JESUS IS COMING!
Sermon preached on November 30th, 2003
By Fr Tony Noble
St. Luke 21:31 ĒWhen you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.Ē
I grew up in a city in South Australia called Port Adelaide. As the name implies, it was a port town. And in the middle of Port Adelaide there was a river which the ships used to come down and dock. About half way up was a bridge, and it was one of those that opened in the middle - every time a boat needed to come through the bridge there were warning signs and traffic signals and a boom gate, like at a railway crossing. So whenever a boat approached the traffic signals would flash and the boom gate would come down. Woe betide any car that had passed the boom gate!
When I got my drivers license I used to drive over that bridge quite a lot. One day the traffic signals went and the boom gate came down - and I was second behind a car that was half-way through the boom gate. So this car started to reverse - started to roll down and get closer and closer - and it got closer and closer!† I could see it coming, and on the back was a sticker. And as the car got closer I could read the sticker.....and the sticker said: Jesus is coming. And I just wondered who was driving that car!!
So here we are in Advent - the season in which Jesus is coming.†
Itís an interesting† start to the season for me because on Thursday I experienced my first ever Thanksgiving.† And what a wonderful day it was. It began with a lovely Mass here at 9am, and then I went to lunch, which was very nice. It was very much like Christmas Day in Australia. The temperature was getting warm, people were having big lunches, and as I drove up the road to Kensington I spotted what is very common in Australia, a heathen mowing his lawn. When everyone else is having lunch, some man has to mow the lawn! So I felt very much at home. After a very pleasant and long lunch I went to another parishionerís home for what I thought were drinks at the end of lunch, but which turned out to be another lunch.
Then I went home, and I was very thankful for Godís mercies to me as your Rector. I then read the paper. And there on page one in Thursdayís paper -sandwiched between the Chargerís lawsuit against the city and the fighting in Iraq - was a little bit about Australia. Now I was very taken by this, since the chances of reading something about Australia on the front page of an American newspaper are about one in ten years.† So this is probably the only reference Iíll find in my time as your Rector! And what was it about? Not Nicole Kidman, not even Russell Crowe. But it was about trade.
To put it briefly it was about conversations in Australia between representatives of America and of Australia, and discussing tradeoffs for trade. Australian farmers want no tariffs on their meat. At the moment Australian beef and lamb is rather expensive because the government here puts a tariff on it. And the Australian government would like it removed so that they can compete with other countries & USA meat. And as a quid pro quo, the American government wants the Australian tariff on pharmeseuticals. That would mean that Australian meat will be cheap in America and American medicine will be cheap in Australia. Well, itís good news for Australian farmers but bad news for Australians who need medicine!
Thatís really what newspapers are like. The good news always has some bad news attached. Indeed, when we look at the newspapers, or watch television, or listen to the radio, it all seems to be just plain bad news. Itís either the war in Iraq, or itís some scandal, or perhaps itís some crime involving someone holding high office. Or perhaps the worst sort - something bad befalling someone who didnít deserve it: some child who has been stricken with some awful disease, or some family being stricken by some death that was not of their making. It does seem that so much of the news is about innocent suffering. Things sometimes seem to be getting worse in our world and not better. And people often say to me as a priest: what is happening in our world when even people who are responsible elected office bearers sometimes canít help but do the wrong thing? And people even say - and Iím getting used to it Ė whatís wrong with our church? Whatís happening in the Episcopal church? And people then say when they look at the world and the church: where is God - where is God in all this? Iím sure youíve asked that question. Perhaps with some tragedy or mishap in your own life youíve wondered where was God? Where was He when I needed him? Where is the passionate love of God for our world that we proclaim? Where is that good news that we look for in the headlines? And when we ask these questions, we often look for a quick fix. We want God to come and fix the situation. We cry out to Him in prayer hoping that He will somehow do what we require and ask. Perhaps we want God to sort it out for us. Make it all right again. Perhaps - make it how we think it used to be like, when the world was a nicer, happier place, when things didnít go wrong.
This is a very natural thing to do. Some Christians actually take it one step further. They say (and Iím sure youíve heard it) these things that are so terrible - they are signs of Godís judgement. And maybe they would suggest the imminent end of the world, that these are a sign that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and coming very soon. What Iíve noticed is that these people get very excited about the second coming. They really want Jesus to come soon and fix up the world, and judge all those naughty people - usually everyone else except them! They rejoice when Scripture says that God will reward the just, and is going to punish the evil doers - which is probably you and I! They warn us that time is running out. And didnít they make a lot of noise three years ago as we approached the the year 2000? Remember all that hullabaloo that this was surely going to be the end of it all? For them Advent goes fifty-two weeks in the year, not just for four! Yet, in todayís gospel, Jesus says in verse 25: ďThere will be signsĒ, in verse 28: ďThey will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with powerĒ, and in verse 31: ďWhen you see these things taking place, know that the Kingdom of God is near..Ē
I talked about the Kingdom of God last week, and since Scripture can never contradict itself, let me remind you of what I said last. I quoted Jesus, who said ďthe kingdom of God is within you.Ē And about how the kingdom would be revealed by works of justice, compassion, charity and reconciliation. So, if the kingdom of God is coming with power, it comes first within us. It is manifested not by finger-wagging judgmentalism, but by reconciliation, and peace, and justice. The history of the last two centuries, the nineteenth and the twentieth, is littered with religious groups that predicted the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus. Of course, they are still waiting. And what signs did they show when they pronounced this coming of the Kingdom? Not reconciliation or justice, or love - but discrimination, and worst of all, a delight in other peopleís sins. And a delight in people being evil and sinful. Some, like the JWs, the SDAs, and the Christadelphians became fringe groups, and tried to explain away their prophecies. Others just disappeared.
The most bizarre of all happened not in America, but in Australia, in the 1920s in Sydney. A self-proclaimed Prophet said that Jesus was coming through the Sydney Harbor Heads. So he built an Amphitheater - and he sold seats didnít he! People bought those seats so that they could come watch Jesus coming through the Sydney Heads. Itís interesting that these fundamentalists can often be so dogmatic about the second coming of Jesus, yet other parts of the Scripture they are very quiet about. Like John 6. Every self-respecting Anglocatholic knows that John 6 is about the Eucharist. There Jesus says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we do not have eternal life. That through the Eucharist, we feed on him, and receive eternal life Ė his life. Funny how those people who want the Lord to come, and come very soon, donít stop to see him coming Sunday by Sunday in their local church. For that matter where were their prophecies about signs and judgement during the Nazi Holocaust? That seems to me a bigger sign of manís evil and Godís judgment.
Are we just to ignore the second coming, then, as something we only celebrate for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the Christian year? Are we simply to say that the second coming is colorful, but not really that significant? Well, I hardly think so. But let's be straight about one thing: Jesus said that no one knows when it will happen except the Father. Only God knows when the second coming is happening. So when some TV preacher says its very near, and some church prophesizes itís very soon, you can guarantee that theyíre wrong. Because they do not know. Only God the Father knows. In fact the book they love, Revelation, is not about the 21st Century, but about the 1st Century - written to provide hope and meaning to the Christians being persecuted in Rome. And for those who think that 666 is the mark of the Vatican or your credit card number, its actually a reference to the Emperor Nero - who was indeed the antichrist.
As we begin this new church year today we do focus on the fact that one day Jesus may come. We live as if we do not know when that will be - maybe even this afternoon. And that is the spirit of Advent my friends - not presents, gift-buying, feasting, decorations and parties - preparing for those things - but as if it could all finish, because Jesus might walk in at the end of this Mass in his second coming.
Thatís how weíre meant to live in Advent. Itís a rather sobering thought. And Advent is a sober season. It calls us to reflect not on evil in the world and Godís judgement, but that somehow the world has always been like that - and that into that world, two thousand years ago God sent us our Savior. We have four weeks to reflect that somehow the world has always been like it is. Itís always the innocent who suffer and thereís always evil hanging around. God sent His Son all those years ago. And because we now have four weeks to reflect on that, we have to prepare inwardly like John the Baptist, like Mary, like Joseph, and like the Old Testament prophets. To prepare ourselves in our hearts yet again.
Advent is a time to renew and to refocus. To start living as if Jesus might come tomorrow, but not to get carried away with the things of this world, neither the good things, nor the bad things. The 2nd reading today gives us a manifesto for our Advent. St. Paul says to the Thessalonians these words: ďĒThe Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all as much as we do to you.Ē Advent starts with all of us being more loving, making our church a community of love. Showing the world that the love and peace of Christmas are here. So that from here, through us, radiate lifestyles of goodness, peace within, and of joy. Not finger-wagging judgementalism, but openhanded embrace. This is the message of Advent. This is our manifesto.