Second Saturday of Advent
December 10, 2011
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)
I imagine that Jesus’ words to his disciples were just a bit disturbing to them, and also to those who would read them over the following three centuries, as the persecution of the church ebbed and flowed. If the first disciples were expecting Jesus to restore Israel to her former glory, then warnings about wars, famines, earthquakes, torture, and death would not be the good news they were desiring. It must have been disheartening to hear that people would rise up and distort what Jesus had done, and that folks would turn away in coldness.
It seems that every time we have a major earthquake or wars break out, people claim that this is it: Jesus is coming. These are the signs. The only problem with those kinds of predictions is that natural disasters and wars have been going on for a pretty long time. The torture and killing of people who are perceived to run cross-grain to the dominant culture is nothing new. It’s the way of the world.
But Jesus says that the good news of the kingdom, in spite of all that global ruckus, will still be proclaimed. Yes, the end will come, but it will come to a world that exists in upheaval, violence, and oppression. Those things are not aberrations; they are normative for the world.
Those who endure seem to experience and anticipate a different reality. We live in that tumultuous world, but we who follow Jesus have a citizenship in a different kingdom. We might accept the world as it is, but we know that God’s desire and plan is for a new heaven and a new earth. We endure not simply because we are hanging around and waiting for the end, but because God’s kingdom is real for us, and he has deposited his Spirit within us.
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