November 27, 2011
Year B Advent 1
The disciples are leaving the Temple area where Jesus has been in extended debate with religious leaders, who are trying to find grounds for discrediting him before the people or even better, grounds for arrest. All to no avail.
And yet they will arrest him in a matter of hours.
Perhaps all that is weighing on Jesus’ mind when one of the disciples pipes up, “Lord, isn’t that temple beautiful?!”
No doubt it was quite a sight. Josephus the historian whose life overlapped Jesus had seen it. Listen to some of it.
Now the magnitudes of the other gates were equal one to another; but that over the Corinthian gate, which opened on the east over against the gate of the holy house itself, was much larger; for its height was fifty cubits; and its doors were forty cubits; and it was adorned after a most costly manner, as having much richer and thicker plates of silver and gold upon them than the other. These nine gates had that silver and gold poured upon them by Alexander, the father of Tiberius….
Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were coming to it at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white. On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it. Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits in length (67.5ft), five (7.5 ft) in height, and six (9 ft) in breadth.
No wonder the disciple exclaimed, “Isn’t that wonderful?!”
Jesus looked past the splendor. He speaks it seems of what lay ahead, something which would happen before their generation were all gone. We see it foreshadowed a few years later when Emperor Caligula proposed a statue of himself as Zeus Incarnate be set up in the holy of holies. It would have happened except he was assassinated.
And then a revolt began in Caesarea in AD 66, was provoked by Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue.[Josephus, War of the Jews II.14.5] The Roman garrison did not intervene and the long-standing Greek and Jewish religious tensions took a downward spiral. In reaction, the son of the high priest Eliezar ben Hanania ceased prayers and sacrifices for the Roman Emperor at the Temple. Protests over taxation joined the list of grievances and random attacks on Roman citizens and perceived ‘traitors’ occurred in Jerusalem. Fearing the worst, the pro-Roman king Agrippa II and his sister Berenice fled Jerusalem to Galilee. And in just a few years we read Titus came sweeping into the land and slaughtered Jews in the thousands and when there were no more to slaughter, they began to destroy what was left of the temple.
When you see signs of these things flee to the countryside, Jesus warned.
All that splendor become a waste. Here we have no abiding city. No eternal temple.
The destruction will not just be real estate. “You will be persecuted,” Jesus says.
But “after that tribulation,” beyond all that, there will come a cosmic upheaval. Stars leaving their position, the sun going out, the moon vanishing in darkness. And the son of man will appear in glory and all the elect, God’s people from all the corners of the earth and all the corners of heaven will be gather together.
Then as I read it, Jesus goes back to speaking of the terror close at hand when he speaks of the fig tree and the disaster happening within their generation.
And then back again to the final end which is not so predictable, it won’t have the same signs of warning. And about that end no one can know the exact time.
Despite this clear word from Jesus that we could not know the time, an awful lot of folks have spent good time trying to predict when it would all be over.
Harold Camping, president of Family Radio first predicted the End of Days September 6, 1994/ When that proved wrong, he said his calculation was off and he declared the end would be May 21, of 2011, when nobody got raptured he changed it to read mankind entered into the Day of Judgment. This “day” will last for 5 months (153 days) until October 21, 2011. I don’t know what Mr. Camping is saying now.
Charles Russell who founded Jehovah’s Witnesses predicted the return of Jesus would be 1914. Since then the JW’s have predicted 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994.
I guess there is more than a little self-deception with some of these predictors. Mary Bateman, who specialized in fortune telling, had a magic chicken that laid eggs with end time messages on them. One message said that Christ was coming in 1809. The uproar she created ended when she was caught forcing an egg into the hen’s oviduct by an unannounced visitor.
Instead of playing 20 questions with the date the world will end, Jesus said we should be expectantly alert, while we work.
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
It is as if we have been put in charge of the Christ’s business and we each have our job in that, we are to be about that work as part of being ready for the return of the master. And we are to expect that at anytime– night, midnight, dawn, or morning.
Treating the Bible like some kind of Da Vince Code is just a big mistake. There is more important things to do than looking for clues to secret timetable that doesn’t exist. There is kingdom work to be done.
There is a movement Tony Campolo is promoting called “Red Letter Christians.” A secular Jewish country-and-western disc jockey in Nashville, Tennessee first suggested that title. During a radio interview with Jim Wallis, that deejay declared, “You’re one of those Red-Letter Christians – you know, the ones who are really into all those New Testament verses that are in red letters!”
When I think of the job Jesus had in mind for the disciples and for us till he comes in glory, I think mostly of the verses in red. The sermon on the mount, the parables. I have to think Jesus had in mind living humbly, caring for the unfortunate, visiting the sick, making room for the outcast, practicing forgiveness, receiving little children, praying and giving and going. We will not run out of things to do if we are about the work of Jesus.
Paul says in our reading from I Corinthians, “1.7…..You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end….” We have not only been given an idea of the work to do but the resources and power to get on with it. That is how we wait for the coming of the Lord.
Richard Cavanaugh reminds us that beyond doing some small deed for someone in need, part of the proper work of those who wait is to tackle the deeper causes of problems.
But there is more. Jesus said not only work, but wait.
We must not read these as opposites. Waiting means that our work is within our sense of God’s work. We are listening for God to give direction. We will pray about what we should do and when. We are striving in everything to keep in step with the Lord.
Waiting means I shift the emphasis from what I am doing to what God is doing. It means being open to God. Something that Isaiah 64 says the people were lacking: There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you (64:7).
Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.”
Proverbs 20:22 “Do not say, `’I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.”
Isaiah 30:18: “For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”
Isaiah 40:31, “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Johannes Brahms took up the text of Psalm 39
4 LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
5 Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.
6 Surely every man walketh in a vain shew: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
7 And now, Lord, what wait I for? (passionately, desperately) (then peacefully:) my hope is in thee.
Waiting means to pray:
Psalm 106:13, “They soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.”
God may tell us to be still as he told Moses to just watch as he delivered Israel through the Sea of Reeds.
In Acts 1, the disciples are ready for Jesus to bring the kingdom to fullness right now. Instead, Jesus tells them they will be involved in that process, but first– “Don’t do anything yet. Go back to Jerusalem and wait there until the Holy Spirit comes.” “I’m sure this must have come as a major surprise. Here’s a crucial insight: When God wants to reach the world, his first step is to tell his people to slow down and wait for him.”
Isaiah 30:15 the Lord says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” And you would not, but you said, “No! We will speed upon horses,” therefore you shall speed away, and, “We will ride upon swift steeds,” therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
Or God may tell us as he did David “Go up and engage for I am with you.”
In 2 Samuel 5:19, when the Philistines were pursuing David, it says, “David inquired of the Lord, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Wilt thou give them into my hand?’ And the Lord said to David, ‘Go up. For I will certainly give the Philistines into thy hand.’”
Please note that to acting under God’s guidance is a way of “waiting on the Lord” for the simple reason you are not doing it without dependence on God.
Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”
Psalm 33:16–22: A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save . . . Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. Yea, our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let thy steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in thee.
Sometimes waiting on the Lord means I do not act, but as God may lead me, I leave it in God’s hands how things will turn out. But waiting sometimes means I act. But whether the action is engaging the enemy, building, visiting, creating, debating, studying, struggling, we do it relying on the Lord. That is what it means to wait on the Lord.
All our actions must await God’s completion.
I do my little deeds till God sweeps our work into his great Deed of Redemption. We work waiting for how God will finish what we cannot complete.
Niebuhr’s great prayer:
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
And so we come to that brazen prayer “O that you would rip the heaven apart and descend to us.”
It is an acknowledgment that the help that is needed to fix this world is more than our efforts. It is an acknowledgment too that we cannot scale heaven to bring the Lord down. If there is contact between heaven and earth it will be the work of heaven breaking through the barriers.
God “acts on behalf of those who wait for him”… “those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.”
Lord Shackleton was a famous British scientist and explorer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He tried but failed in his initial attempt to reach the South Pole. In fact, he was forced to leave some of his men behind on a remote island in the dangerous Antarctic region. Shackleton promised to return for them. Day after day he tried to reach those marooned men, but always he failed because the dangerous ice would close the channel way between him and his abandoned crew. At last Lord Shackleton determined to make one great attempt at rescuing his men. The channel suddenly opened between the sea where Shackleton was and the island where his crew was stranded. At the risk of his own life, Shackleton rushed in with his ship, got his men aboard, and quickly rushed out, barely making it before the ice crashed together again. The whole rescue operation took less than 30 minutes.
Afterwards, Shackleton turned to one of the crew members whom he had rescued and asked, “How was it that you were all able to get aboard ship so quickly?” Replied the crewman, “Sir, Mr. Wild, the officer you left in command never let a chance slip. You had promised to come and we were waiting for you. Whenever there was the slightest chance of your coming, Mr. Wild would say, ‘Men, roll up your sleeping bags, the boss may be here today.` “Sir,” continued the crewman, “our sleeping bags were all rolled up, we were always ready. We were always prepared.” [From Proclaim (Parish Publications, 1993) ]
One preacher: My wife used to be a manager for a bank. One of the things they were always aware of was the likelihood that a bank auditor would show up. These folks were employees of the federal government who’s job was to ensure that individual bank branches were following all federal laws and security procedures. The key was, nobody ever knew when they were going to show up. As my wife once related, “I came to work this morning and as I was putting my key in the lock, the auditor came up and introduced himself to me.” She only knew it was time for an audit after it had already begun.
(Dr. John E. Harnish:)
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet…yet…yet…in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. (U.M. Hymnal, page 230)
Yet…In the dark streets of our world;
The dark streets of Bethlehem and Baghdad
The dark streets of own personal doubts and disillusionment
The dark streets of our day
Yet…in these dark streets, shines the everlasting light.
One lone candle, challenging the darkness.
One lone candle, lighting the way toward the future.
One lone candle…the gift of hope.