“Between the Times,” Luke 21:25-36, Donald W. Dotterer, 12/2/18. First Sunday of Advent.
“On a very bad day 66 million years ago, a rock the size of a mountain slammed into planet Earth. The collision initiated a series of calamities that wiped out three-fourths of the species on the planet, including the dinosaurs. The buried remnants of the 125 mile crater it blew in the earth have been identified on the Yucatan Peninsula and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists have theorized that an initial surge of intense heat was followed by a devastating global winter. After that, carbon dioxide in the earth surged, and the Earth became a global hothouse. The heat persisted for 100,000 years.”[i] So global warming is nothing new.
It was bad. But it was not the end. Indeed, it was a new beginning.
And something else is not new, either. That is thinking and worrying about the end of time.
The gospel reading for this day, this first Sunday of Advent, is always about the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of time. It does seem like a strange way to begin the run-up to Christmas, does it not? But there is, of course, a reason for it.
The Bible talks about not one, but two comings of Jesus. I would guess that most people don’t think of it this way. But that’s a fact.
There is Jesus’ first coming on Christmas Day. And then there is the Second Coming for which we are waiting. We live in between these two comings of Jesus, these two times. And I would argue that we cannot really understand what Jesus’ first coming is about until we have some understanding of what his second coming is all about.
With regard to the first coming of Jesus that we celebrate on Christmas, our Advent task is to prepare the way for Jesus to come as the child who brings hope, peace, love and joy into a troubled world.
In our modern world, one of those tasks is to keep the secular world from completely taking over Christmas and turning it into one big commercial binge. We’re not doing a very good job of that, because it seems more and more that way
with each passing year. But to be honest, we are up against some very powerful forces. So as we all know, the first coming of Jesus is about the birth of a baby. We know about that. We love that. And we need that. Again, we need the message of God’s hope, love, peace and joy that the Christ child brings into the world. We need it badly. And we need it now.
However. On this first Sunday in Advent our gospel reading, teaches us that the message is, “Be patient. We’ll get to that.” But first we need to think about the Second Coming. Again, before you can appreciate Jesus’ first coming, you need to understand something about the Second Coming.
No doubt about it, this is a hard reading to understand. We read that the Second Coming will be a turbulent time. The oceans will shake. That sounds like a tsunami.
We are told that there will be “portents.” That means that there will be frightening signs in the sky. Shooting stars perhaps? People will be terrified and confused. Human beings will stand helpless before the unstoppable power of nature.
That is an important point, I think. In recent years we have seen some terrible disasters. Most recently we’ve had the wildfires in California. We’ve seen devastating earthquakes and tsunamis. There are killer hurricanes every year now. We remember the eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii a few years ago that was absolutely uncontrollable.
The suffering and death that these disasters cause are horrible. That fact cannot be minimized.
However, these disasters do remind us that human beings can be rendered weak and helpless. These disasters remind us that there is still much in this world that human beings cannot control. These disasters remind us that we still need God to save us, and that we do not have the power to save ourselves.
The nation of Russia lost more people in World War II
than any other country. Estimates are that there were 24 million
civilian and military deaths. Before that millions of people died in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.
In 1994 the Soviet dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland of Russia after 20 years of exile in the United States. Solzhenitsyn has been described as a “prophet of old.” He looks like one, doesn’t he?
In 1983 Solzhenitsyn wrote what I believe are “some of the most profound words of the 20th century. He said, “more than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I remember hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that have befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all of this has happened.”
Since then I have spent 50 years working on the history of the (Russian) Revolution. In the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies and have written eight volumes of my own. But if I were asked to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat, “Men have forgotten God, that’s why all of this has happened.”[ii]
Those words answer a lot of the questions as to what is happening in our time as well, don’t you think? To me, those words say it all. That is our problem. People have forgotten God. Advent calls us to remember God again.
I believe that this is what Jesus’ prediction about the Second Coming teaches us. Jesus comes to us not so much when things are going well and it’s all sunshine and roses.
Jesus instead comes to in turbulent times, in difficult times,
in times of stress and weakness and loss. Jesus comes to us when we need him the most. He comes when life is out of control, when we finally realize that we cannot save ourselves and that we need God to help us.
People need the Lord. Always have and always will. It’s when we forget about God that we have problems that we cannot handle. Because although God doesn’t take away our problems, his Spirit does give us the direction and strength
to deal with them.
The story of the Bible teaches us this over and over again.
We’re learning that in the class on the Old Testament that I’m teaching on Thursday evenings. We are learning that when the people remember God, when they love and serve him, things go well for them. Not perfect, mind you. They still have problems. But things go well when they remember to love, honor and obey God. We can see that principle at work in our lives.
You know what I’m talking about. If you love God, you will live a better life, a calmer, stronger, more peaceful and happier life. You can see that in the lives of the saints in this church and any other church.
The Nicene Creed is the classic statement of Christian faith.
We say it here in worship every so often. It’s number 880 in the hymnal if you want to look it up. We say this line together, “He,” meaning Jesus ,“will come again to judge the living and the dead. “Will come again” is the translation from the Greek. However, the translation from Latin gives a different sense. It reads, Jesus is “about to come to judge the living and the dead.”
Both renderings have important meanings for us. But to say that Jesus is “about to come” suggests a present urgency.[iii] That keeps us from only thinking about the coming of Jesus as an event in the distant future that we will never live to see.
What that means is that Jesus comes to us moment by moment, when we need him. He comes to us now and he will come again at the end of time to make all things new.
This passage then reminds us again that the signs of Jesus’ coming are all around us, and they are around us right now. We can see them if we have eyes to see and hearts that pray.
Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. There will be distress among nations on earth.
We see plenty of that, don’t we? We see people who are confused, people who are fainting from fear of what is happening on earth. We see people who really and truly need the Lord. There is nothing that Jesus talks about here that we have not seen.
What that means is this—we need to be awake; we need to be alert. We need to be engaged in our faith so that we can see the signs through the eyes of faith. Because you see what Christian living is all about is waiting and watching for the One who has come as a child at Christmas, the One who is still to come as Master and as Lord of life. It’s a great time to be alive, a great time to live between these two times.
So there is hope. No matter what our circumstances are, there is always hope. In fact, it’s all about hope. As we rev up to celebrate Christmas, Jesus says us this first Sunday of Advent, “stand up and raise your heads.” That is, look up so that you can see that your salvation is coming soon. In fact, it is already here.
We need only to recognize it and to claim it. That is the great good news we hear this first Sunday of Advent.
One of the things that we sometimes hear about the Second Coming is that we don’t know when it’s coming.
A couple of weeks ago The Science Times celebrated its 40th anniversary. It featured a section on the 12 most pressing scientific questions in science that still need to be answered. Among those questions were, “Is there a ceiling to life expectancy? “Will we ever cure Alzheimer’s? “Can we outsmart fake news? And “Why aren’t there vaccines against everything?
No doubt about it, we need answers to these questions. And I believe those answers will come. God has gifted scientists to find solutions to the problems that plague this world. But then, quite interestingly, I thought, one of the authors of the article, Dennis Overbye, listed questions that do not deserve answers. He said, for instance, he doesn’t want to know what’s in a black hole. What would you find there? Maybe the end of time? Better not to know.
He says that if we ever stumble upon a message from an alien civilization from outer space, he doesn’t want to know what it says. He says if the note contained answers to say, how to achieve world peace, that would be cheating. If we’re not smart enough to figure that out on our own then we don’t deserve to survive. And he says, he doesn’t want to know when or how he will die. He has a suspicion about that, but he’d rather not know for sure. [iv]
Well, there are some things it’s better not to know. And the end of time is one of them. The end of our own time on earth is another.
But one thing we can be sure of is this, that in the end, whenever that might be, in the end, everything will be alright.
Because you see God, God in Jesus is our Emmanuel, God is with us in life, in death, and in life after death. That is the good news we hear again this Advent season.
Thanks be to God, Amen
[i] Journal of Science, News of the Weird. Date and author unknown.
National Review, 7/22/1983, p. 876.
[iii] The Living Church, 12/2/18, p. 25.
[iv] The New York Times, 11/20/18, D3-7.