THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2012
Rev. Fr. Charles McClean
“Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
– Luke 21:28
I wonder how many times you’ve found yourself asking, “Where will it all end?” That’s not the kind of question we’re likely to ask when things are going well, but I’m sure we’ve all asked that question in times of personal crisis, or when faced with family difficulties that just won’t go away, or on those days when we become so painfully aware of the violence and conflict in the world, of the deprivation and hunger, the sheer misery that mark the lives of millions. It’s then that we find ourselves asking, “Where will it all end?”
Just a few short days after those terrible events we’ve come to call “9-11,” I received a beautiful card from a very dear and considerably older friend encouraging all of us “to remain strong in faith and prayer because,” she said, “no matter what might happen in the meantime, we Christians already know how the story ends.” And how does the story end? In the coming again in glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead and to usher in His beyond-imagination glorious kingdom which in His love He prepared for us from the foundation of the world. That’s where it will all end!
To many people of course our Christian belief in Christ’s coming again has nothing to do with the urgent demands of life; it seems to deal with what to them is at best an utterly remote possibility – in fact an event that in all likelihood will never take place and therefore can be safely ignored. And if truth be told, even within the visible Church there are people who have in fact abandoned this hope in part because misguided teachers have so distorted our Lord’s teaching about this with all kinds of bizarre notions and have even attempted to predict the exact day and hour of His coming – despite the fact that our Lord Himself said: “Watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
In the Gospel for this Sunday our Lord does in fact speak of the signs of the last days: “signs in sun and moon and stars and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring…men fainting with fear and foreboding at what is coming on the world.” But what is so often forgotten is that, according to Holy Scripture, all days from Christ’s first coming in lowliness until His second coming in glory are in fact the last days – the days when God is at last bringing to completion His truly loving purpose for the whole creation. Saint John wrote, “Children, it is the last hour,” and Saint Paul addressed the Christians of his day as those “upon whom the end of the ages has come.”
And so when Jesus says, “When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near,” Jesus is not speaking in terms of our human time-table but in terms of God’s time-table which is another thing altogether – the Lord “with whom one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” In a word, the signs of which Jesus speaks tell us that He is coming, not when He is coming as Jesus said, “Watch for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “Watch, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Someone has said that our Lord’s coming again has to do not with a date but with an attitude. “Not a date” because the day and hour of His coming are known only to Him, “but an attitude”: an attitude which is neither cynical despair and resignation nor naïve optimism but rather a deep and abiding hope which can face the very worst and still rejoice because it is hope grounded solely in Christ: the Lord who through forgiveness makes each moment of our lives a new beginning, who brings good out of evil, life out of death, and who will in the End deliver the dying creation and wonderfully transform all things by the light of His resurrection. As Saint Paul writes to the Church at Rome, “Creation itself will” — in a way we cannot now even dimly imagine — “be delivered from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
We live in a dying world and you and I are dying people; the grave awaits each and every one of us, and the world as we now know it will come to an end. The signs of which Jesus speaks in this day’s Gospel tell us that this is so: “signs in sun and moon and stars and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring…men’s hearts fainting with fear and with foreboding at what is coming on the world.” In fact all the dismal and destructive realities of life tells us that this so. But if we remember and take seriously the words of Jesus, these signs — these grim reminders of our own mortality and of the world’s approaching end — are no cause for despair. Seen with eyes of faith, they are even reason for hope because they tell us that the Lord we love and long to see is in fact on His way; He is coming to gather His redeemed children into the kingdom which in His love He has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.
So where will it all end? Not in death and oblivion, but in the coming again of the Lord whose love we already know through His manger, cross, and open tomb. So, “When all these begin to take place, look up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”
In conclusion let me share with you some words from a sermon preached way back in 1891† 9 years before the dawn of the 20th century. In the light of all that has been happening since then, I’m tempted to say that these words are prophetic:
“Dear brothers in our common faith: You know full well that the great conflict draws to its close. History is but the record of the never-ending contest between the Church and the world. The Church, because she is the Bride of Christ, must in her collective entity repeat the life of her Lord. She must be betrayed, rejected, crucified, ere she passes to her risen life…Oh, the coming terror and the woe! Oh the trials of that coming century of blood…The world and the apostate Christianity, rejecting the Trinity, the Incarnation, the deity of Christ, his vicarious atonement, His resurrection in the flesh, His Church and altar and ministry and Sacraments and inspired Word, grows more boastful and triumphant. Do the powers of heaven seem to be shaken? Do the stars fall? Does the sign of the cross of persecution begin to appear? Then lift up your heads for your redemption draweth nigh…As the world waxes evil…the Church feels the nearer presence of her Lord’s approach. She has all along known Him to be true to His Word. She discerns His footsteps. She feels a glow as the cloud which hides Him begins to fade.”
† I’ve just got to say…wow. The Anglicans sure used to be full of piss and vinegar! (I mean that in the most complimentary way, too.) Do check out the link to the longer sermon by Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (here it is once again). Truly a riveting piece of homiletic oratory, and — as Fr. Charles suggests — seemingly prophetic.