes about its cleanliness and the decidedly unhealthy amount of butter they use to keep the scrambled egg pan lubed, I can’t help myself. When I see a Waffle House sign, I know I am going to be in for a good meal at a reasonable price. There are times when that is what I’m looking for, but more often than not, the Waffle House sign serves only as a temptation.
I think the same is true of the signs that Jesus describes in Sunday’s Gospel lesson. After three Sundays of apocalyptic parables from Matthew’s Gospel, Advent 1B opens a new Church year, and we begin our every-three-year journey with the Gospel according to Mark. The themes are similar, as one might expect in a season devoted to being prepared for the Advent of Christ, both his first one on Christmas, and his second Advent at the day of judgment. It seems reasonable, having heard about it week after week, that we might begin to see the world through eschatological glasses – seeing signs of the end at every turn.
Many a “prophet” has made a lot of money off humankind’s tendency to be tempted by signs. They’ll point to wars and rumors of wars; earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters; the United Nations and the World Bank; whatever they can cram into the scripture passage they’ve pulled out of context, to convince us that the world is coming to an end, and because you won’t need money after the coming of the Son of Man, you should probably send yours their way.
Like a Waffle House sign on the interstate at 2:30 in the afternoon, nothing good comes from following these temptations. Jesus is clear, “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” When he invites his disciples to “keep alert,” the Greek is more simply, “stay awake.” When we are looking for signs, we will always find them. Rather, Jesus is inviting his disciples, and us, to keep at the work of the Kingdom: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, proclaiming the Good News; because the signs will trick us, we do not know the day or the hour, but when he comes, like a thief in the night, our laziness will not be rewarded.