Sermon for Advent I, Year C
Based on Lk. 21:25-36
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“On Being Prepared”
Here we are at the beginning of another new, liturgical church year, focusing on the ending of life as we know it now in this world. In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses the subject of the end times and instructs all Christians to “take heed, watch at all times, praying” in order that we may always be prepared for the end of the world and Christ’s second coming.
Ever since the birth of Christianity, there have been so-called prophets, who prophesied the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. Some of them were even so bold as to give the precise date, place and circumstances of the end times. In Jesus’ own day, a group called the Essenes lived in caves by the Dead Sea, and believed that the world would come to an end in their day.
At the time of the Reformation, in the 16th century, some of the Anabaptists also isolated themselves from the rest of the world, believing that they would be ready for Jesus when he came again in their lifetime. In 1831, an American, named William Miller announced that Christ would come again and the world would end twelve years later in 1843. Another American, Charles T. Russell believed that the Lord’s second coming had already occurred in 1874, and prophesied that the end of the world would come very soon. William Miller was the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists and Charles T. Russell was the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In the 20th century, there were also several individuals and groups who predicted that the world would come to an end in their day. In our day and age, many really got onto the apocalyptic-eschatological bandwagon—many of whom continue to predict that the world is going to end this year, 2000, or in the near future. Adventism and millennialism continue to attract the curiosity of many people. Fundamentalist Christians, televangelists, and the so-called prophets of doom and gloom—like Hal Lindsey and other far-out crackpots—claim to have a direct line to God, thus knowing that they can predict, with certainty, exactly when Christ will come again, and under which exact historical events the world will come to an end.
In almost all of these examples of Adventism and millennialism, it is, and has been, a case of the blind leading the blind and the misguided leading astray and misguiding others.
One of the characteristics of many of these so-called prophets who predict Christ’s second coming and the end of the world is that they have serious personal problems. Some are able to hide their personal problems quite well, leaving other people with the false impression that they are right or true. Some of them claim that they are the only ones to enjoy a monopoly on the truth. They claim to teach with absolute certainty, trying to falsely convince others that they are experts in their field—but, in reality, they may never have done any serious theological or biblical studies.
Another characteristic is that many of these people appeal to the emotions of others, and are able to manipulate their emotions very well, especially the emotion of fear! They use scare tactics—sometimes even personal threats of violence and insults—to make others feel fearful. They tend to demonize everyone and everything outside of themselves and their reality. Hence, in fear for what may happen to their own lives, some people will do almost anything to please these so-called prophets.
A third characteristic of these end-time prophets is their extremely literal and narrow interpretation of the Bible. Instead of listening carefully to the Bible and allowing the Bible speak for itself by standing under the Bible: they place their own biased views and agendas on the Bible by taking the Bible out of its historical context and twisting it in such a manner that it says what they want it to say, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself.
They often take difficult, unclear biblical texts and turn them into an unbending, certain, clear-cut statement. They do not have a mature, deep faith in God, that’s why they want black and white, overly simple, pat answers. Instead of trusting that God is in control of the future, no matter what happens to us or the world; they want to be certain of the future by precisely predicting the time and circumstances of Christ’s second coming and the end-times. But they forget that Jesus himself said in the Bible that it’s not revealed to any human being the exact time or circumstances of the second coming and the end-times.
For example, such so-called prophets might read our gospel today and interpret the recent floods in say Bangladesh or the tornado at Pine Lake, Alberta as certain signs that Jesus is coming late this year on December 29, 2000 at 9:00 a.m. They attempt to make these contemporary events a self-fulfilled prophecy of the events in the Bible passage—when, in actual fact, these events in the Bible do not specify a particular time or place.
The important point of our gospel today (and other Bible passages like it, which speak about cataclysmic events leading up to the end times, is not the specific details of when these events will take place. What is important is the emphasis on Being Prepared, Being Alert, Watching At All Times And Praying that we will Be Ready To Meet Our Lord When He Comes Again.
Our gospel today is, essentially saying this: “Don’t worry about or be afraid of all the finer details of the time and place of these events. Rather, Live Each And Every Day As One Who Is Prepared To Meet Jesus When He Comes Again.” In other words, Trust Him With Your Whole Life, Each And Every Day Of Your Life. Don’t trust these so-called prophets who mislead you into believing that they are able to predict exactly when the world will end and Jesus will come again. Only God Knows That—So Trust In God, God Knows Best And God Is In Control Of Your Life And Mine.
I rather like the anecdote that Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz told our Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, Alberta Region Fall Dialogue recently. The anecdote is ascribed to Martin Buber, who, on one occasion told it to a Christian audience, and it goes like this:
Buber asked his audience what the difference was between himself, a Jew, and the Christian audience. His answer—Christians believe the Messiah has already come, whereas the Jewish people believe he has not come yet. When he comes, Buber suggested that the most pressing question for Jews and Christians would be whether this was the Messiah’s first or second coming. However, before the Messiah revealed his answer, Buber would whisper into the Messiah’s ear: “Don’t answer that question!”
Rabbi Ehrenkranz’s take of Buber’s anecdote was that the point of our belief in the Messiah is not whether it is his first or second coming. Rather, that our belief in the Messiah inspires us all—Jews and Christians alike—to be better people; to make the world a better place in which to live for everyone; to live in the world as equals.
I also like the tale about the person who asked Martin Luther what he’d do if he knew the world was going to end tomorrow. Luther replied that he’d still plant an apple tree. In other words, if we are living within God’s will and ways, it doesn’t really matter when the end-times come, for we shall have nothing to fear or dread or hide or regret—We Shall, Trusting Confidently In God, Be Prepared.
This Advent, may we look forward to the end-times and coming Messiah with complete faith, hope joy and expectation—knowing and trusting God’s Word will be fulfilled among us.
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