1st Sunday of ADVENT
Luke 21:25-28; 34-36 (see below)
Today we begin a new Liturgical year for the church; today we begin our ascent up the mountain of the LORD afresh and anew. Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent.
As I am sure you know, the word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, and it offers the Christian believer a season of anticipation and hope as we remember both the birth of Jesus and as we prepare and anticipate his return to redeem the earth and its people.
This means the Lectionary Scriptures for the Advent season accent and reflect both the first and the second advent of Jesus, calling us, therefore, to watch and pray, to think and to act, in an active allegiance-of-faithfulness to the Christ.
The importance of this thinking was driven home to me recently when I had someone come into my office and ask me about the December 21st Mayan calendar and the end of the world. If you are not aware of it, some have asserted that because the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, that this date will mark the end of the world, or it will at least be the beginning of the end. Mainstream scholars have rejected this assertion, saying that there is no such prediction of the end from the Mayans.
Anyway, this interview caused me to reflect, not on the Mayans, but on the worrisome state of our society, how fear seems to now drive us, how difficult life is for most of us, and how we long for and at the same time fear the future.
But, Brothers and Sister, ours is not the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tm.1:7). Or, have we forgotten that our life here maintains its equilibrium based upon the clear future offered to us by the living, risen LORD, and therefore we need not, we must not, be driven to ground by the cultural upheavals facing us, as serious as these are.
In today’s pericope from St. Luke’s Gospel we hear Jesus again talking about terrible coming events, actually echoing the passage from Mark 13, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and GOD’s judgement on the Hebrew nation. You might recall I shared a homily on this topic two weeks ago.
It is not difficult to believe that Dr. Luke probably had some sort of copy of St. Mark’s words in front of him (Lk.1:1-4), but, as we said in the first homily, St. Luke’s interpretation of the text has little to do with what most people today see as the end of the world.
Just as a reminder, then, I want to briefly review what I said in the first homily, and then I want us to think through what the end of the world, which is actually a misnomer, really means.
THE REBIRTH OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
It is normally assumed of this text that Jesus is describing his own return to the world and the end of the age. And, no doubt, his words seem to lend themselves to this interpretation, but if we view the historical context of this passage we understand that Jesus is actually describing the coming destruction of the Temple and the ruination of the nation, as both fall under GOD's judgement at the hands of the Roman Empire (70 CE).
Think about it. All along Jesus (in his prophetic ministry) has been announcing the coming judgement of the nation and calling on his people to repent and to become part of his movement as the new covenant community. Jesus is, therefore, offering his people a new way of seeing and a new way of being the people of GOD.
So, when Jesus talks about:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
these words make up the normal language of calamity and cataclysm which are used to describe the collapse of political stability (as in for example Isaiah 13).
Whatever else this text means, our interpretation of it must include the reality of what the original hearers of Jesus words would have understood it to mean. That is, what is being presented to Jesus' disciples is a warning about the suffering the new Community-of-the-King would face when the promised judgment of the nation finally happens.
THE END OF THE WORLD
OK, then, if this is the historical interpretation of the text, does it also have anything to say to us, we who are the inhabitants of the world so long removed from Jesus’ moment on earth? You will not be surprised to find that I think it does have something to say to us. And, you will probably not be surprised to learn that I believe there is also a future for the world found here within the impetus of Jesus’ words.
If we can take anything for ourselves from today’s text, it is the truth that GOD is at work through the human choices of history. Viewing the cataclysmic events that rocked Jerusalem and the Hebrew nation in 70CE, we see that what the Romans meant to do, in their evil impulses to subjugate nations, GOD working underneath history turned into the very seeds of Rome’s own defeat!
Here we are led to the Cross of Christ, and, in fact, we must see this as the primary meaning of the cross. In the cross GOD is in a blood-thirsty battle with the powers of darkness and the forces of empire! That is, as Jesus offers his passion, which looks on the surface like nothing more that another young Jewish man politically murdered by Rome, the coercive clouds of domination that have broken hearts and brutalized lives since the beginning of time are actually locked in a cosmic struggle with GOD. At stake is either the grace-rule of GOD or the final and complete ruination of humanity and the world by a true, extant and tangible evil.
As Jesus dies he looks to be defeated, this would be the normal understanding. But, GOD actually uses Jesus’ death to destroy the dark powers and the forces of empire’s final, most dreadful weapon. You see, when GOD raises Jesus from the dead that last, great threat -- that ancient human enemy -- death, has its back broken! What humans have feared most, both our own death and cosmic death, was finally ambushed and overpowered --
“O death where is your sting” O grave, where is your victory?”
“Now, wait a minute preacher, I thought we were going to talk about Advent and Christmas, not Easter.”
Well, sure, but you see how they all flow together, right?
Think of it this way. Think of that moment in the Revelation 5 when in St. John’s apocalyptic vision he has been caught up into the middle of a scene occurring within the heavenly throne room...
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. (1-4)
Obviously, this is a moment of high drama, but what is the reason for the weeping? Some have interpreted the scroll to be the title-deed of the earth. Ownership. Some have understood this to mean that the scroll is the right to bring final restitution to the earth. Whatever the meaning, clearly, much is at stake. What would happen? Would anyone be worthy to take the scroll and open it?
Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth." (5-10)
The scene is astounding, really, and it never fails to move me because it reminds me
- that history is going somewhere,
- that GOD is at work even when we cannot see it,
- that there is a future for this earth -- far from the end of the world, what is in view is in fact the complete restoration of GOD's good world now marred, which has been the Almighty’s purpose all along,
- that in the life and death of Jesus GOD’s promises to Israel were finally and fully realized,
- that in the life and death of Jesus the powers of darkness and empire were defeated,
- that Jesus, through his humiliation and death, actually displays who GOD is and what GOD is like,
- that Jesus, through his humiliation and death, has been highly exalted so that at his name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is LORD of the world,
- that Jesus, through his humiliation and death, actually offers the individual forgiveness, a new life and a new way to live,
- and that finally, what GOD began in Jesus on the cross and in his resurrection he will one day complete in the coming Kingdom and in the new humanity.
All of which means we are back where we started, history is going somewhere, and that what others see as the end of the world is in fact GOD moving to set things right, to bring the needed judgment to evil and to set up resurrection as the final and complete word to his good world once marred but now restored.
This is the meaning of Advent. Therefore, we do not fear the future. To be sure, we may, all of us, have to endure difficult times in faith, but what is that to the future we see before us?
We close with St. Paul powerful thought from Romans 8 as the watchword for Advent Week 1:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. (Ro.8:18)
Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Jesus said to his disciples:
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man."