Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.[i]
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
[i] See, also, Mat 24:36–44; Mar 13:32–37 .
“…when you see these things taking place,
you know that the kingdom of God is near…”
“…this generation will not pass away
until all things have taken place.”
Jesus was saying that, pretty soon, the old powers would go away,
and a new power would take its place.
But the real world arithmetic is painful.
Within 50 years King Herod’s masterpiece, the great Jewish Temple,
Would be destroyed by a Roman army.[i]
Within 100 years, the Jewish people, leaders and military,
would eventually be utterly defeated by Rome,
and their nearly 2000 year Diaspora would begin.
Within 350 years the great western Roman Empire would collapse,
under the weight of corruption, and waste.
More than 70 generations have passed.
And yet, the world keeps spinning. Stuff still happens.
… and folks are still waiting.
Years ago, we vacationed in Colorado almost every summer,
with our girls and our best friends.
One summer, tucked into very rustic cabins,
near Rocky Mountain National Park
Dana, and I were reading the Left Behind books,
by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
No, we weren’t expecting the Rocky Mountains to melt down.
Or the Commies to sweep down from Canada, or
“government” thugs to show up some early morning.
But the idea that Jesus was coming, soon, was intriguing.
And the books were pretty good!
The idea of a 2nd Coming, and Rapture,
has been around for a very, very, very long time.
It’s been bumper sticker material, for generations.
In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus was with his crew,
on the Mount of Olives, someone asked him:
“What will be the sign of …the end of the age”?
Every good Hebrew has been asking that for at least 700 years!
People have been thinking about The End Times,
for 70 generations. Most of us haven’t gotten rich off of it,
like Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins.
But it has been on our minds.
Jesus wasn’t caught by surprise by the question. But he didn’t answer it.
He said, basically, “I don’t know”… “only the Father” knows.
Jesus meant: Don’t worry. I’ve got your back. Get back to work.
Isn’t it strange that “don’t worry”,
isn’t part of the End Times conversation?
I guess people who aren’t worried don’t buy as much stuff,
as people who are, do.
The Gospels are full of vignettes–[ii]
Little stories, that are pregnant with big meaning.
And the issue of “when” are the End Times, comes up.
Again and again and again.[iii]
And in Matthew, in Mark and in Luke,
Jesus says, again and again and again:
“No one knows when”, “not even me”.
He meant: “Be Ready. Be alert. But don’t freak out”
But we forget.[iv]
Wherever we turn for news, it’s pretty hard to miss the idea that
things aren’t going so well on Planet Earth.
The headlines remind us, that it’s a hot mess down here.
Isn’t it way easier to think about Jesus coming back, to fix things, l,
then it is for us to figure out how to fix our own mess?
If Jesus came back tomorrow, I am sure he’d say,
“Get to Work, y’all. Fix it yourself.”
And meanwhile, let’s remember … Advent is here.
Let’s remember that the Good News showed up one evening,
in a quiet backwater town, called Bethlehem.[v]
We could use some peace and quiet.
Jesus was a baby, and then a young boy,
and then a teenager and then a grown up.
We hardly know a thing about his youth.
But we know that Jesus said. “Be on guard” “Be alert”.
“Think ahead”. and… “try to live fully, right now, right here.”
Turn off your phones and your TV’s, he’d say to us.
No more pings, and buzzes and rattles.
Take a breath. Be patient. Be grateful.
Give thanks for this free and prosperous place,
And for the women and men, who keep you safe and free.
In the 3 synoptic Gospels Jesus tell us his disciples
that their generation would not pass away,
before all things that he predicted would come to pass.
But that hasn’t happened. He hasn’t come back yet.
That’s hard to sort out. Theologians try to skip it.
And meanwhile, countless wars have been fought.
Fortunes have been won and lost.
Billions of children have been born, and many have lived full lives…
and then joined their ancestors.
But Jesus hasn’t come back yet.
Was Jesus wrong? I don’t know. But I don’t think so.
It takes patience to follow Jesus.
We’ll have answers, when we get to heaven.
Meanwhile, down here, we won’t find enduring truth,
On bumpers stickers or yard signs,
or in angry political discussions.
Here we can find Jesus. Right here. In this place.
And Jesus is Truth.
Because of Jesus, this Advent, we have reason for hope!
What are supposed to do when it feels like the world’s gone to hell?
There are more than 2.2 billion Christians worldwide.
We are we supposed to do?
We are in God’s hands. He calls us to [vi]
move shovels, write checks, and clean dishes.
He calls us to plant, and to build, and to love, and to create,
To serve the hungry and the poor, and
To lift our hands in praise and thanks.
This Advent, whether we are younger or are older,
We are called to prepare for Jesus imminent arrival,
by proclaiming God’s Kingdom,
in every single thing we do and in everything we say.
Advent is a Church season. Our preparation is a lifetime of work.
Not just on Sunday. Not just here, in this safe place.
Not just with your friends. But also with strangers.
Make this Advent come alive by living out Jesus’s story!
Sing it out in the Community,
amongst friends and strangers, alike.
Share it with people who don’t think like you think,
Or vote like you vote.
This Advent, we can start to make the world[vii] a better place.
Help feed the hungry; embrace the poor and downtrodden.
Protect the traveler and the stranger.
Bind up the ill and distressed.
Turn the other cheek and forgive others.
Be the bearer of Jesus’ Good News, this Advent,
for this place, for the Kingdom here and now,
and the Kingdom to come.
[i] See, Luke 21:5 where Jesus is “speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings”, See also, Mark 13:1 , where a disciple excitedly says, to Jesus, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”
[ii] A vignette is a brief story.
[iii] Based on historical notes in the Gospels themselves and the style of Greek the authors used, Matthew’s Gospel was probably written in the early 70’s AD, about 35 years after Jesus ‘ascension. The others were written in similar time frames, i.e., towards the end of the Gospel’s writers earthly lives. Ny the mid 70’sA CE, the 1st Jewish–Roman Revolt had been crushed by General Titus . Jerusalem had been sacked, and Herod’s 2nd Temple destroyed.
The Jewish people must have really longed for some Good News. Remember how we all felt after 9/11?
[iv] The End Times are still big sellers.
[v] Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the “hill country” of Judah, about 6 miles from Jerusalem, and maybe 90 miles from Nazareth, a farming village, in which he was apparently raised. Although Bethlehem was a modest town, it had (and has) a great Jewish history. For example, Bethlehem was the home of Jesse, said to be the father of King David. It is also the site of David’s anointment by the prophet Samuel. Also, when David was hiding from Saul, staying in a cave, his warriors brought him water taken from a well in Bethlehem. Rachel, the favorite of Jacob’s two wives, is favorite, is traditionally said to be buried at the entrance to Bethlehem. See, Gen. 48:7. In a fertile valley, East of Bethlehem, Ruth gleaned the fields and returned to town, with Naomi.
[vi] Per, the 2010 the Pew Report.
[vii] The Greek word often translated as “world” is oikoumene, οικουμένη,
which focuses on the political and economic realm (and then probably signified the Roman Empire), as opposed to the more general Greek term, “kosmos” κόσμος . The coming of the Son of Man will threaten the human powers that be, but it will bring release from oppression.