1st Sunday in Advent
- Advent 1.21 “Empire of Fear” Luke 21:25-36
So the first thing, everyone wants to know about this Gospel is: “When Jesus says ‘this generation will not pass away until all has taken place’ what does this mean? Surely he can’t mean that all the signs of the End of the World and the Return of Christ in Glory would have happened before the generation of the Apostles—basically the 1st century AD—had passed away? Because that would mean The End has already happened and continues to unfold like a train wreck in slow motion, which would be nuts, right?”
Well… we’ve been doing a fair bit of balloon busting these last couple weeks with Jesus’ discourse on the End of the World and what that all entails. And I hate (well “hate” is probably too strong a word) to be the bearer of unsettling news but actually “this generation” beyond any reasonable argument, certainly means the generation of the Apostles would have seen all the signs of the End of the World as well as the Return of Christ in Glory—though, in fairness, it does not exclude any of the following generations (including our own) from seeing it all, right there with them.
Huh? How can that be? Well, as the early Christian fathers and faithful scholars like my friend Jeff Gibbs have shown, it’s quite clear: every box of the End-Times’ signs, and the Glorious Return got ticked during Holy Week and the ensuing 40 days—and in a worldwide fashion over the next 40 years.
A quick review: the signs of nation rising against nation, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrifying sights in the heavens, sun, moon and stars failing, persecution of the apostles, martyrdom before governors/kings, betrayal of the faithful by family and friends, the faithful being hated by all for Christ’s sake, the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel to every creature under heaven, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, fear and panic by the pagans that leads to the collapse of society, and the vision of Christ coming with glory on the clouds with all his angels, the gathering of the elect from earth’s farthest bounds?
Yep! it all happened, by 70 AD actually! On Good Friday, the powers of the heavens were shaken—sun, moon, and stars failed from noon till 3. At Jesus’ death, there were earthquakes, graves busted open, and the faithful being raised and visiting folks in the City, which scared the beejeebers out of all the pagans, but filled the faithful with delight—even though they were and are hated by all for Christ’s sake, whose Gospel was preached to every creature under heaven, which Paul said happened by 60 AD, actually.
One way to picture these mysteries is as double fulfillment—local and universal. For example, Jesus says the temple would be torn down. The real temple (he says in John 2) is his body which was torn down on Good Friday and raised up perfected Easter Sunday. Only the particular disciples around Jerusalem witnessed that, in 30 AD. But, 40 years to the day of Good Friday (which is best reckoned as April 6, 30 AD), on April 6, 70 AD, a Roman general Titus, leveled the temple and let the whole world know!
Another way to picture these mysteries (and they are mysteries beyond understanding!) is eternal and temporal. Jesus is always making a Glorious Return with power and glory. Easter Sunday, he returned victorious from the grave—his eternal kingdom breaking into time. Now, that’s power! That’s glory! The Apostles witnessed this—as they already had previously on the mountain of the transfiguration, and then again 40 days after Easter they saw him riding the clouds in glory, ascending to heaven to rule over all for the benefit of his Church. And by faith in the apostolic word, all the faithful see, through the Apostles’ eyes, these Glorious Returns of Christ Jesus in the cloud with power and great glory as our own confirming vision—eternity breaking in to our time. And every time we hear Jesus’ Story, or celebrate his Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, Christ returns to us in eternal power and glory.
But temporally, or historically, the Glorious Return (in Greek, παρουσια) will be consummated in the physical sight of all people one, final, ultimate time—when Christ Jesus returns on the clouds with all his angels to judge the universe, ending the old age of sin, death, and devils, ushering in the New Creation of Heaven. So, the eternal Glorious Return of Jesus happens to the faithful some times—for Abraham at his tent, or Samson’s parents; Moses on Nebo; or Elijah’s fiery chariot, David at Araunah’s threshing floor; us, here, now. But there will be an unknown, future, calendar date, when Jesus will Return Gloriously, one last time, and everyone will see this Last Day physically with his/her own eyes.
Finally, eschatologically speaking, the Last Day unfolds like this: the Last Day, strictly speaking, happened on Good Friday when Jesus died on the cross—as he said: “It is finished!”. The old creation passed away that day; and a new creation came (though deeply hidden!) dawning visibly on Easter Sunday with the Lord’s resurrection. That is the 8th, eternal Day (as the early Christians called it)—the 1st day of the new creation. It began Easter weekend, 30 AD, and continues to dawn wherever Jesus is received by faith as Lord of all.
So, we’ve been living in the Last Days from the time we were baptized into Jesus’ name and believed his story. But: what we see by faith through apostolic eyes now, we’ll see then, physically, with our own eyes when Jesus returns one Last Time, to destroy the old world and make a new one out of the ruins.
As we’ve been saying in bible class the last few weeks, the fire of destruction at the Last Day will scorch us all! No sinner escapes the flames. But… for the faithful it’ll be a warm and delightful Light (like a Caribbean beach in winter 🙂 bringing us endless communion with Jesus in which we perfectly reflect his Image. But, for the haters of Jesus, it will be a burning fire that will destroy them and their fantasy worlds. It’s like Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace: he thought it was punishment and death for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But, for them, it was glorious!—the place they met the Risen Lord Christ face to face and shone like the Sun with him…
I think FDR was onto something when he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Because it is the fear of the upheaval of the End Times that makes people faint (and society collapse). Alasdair MacIntyre in “After Virtue” was onto something when he observed: that, for civilization to survive, the cultivation of the virtues of courage, truthfulness, and justice is essential and a corresponding diminishment of vices like cowardice, deceit, and self-service is vital.
The (fake!) Empire of Fear grips our civilization with increasing intensity, every passing year. Terrorists, global warming, viruses, have most cowering in fear over what is coming—as if humanity could stop these things by our relentless pursuit of safety.
But the vision of Christ—crucified, risen, coming on the clouds—working even disaster for our everlasting good!—will always inspire courage, faith, and hope in the True and the Good. Consider this: if what is passing away is bad, weak, dull; and what is coming is good, true, beautiful, then it’s All Good, right?!
Still, it’s tempting—for all of us at times (myself included)—to give in to fear. But that Evil Old Empire is collapsing. It’s been conquered by King Jesus, time out of mind. Now, Christ’s Kingdom comes to us—by Word, Sacrament—absorbs us into the Greatest Story Ever Told, where each chapter is better than the last, and Peace surpassing all understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.