On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of hope. The emphasis was on what is called the Second Coming, or Christ’s return, though I don’t think Father Michael used that language. The passage in large part clearly has to do with the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. But arguably it hints of a time of the final judgment evident in other passages, when God’s kingdom will bring final judgment and salvation. One might argue that upheavals along the way, which bring on changes in cosmic proportions are signs which point to that final judgment and salvation. In my lifetime the coming down of the Berlin wall, the end of the “Iron Curtain” with the Communism of the Soviet Union come to mind.
Israel of Jesus’ time was in hot foment over the Roman occupation of their land, even of Jerusalem. What freedoms they did have were under the thumb of Rome. God’s promise to reign in Jerusalem and ultimately over all the earth certainly had not materialized, so they felt like they were still in exile, even though at home in the land of promise. And so many of them wanted to see Rome overthrown, or at least diminished. Though of course there were other takes in the stew, none being the way Jesus advocated, namely the way of the cross through which the new world order, we could say by death and resurrection, would come.
Father Michael emphasized the need for us as God’s people to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God promise to “put all things to rights” through King Jesus when he comes to set up God’s kingdom on earth, heaven and earth becoming one along with everything else, in and through him. Of course that’s speaking of final judgment and salvation. So that we can anticipate God’s justice and peace as in shalom, in the midst of the injustice and evil of this world. In the king whose coming we celebrate at Advent, King Jesus, we have hope.
Therefore our confidence does not ultimately lie in any earthly system, in fact we see such as subject to God’s judgment all along the way. But like the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple, which oddly enough were something of a vindication and salvation for God’s people in King Jesus at the time, we can rest assured that God is still at work in those ways in the world. Even as we look forward to the final day when at long last God’s kingdom will hold full sway, King Jesus reigning over all from the New Jerusalem.
And so, while we do well to keep up on the news and have concern for the politics of nations- here, the United States, we must keep our heads up to God’s promise in Jesus. To a gospel, a good news which is as big as all of life, the promise of a full salvation coming inside and out. Something we begin to see now, but to be fully realized when the King returns, our works through him now somehow figuring into his work even for that day.
The passages for that Sunday: Jeremiah 33.14–16; Psalm 25.1–9; 1 Thessalonians 3.9–13; Luke 21.25–36, Father Michael with a special emphasis on the gospel passage, in his sermon reading verses 5 through 24, as well.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“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.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not 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.”