Advent 2, 2018
Fr. Kevin Craik
In the name of the + Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Signs in sun and moon and stars, distress of nations, roaring sea and waves, and the powers of the heavens being shaken. These are the signs, Jesus tells us, that will precede the coming of the Son of Man. Simple, right? ItŐs as simple as seeing a leaf come out of a fig tree, LetŐs be honest, IŐve often felt like saying to Jesus, if given the chance, Ňif only if it were that simple.Ó To which he would most likely respond to me and say ŇKevin, youŐre missing the point, you donŐt know what youŐre talking about,Ó and I would be forced to say, Ňya youŐre right.Ó
But nonetheless the point remains. Especially with passages like our gospel lesson today, what is known as JesusŐ Olivet Discourse, along with the book of Revelation, there is a great amount of detail, complexity, and I imagine perplexity. Passages like these are what we call apocalyptic, which in the Greek means an uncovering, a disclosure, a revelation, most often associated with an uncovering of what will happen in the eschaton, or the final days.
ItŐs important to realize that when LukeŐs readers were encountering this for the first time, or the original audience of Revelation as well, all of this kind of language would have been familiar to them. ItŐs not to us, but it would have been to them. They were familiar with this apocalyptic genre, as the Old Testament is filled with this kind of imagery and language, especially when envisioning the Day of the Lord, which was seen as the reckoning, when God would return, judge the world, and meter out the appropriate judgment and sentence for the wrongs that the people had done.
And in IsraelŐs history, the temple played a central role in all of this, in their religious life and culture, and it became the focal point of GodŐs judgment on his people. In our Jeremiah lesson from last week as well as the lessons from Isaiah appointed in Morning and Evening Prayer during Advent, much of the themes revolve around the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians. Israel had been warned, through prophets to return to God, to return to the Covenant, putting away their sins, but they failed to listen, and thus reaped what they had sown.
In Luke, JesusŐ Olivet Discourse was triggered by some who were speaking about the temple and itŐs noble adornment, which in Jesus day, was under a massive rebuilding and beautification project that had begun in 20 BC, and continued until AD 63 or 64, about thirty years after JesusŐ time. It is in this sense, that Jesus stands right in the path and harkens back to the Old Testament prophets, echoing their message, calling GodŐs people to repentance, predicting GodŐs judgment, and the destruction of the Temple. And this happened, just like the Babylonians destroyed the temple, only six or seven years after the rebuilding project was completed in the first century, Israel was judged, and Jerusalem was besieged and the temple was destroyed. And just like when the Babylonians did this, it was horrific. Josephus, a contemporary historian tells us that a million Jews were killed and 100,000 were taken captive.
So then after Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple that will take place, he then proceeds in this discourse to speak about the coming of the Son of Man, returning to the use of this familiar, traditional apocalyptic language: cosmic chaos, signs in sun and moon, heavens shaking etc. What we need to try to do is avoid missing the forest for the trees. This kind of language is intended to convey a message, it is the medium for the message, not the message itself. So then the natural question that we ask ourselves is, well whatŐs the message? WhatŐs the purpose of all of this? And I would say that itŐs this: The Son of Man will return and he will usher in universal judgment. No one will be able to escape it, Jesus says that it will come upon Ňall who dwell on the face of the whole earth.Ó Since this is the case, we need to be prepared, thatŐs whatŐs behind all of this, Jesus wants his listeners, and us to be prepared for the hour of visitation.
The story of the people of Israel in the Old Testament and here in the New is extraordinarily sad in this regard. She missed her hour of visitation, she refused to repent, and thus became an example, a very painful example of the cost of turning away from the call of God. As we reflect on Israel, we ought to receive a sober warning, because the judgment that passed on Jerusalem is just a foretaste of the judgment that will come on the whole world. So as we reflect then on Israel, and on JesusŐ words, we must take very seriously the call to preparation.
This is why we read this passage during Advent, as we re-live the story of ChristŐs first advent while simultaneously awaiting for his second advent at the end of days. ItŐs for this reason that Advent is a penitential season. Not because thereŐs some virtue in being gloomy and dark overly serious, covering ourselves with sackcloth and ashes, no. The penitential nature of Advent is organic, organic in the sense that we cannot anticipate the second advent of Jesus without being mindful of how we will prepare for his second advent. And the basic but pervasive theme of the New Testament, including this discourse is that the way that we prepare for JesusŐ coming is by putting our house perfectly in order .
According to Jesus putting your house perfectly in order looks like a few things, the first being repentance. There are things in your life that you are currently doing that you know you need to stop. And there are things in your life that you currently are not doing that you know you need to do...Ówe have done those things which we out not to have done and have left undone those things which we ought to have done...Ó So stop making excuses. The message of Advent, the message of our Gospel reading today, is that the time to do this is now, donŐt delay. There are things, that are just screaming at you, if you had the courage this listen, that you could leave here today and either stop doing or start doing that you know would make your life and the lives of everyone around you better. So start today, repentance starts in your own home today, right now, because this day of judgment, Jesus says, will come upon you like a trap if you donŐt, if you turn yourselves over to Ňdissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.Ó
Secondly, preparing for the day of the Lord looks like perseverance. The message of the apocalyptic literature is that hard times are coming, Jesus tells us to pray for strength. For Ňhe who perseveres to the end will be saved.Ó This is the paradoxical message of Christianity, epitomized in the suffering of Jesus on the cross: heaven comes after suffering, redemption comes not with the sword, but rather, through the Cross. As GodŐs people, we will have to endure many things before the end comes, may we look to the example of Our Lord, who starred directly into the eyes evil, and chose to enter willingly into his passion...death precedes resurrection...
And finally, preparation looks like remaining vigilant and awake through prayer. IŐll be honest, when difficult/stressful times come for me, the first thing to go is my prayer. And IŐm becoming more and more convinced that this is the work of sin, evil, and the demonic: to disconnect us from our prayer...Because prayer is not merely one thing among many that we do as Christians...prayer, communion with God, is the telos, the goal, the climax of the Christian life. Christ is inviting us into a life of prayer, where by his grace, he will transform us and lead us through to the end.