“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates."It's one of the great climate scare stories, which crops up from time to time. Frogs in Cornwall have started spawning early. The Guardian says that, according to experts, this is because of climate change - this is the earliest frogs have spawned in Cornwall for nearly ten years. They also say the frogs are spawning 5 months early. Which would imply that frogs in Cornwall normally spawn at the end of April. Which is, frankly, a load of mouldy frogspawn. Even in these frozen climes north of London, the frogs are merrily doing what frogs do in February/March time in the average year. They're way ahead of that on the Lizard peninsular. They're never happier than when spawning, Cornish frogs. Dirty beggars.
And hang on. The article implies that, nearly ten years ago, the frogs spawned even earlier. So does that mean that, compared to nearly ten years ago, our autumns are actually getting colder*? Nobody dwells on what was going on back then.
Except me. I've done a bit of research (i.e. I googled the words "Frogs breeding in October") and discovered an article from the West Briton in 2009 - which says that frogspawn had died in a sharp frost because "Species like the frogs have adapted their lifecycles to make the most of the mild winters, breeding in October rather than the more usual spring."
So the Guardian's experts are talking drivel. Frogs spawned much earlier than this 5 or 6 years ago, and people thought it was the new normal.
Frogs are not the cold-blooded, calculating creatures you might imagine, from the Guardian's description of them. Nope. They mooch about in the ponds and hedgerows, and when the weather's about right they decide it's time to make little frogs. Then they all dive in the pond, and do what frogs do. If they get it wrong, and the weather turns sharply colder afterwards, or the pond dries up, the frogspawn all dies and the Guardian writes sad little articles about how the weather has "confused" the frogs.
I have three conclusions out of all this. One is that frogs, like Guardian journalists, are rather dim creatures that know little about climate. The second is that I've probably used the word "spawn" too much for a family blog already.And the other is, if we are anything like frogs, then waiting for the "right time" to do anything is doomed to failure. If something is the right thing to do, then we may as well do it.
It's easy, says Jesus. Look out for the signs of the times - it's just like checking the state of the fig leaves - when the leaves are green and tender, summer's nearly here. The trouble is, in 2,000 years of waiting, people have decided the time is now over and over again, and they've never been right. From Hilary of Poitiers in 365, through hundreds of failed medieval prophecies, many of them brought about by plague and war - all the way through the Jehovah's Witnesses up to Harold Camping - there's a certainty that only one prophecy of the end of the world, if that, will ever be right. And so far they've all been wrong.
So Jesus tells us, look out for the signs - but nobody knows when it will be. So what do we do?
Stay awake, he says. Be ready. I guess it reminds me of those old English farces, the sort of play where - for perfectly rational reasons - somebody has lost their trousers, the maiden Aunt is plastered, there's three blokes who aren't vicars, sat on the couch in clerical attire, the house is in uproar, and there's a knock on the door and the cry goes up "oh no! It's the vicar!" So the person who lost his trousers has to jump into a cupboard - the one that, for some other perfectly rational reason, the vicar keeps wanting to look into. And the knocking they keep hearing is the drunken maiden aunt they've chucked in a trunk. And the three blokes dressed as vicars have to pretend they're real ones, and discuss the problem of Socinianism at great length, and try to get out of taking the wedding ceremony that - for technical reasons the real vicar is unable to take. And they've thrown the prominent local UKIP politician out the window**. And the point with that kind of farce is, if they'd known the vicar was arriving at any minute - they'd have kept Aunt Mabel off the gin, and the bloke with no trousers would have clung onto them at any cost. And the blokes who aren't vicars wouldn't have dressed up as if they were. And the UKIP politician would probably still have been thrown out the window, because who wants one of those on the premises?
If the servant wants the Lord to come back and find that the floors are swept and the windows are clean and there's food in the fridge ready and a bottle of bubbly nicely chilled ready to welcome the Lord back - then there's no point the servant thinking that he or she will have plenty of warning. Yes, in these enlightened times, Tesco is open 24 hours a day. And would be more, if they could. But if the servant's fast asleep when the key turns in the lock, and the floor's dusty and the fridge is empty and the fire's gone out and the central heating hasn't been maintained in 5 years - it's all a bit late to deal with it, there and then.
In other words, there's only one way for us to get ready for Jesus's return. It's not to keep looking, keep watching the horizon, looking for astronomical line-ups of planets, It's not doing bizarre calculations of the dates of prophets and kings to work it out - did you know Isaac Newton spent more time doing speculative apocalyptic calculations than doing Science? When the Lord came for him, did old Isaac wonder where he'd got his sums wrong, or did he wish he'd done more Science?
No, there's only one way that the house would be ready for the Lord, whenever he arrived - and that would be for the servants to keep it habitable all the time. The champagne in the fridge. The microwave meal in the freezer - well, you wouldn't want to waste food. The floors swept. The windows clean. The fire laid. The plumbing tested. The smoke detectors with good batteries.
So how are our lives going to be, if Jesus arrives unexpectedly? Have we lapsed into apathy - expecting that, as the days turn into years, no tomorrow will ever appear? Have we set up our systems, our practices, our expectations as if they'll go on forever, much as they are? Have we forgotten the warning that Jesus is returning "soon"? When Jesus comes again, when heaven and earth are joined as one, then the whole world will be filled with love and the light of the Lamb. Are we doing that today? Are we loving each neighbour - whether we like them or not, whether they are respectable or definitely not - as if they're the Lord who will return? Are we thinking that, if time is short then we have a need to tell everybody about the Name of the one who will save them from sin and hell - or are we thinking that, if we leave them to ponder long enough, they might become like us in the end?
Are we keeping things tidy for the Lord's return? Or are we gazing out the window, thinking, "no sign of him", and heading off to bed thinking the state of our lives can wait? Are we living each day as if it might be the day we are judged - or are we putting that off till tomorrow? Are we living in the past, or in the present, or in the expectation that, at any point in our present, somebody might say "Welcome to the Future"?
Nobody knows the day. I wouldn't even try to. Just live like it might be today.
*Not lately. Nothing much has changed in 20 years.
** Yeah, to be honest, I don't watch many farces. I assume this is the sort of thing that goes on.