Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
December 3, 2006
After I made all that fuss last week about this being the first Sunday of the liturgical year, this title today must seem a little odd. “The End of All Things.” (Make up your mind already!)
I’ve called it that because we’re dealing today with one of the other of the three themes of Advent. (If you’d like to review them, you can check out my page on the web site!) In Advent, we remember that time long ago when the world was anticipating the coming of the Messiah, and we also remember his promise to come again to this world – at the end of all things. But, we don’t talk about that theme of Advent nearly as much!
So, as we remember the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the others, as we think of the visitation of angels, and of the movement of empires and armies and kings, we also need to read these passages about future times. And as we do so, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which times the prophecies are talking about, past or future. When we look at some of the Biblical writings, we have to wonder, “What time is this talking about?” “Is it talking about a time to come, or is it about a time that’s already past, perhaps a time of persecution in the early Church.” That can get very confusing!
A lot of what we read in this regard comes from the book of Revelation. I didn’t choose that book to read from today, but I’d like us to think about that book for a moment, because it’s a great example. If you look at the original title of the book, you would find in the Greek that it was called “Apocalypsus” or “The Apocalypse.” An apocalyptic writing, as you may know, was one that was written to people in times of persecution. The writer would often use cryptic language that the people then would have understood, but their persecutors wouldn’t. I like to think of apocalyptic writing as sort of an “underground newspaper.” It was a message that was meant to give people hope in difficult times. And the greatest hope it gave was that God would triumph in the end.
As I said, the book of Revelation is the best example of that type of writing. It was written to the Church under the persecution one of the Roman emperors – probably the emperor Domition. (He was a real nasty dude!) It told of times in the near future when Rome would be defeated, and it told the people of God’s ultimate victory at “the end of all things.” (As we said last week, on Christ the King Sunday, the end of the story is that “God Rules.”) But as we read Revelation, sometimes it’s hard to figure out which time it’s talking about, past or future.
Our passage today from Luke 21 is like that, too. This chapter in Luke is often called “the little apocalypse.” Here, Jesus starts by telling the people some of the things that would happen in their more “immediate” future. In verse 5, people were talking about the wonders and majesty of the Temple, and Jesus said to them, “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” He was referring to a time 40 years in the future when the Roman legions would come in and destroy Jerusalem, and literally level the temple.
Well, now the people were intrigued. They wanted to hear more. So Jesus went on. He warned them, saying, “Take heed that you are not led astray. For many will come saying ‘I am he,’ and ‘the time is at hand!” “And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” He ws making a distinction here between that time of trial that would come in their day and the events at the end of all things.
He then goes on to tell them some of the things that would happen in that future time. And as he does so, this reads like today’s newspaper, doesn’t it? “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places, famine and pestilence…” It sure makes you wonder! Then he says, “They will persecute you in various ways…” Pretty soon, it starts to become difficult to figure out which time he’s talking about, their times, or the end times! He seems to be switching back and forth.
He goes on to say, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies…” “They will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations. And Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles…” He seems to be talking the near future again. And again, that’s exactly what happened in the year 70AD, when the Romans got fed up with their rebellions, and Titus led the legions against Jerusalem. They leveled the city completely, and its people were dispersed throughout the world – until 1947. (Was it?) That took place just as Jesus said. Yet even in all that, we cannot forget that Jerusalem somehow figures into the end times as well! Do you see how difficult this can be to understand?
Now, I don’t want this to be a history lesson. Actually, it’s supposed to be a “future lesson.” – we’re talking about “the end of all things.” And that’s important to remember as this chapter draws to a close. Because this is where Jesus gets to the meat of his message. As he does so, he focuses in on what? He focuses in on the people. That’s what’s really important!
In verse 29, he tells them his parable about the fig tree. (Which is often used as a symbol for the nation of Israel!) He says, “Just as you recognize the cycle of the seasons and know what’s coming, when you see these things I’m telling you about, you should know that the kingdom of God is near.” And yes, Jesus himself said that no one would know the actual time of his coming – not even himself. But! We are to recognize seasons. We are to take notice of the trends in the world.
Then he says, “Take heed to yourselves.” “lest your hearts be weighed down by the distractions and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare…” Friends, that is the heart of this message. When we think about Jesus coming again, it’s not just a matter of studying and trying to figure out when that’s going to happen. The important thing is that we should look at our own lives, and our hearts! We should look at ourselves and see if we are concerned with God’s kingdom, or if we are being distracted from it.
We should look at ourselves this Advent season and see if our hearts are being weighed down by the cares of this world. I think that’s such a great way of putting this. How many people in our world does that describe? How many people in our world have their hearts everywhere else except in God. And often they think they’re so wise and so smart.
And so I ask, “What about you? Where is your heart?” The things in these apocalyptic passages are all very interesting. It is awe inspiring to think about the whole scope of history all at once. It’s humbling to think of Jesus coming again to our world. But without thinking of how we fit in, it’s all just academic. And so I invite you to think about your own heart. Is your heart weighed down by the cares of the world? Are you so distracted that you don’t think of God’s kingdom? Or are you ready?
We’re in Advent now. And Advent can be a time of great irony! It can be a time when people spend all their time preparing to celebrate a coming Savior and King, but they are so caught up in all that preparation that they give little thought to that Savior, and how his coming affects their lives. Don’t let that happen to you, either with your Christmas preparation, or with the whole focus of your life. As Jesus concludes, “Watch at all times…” Be ready!
That’s the message of Advent. Certainly Advent is about the traditional preparation for Christmas. But let it also be about being ready for the Second Advent. – Even if it doesn’t come for another two thousand years! No matter when it happens, let your hearts be set on God’s kingdom. That’s what this season is about Emmanuel – God with us!
Eternal God, as we move now to the celebration of this sacrament, touch our hearts, that they may be focused on you, and on your presence, and on your kingdom. As we begin the Advent season, may we do so with the right orientation, remembering your coming to this Earth, awaiting your coming again. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.