On the morning of October 2 – it was a Thursday, cool, the leaves had begun to fall – my slumber was disturbed at 3am – 3am – by an uninvited guest to the church. He was big, a bit ornery, and wouldn’t stop shouting at the top of his lungs, nor would he leave the churchyard. Later in the day, he actually attacked me right in front of a policeman. You’ve probably guessed by now that all this fowl behavior came from the rooster that took up residence in the churchyard for a couple days this fall. I actually liked that rooster, if only despite myself, and if it hadn’t attacked so many of our ladies or insisted on crowing at 3am, we might have had another parish mascot.
“Watch therefore,” Jesus tells us today, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” Sleeping was what I was trying to do when our rooster kept crowing, and so this passage was not terribly compelling when I saw that it was the gospel reading for this week.
Sleep is one of my favorite things, but to get good sleep, you need to feel safe, protected. Nowadays, many of us live in places that are fairly secure: locks on the doors, smoke detectors, maybe the Slomin’s Shield, not to mention fire departments, police forces, and if you liver here, the greatest military force in human history. But in the ancient world, communities had to keep watch, lest their houses be broken into or a neighboring tribe attack without warning.
And so overnight there were three or four watches: the evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning, and if those who sat those watches did their jobs, all would be well. The rooster would keep them company in their watch.
But could there be “any significance to the rooster? In the New Testament, the Greek word for rooster crops up in only two places. The most famous instance involves Peter on the night when Jesus is arrested–all four gospels include that story… Aside from that, however, there is only one other place in the New Testament where any mention is made of a rooster, and (it’s what we just heard in Mark) The precise Greek word in verse 35 for the rooster’s crow is found nowhere else in the Bible.
Is there a connection? Possibly. In the verses of this lection, Jesus urged Peter and the others to be vigilant, watchful, to live every moment as though it could be the last. Along the way, Jesus said that for all anyone knew, a moment of apocalyptic unveiling could happen sometime when the rooster crows at 1:30 in the morning. And maybe Peter heard all that and just maybe he did with those words what we often do: namely, he figured that if such a thing ever happened, it would be a long time off and maybe he’d not even be around anymore when the end would finally come.
“But then, within maybe just 48 hours, a rooster crowed at 1:30 in the morning and the full truth of Jesus came crashing down around Peter’s ears. Peter did not need to live to see the final day of judgment. That moment, that cry of that rooster was his apocalypse, his encounter with the living God. What he perhaps thought was a long ways off when Jesus first talked about turned it out to be far closer, far more pressingly urgent than he guessed. As it turns out, any and every crying of the rooster is a moment potentially full of God.”1
This being the first Sunday of Advent, we will once again start at the end and move toward the beginning, back to John the Baptist, to Gabriel and Mary, before we can go back to the future again. This time travel seems especially proper considering what Jesus tells us today, that what we might think is a long way off might happen tomorrow, or what we think might never come has already, in God’s own time, already happened. Maybe we can call them third watch moments, rooster moments; moments in time when Jesus shows up, when He shows up as a neighbor in need or as a helping hand when you’re in need; when He shows up in the Mass or on the street, when we hope He shows up and when maybe we hope He doesn’t.
So maybe that’s what Advent and our rooster friend are for: to remind us to Watch, because we never know when the Lord might appear.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.