Isaiah 60:1-7, Acts 1:1-11
December 11, 2011
We read this passage from Acts 1 earlier this year. Do you remember? We read it back in June when we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. That’s the story of Jesus being taken up into heaven. That’s what’s happening here, at least in the first part of this passage. The other things that happens here comes at the end of that story. Because this passage is also about the third theme of the Advent season. Here we find the promise that Jesus would come again to this earth.
As I said last week, this is the theme we probably think about the least. We spend most of our time thinking about the prophecies and events of the first Advent. We think a lot less of the second theme, in which we celebrate the beginnings of Jesus’ earthly ministry. But this last one, we don’t think about very much at all. Maybe that’s because it seems so far removed from the stories and images we have of the birth of Jesus. But it’s more than that.
Another reason we don’t think about this very often is that it’s kind of controversial. There are a number of different beliefs about the Second Coming of Christ. It’s not so “clear cut.” Some people are very sure about it. They believe it will take place a certain way. But others have a completely different idea. For instance, some believe Jesus will return before the time known as “the great tribulation,” some think after. (Are you a pre-millenialist or a post-millenialist?) Some believe, as I heard as a child, that the second coming of Jesus happens individually. When you die, and you go to meet Jesus, that’s what he meant by the second coming. And of course there are many who simply don’t believe it’s going to happen at all.
A final reason we don’t talk very much about the Second Coming of Christ is that many of us are simply not very anxious for it to happen. For many people, this life is great, and they don’t want to think about it ending. Sure, Jesus coming again to Earth would be amazing! But they’d rather it not happen any time soon. And so they would re-write the last sentence of the Bible to say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus… but not right now. Not quite yet.”
So we don’t talk much about this Second Coming of Christ. However, that changed this year. I think this year people have talked about it more than they have in a long time. Do you remember Harold Camping? He was the guy who had it all “figured out.” He predicted that the “rapture,” and the other events leading up to the return of Jesus, would take place on April 21st. Later, (when that didn’t happen) he “revised” his prediction to six months later – October 21st, which was the day before our anniversary celebration!
Now, certainly the downside of making predictions like that is the seeming disregard of Jesus’ statement that “no one, not even the Son, but the father only knows when that time will be.” (Matthew 24:36) I said that at the time, and many, many people quoted that passage from Matthew. But I also said that the upside of all this, was that there was a great deal of “buzz” going on about it. It was all over the media, and more people were talking about Jesus and his promise to come again than had been in many years! And many people were talking about it, who never would have given it a thought before! And I’m glad for that. Harold Camping may have misled some people, maybe even angered some people, but at the very least, he got a lot of people talking!
So, perhaps this year more than a lot of years we can look at this theme of Advent and remember better this promise that Jesus would come again. And perhaps we’ll even give some further thought as to how important that really is!
By the way, we do mention it more than we might think. Remember our communion service. When I stand before you and break the bread and pour the cup, do you remember the words I use? (Is anybody listening to me?) I say, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord’s death until he comes.” There it is. Every time we share the bread and the cup we remember his death, and look forward to the time he will come again. But do we?
As we said a couple of weeks ago, the world was ready the first time around. The people of Israel longed for a deliverer – like Moses of the Old Testament. And people in other cultures and even other religions were seeing signs that something important was about to happen. We have only one story of many in our book of Matthew. There, the wise men from the east come to Jerusalem and ask very specifically, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the heavens.” And notice the end of that sentence. It was not, “…and we have come to see if it’s true.” or “…we know it’s going to be important.” or “…and we have come to record this historic event.” No! It was, “and we have come to worship him!” Men from another religion worshipping the King of Israel! That’s more amazing to me every time I think of it!
The world was ready then. The world was being “prepared.” But, then there’s the second coming. And the understanding in scripture about the second coming is that it would be a time when people would be unprepared! It will come “like a thief in the night.” Jesus described it in Matthew as being “like the time of Noah.” Then, “They were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the Ark… So will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:38-39) He often called himself that. It’s a reference to the prophecy of Daniel – which they all knew, by the way!
It will be like the time of Noah. They will not be ready. And in all this, I think the important question for all of us, even in this Advent season, is are we ready? As we prepare our lives, our homes, our Church for the celebration of Jesus coming into the world, are we giving and thought to preparing our lives for his coming again? If you think about it, the two most effective ways of being unprepared are to not believe it will happen, or to forget that it will happen! Do we do either of those things?
This doesn’t mean we give up on this life, like some of the followers of Harold Camping. That was the tragedy in that story. Being ready doesn’t mean we sell our possessions and go and wait on a mountaintop somewhere. It doesn’t mean that we necessarily do anything different. I don’t think Jesus ever meant that for his followers! The message of Jesus, and the teaching of the Church, have always been that we should live every day as though the second coming could happen at any time. That’s what I mean by not doing anything different. We should always be ready – as we live this life of faith on Earth.
But sometimes we lose sight of that, don’t we? Sometimes we do get so focused on things of this earth that we forget the whole thing. Sometimes we get so enamored with the things of this world that we’d rather Jesus would not come again.
Maybe you’ve heard the old expression that some people are “so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” That describes people who think only of spiritual things and don’t really engage with the world and with people in this life. Again, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus wants us to do. I believe he wants us to continue his ministry and be fully engaged with his people here on earth.
The problem is, that expression doesn’t usually describe all that many of us. Because usually it’s the other way around. Many more people are “so earthly minded that they’re no heavenly good.” They give too little thought to the things of God. Does that describe you?
So this Advent season, I challenge you, not just to think about the prophecies and the stories of the first Advent. Think also about that baby in Bethlehem coming on the scene years later, preaching the kingdom of heaven, showing his amazing compassion and love, and giving of himself in an act of love beyond any others. And think also, as you prepare your lives for Christmas, that we should also be prepared – in the way we live our lives – for his coming again.
Eternal God, you showed your love for us in sending your son to be among us, to tell us of your kingdom in our midst. Help us to look to that kingdom, to know the joy of being your people, to continue the ministry Jesus began, and to look to his coming again into this world. For we pray in his name, Amen.