I was listening to a sermon recently on such parables as the Ten Virgins and the assortment of parables, with variations, about the master away on a trip and his servants managing his wealth till he gets back. The preacher was a young man, probably still in his thirties. As usual, a key interpretation/application was, to put it as a question, are you getting ready for Jesus' return? Which is fine, of course. Always a worthy question to pose. Yet as I sat there listening the thought came to me, "This is a young man's sermon. To older people the actually vivid and immediate question is how ready we are, not for Jesus' return, but for our departure. Which then makes the point moot."
Yes, we must be ready for the Lord's return at any moment. But if you are willing to accord statistical probabilities even a bit of weight, then going by the fact that, so far, 100% of Christians who have died in all history since the Lord's resurrection have in fact died in advance of His return, the odds are somewhat slanted in favor of your going to see Him before He comes here to see you. At which point, of course, eschatology--at least of the speculative sort--is no longer a meaningful endeavor. Eternity is soooooo much more mind-blowing and awesome than eschatology. And so much...closer.
A good friend wrote me in response to the reflections above: "There is the question, Are we ready for the Lord's return, and there's the question, Are we ready to depart? Is the key question, Are we ready?"
I replied: "Yes! I think for many young people that question is enfolded in a big 'IF', as in 'If the Lord returns soon.' For us older people the 'if' becomes less and less relevant, because, regardless, we sense vividly that our Appointment with Him is around the corner, anyway."
So what I would say further, here, is, all of the scriptural inducements to preparedness, in the light of Christ's sure return, even his "soon" return, are inducements to a vital sense of urgency which is itself independent of, and on a higher plane than, any speculative eschatology and even, necessarily, the "likelihood" of His imminent coming. I say "necessarily", why? I'm simply being logical. If the whole raison d'etre of urgent preparedness were the fact of Jesus' soon return--yes, even before you had time to die--it would mean that every case of faithful, obedient, urgent preparedness (holiness, love, devotion) in the history of the Church up to now that ended in physical death was...mistaken, misguided. Because they got ready for something that didn't happen. If that's all that "getting ready" for Jesus' coming meant. But of course, I don't accept that. That sense of urgent preparedness, its value, its substance, transcends the temporal eschatological contingencies. At the same time it cannot be understood in strict isolation from them, either, because the great Eschaton, the Consummation in His Parousia, is, by our union and identification with Him, ours too. We appear together with Him in the clouds. In a manner of speaking it is the next moment following upon our deaths. No matter how much "time" or in what mode of being we experience it in between, the fact remains that His Parousia is our next big step and it won't take any Bible study or prophecy conferences in Heaven for us to gear up for it...if you see what I mean.
And that's how I read the parables on preparedness. To me it makes for, far from a diminished significance, an immeasurably deeper one.