The Reading from the Hebrew Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9
The Gospel Reading: Mark 13:24-37
Can you tell me what these different things have in common? The Hula-hoop, Duncan Butterfly Yo-yo’s, pet rocks, Pogs, Elmo dolls, Fidget Spinners.
Fidget Spinners are the most recent item. You've heard of them, haven't you? They are one of the hottest toys of 2017. Each item on the list has been a fad, especially around Christmas. They have all come and gone with the passing of time. As we enter a new seasonal time this morning, our Advent challenge may be to avoid fads and to build our lives on something more solid than a pet rock or passing theological craze. Fads are not limited to children. Adults are equally susceptible. Let me give an example with two words: pet rocks.
Over a six-month period in the mid-1970s, 1.5 million pet rocks were sold. These smooth stones were sold in cardboard boxes with a nest of straw and breathing holes. They were just rocks! Some were painted, others given names- And sane people -- -- at home or work, and they had a pet rock on their shelf or desk. I remember wishing I had thought of the idea!
All of these were/are fads. So, exactly what is a fad?
Dictionary definitions include: "An intense but short-lived fashion; craze; a temporary fashion, notion, manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group."
All of which brings us to fads connected to the Bible, especially to passages describing the return of Christ. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus says that "the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory" (vv. 25- 26).
Keep your eyes open, says the Bible. "When you see these things taking place, you know the end is near" (v. 29).
The apocalyptic elements of Scripture -- Daniel, Revelation and some of the words of Jesus -- have been seized by some theologians and preachers in an almost faddish fashion.
The general term describing this theological viewpoint is
Millennialism (from millennium, Latin for "a thousand years"), It is a belief taught by some Christian denominations that a Golden Age will occur on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state (the "World to Come" of the New Heavens and New Earth).
Think about church history. The Anabaptists of the 1530s in Münster, Germany. The Millerites of the early 1840s who took to the mountains by the thousands to await the return of Christ, later becoming The Seventh Day Adventists, still awaiting the imminent end of the earth today.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Christ will rule from heaven for 1,000 years as king over the earth, assisted by 144,000 holy ones.
Armageddon will be a decisive battle between two opposing forces: on one side, Christ Jesus together with the holy angels; in opposition, human governments and institutions (manipulated by wicked spirits) insistent on maintaining control over humanity
The most controversial interpretation of millennialism in general is Adolf Hitler's "Third Reich", which in his vision would last for a thousand years to come, but which ultimately only lasted for 12 years (1933–1945). This “Third Reich” was to be known as, The Age of the Holy Ghost.
During the early part of the Third Reich many Germans referred to Hitler as being the German Messiah.
More recently, The Left Behind books and movies all reflected and were built upon this apocalyptic theological framework. And this list only scratches the surface of apocalyptic fever that has raged through the human community over the millennia. Clearly, fads come and go, whether they involve fidget spinners or biblical prophecies. But the truth is, nothing really endures.
Jesus said that absolutely everything will pass away, including "heaven and earth" (v. 31).
In this season of Advent we might ask, what, then, will not fade and disappear?
Jesus says Everything will come and go. Except -- "My words will not pass away" (v. 31). The gospel, the teaching of Jesus is our solid foundation in an ever- changing world; this is why every day we need to "keep awake -- for you do not know when the master of the house will come" (v. 35).
Spending our life energy and time trying to figure out when the world is going to end is a total waste of time.
Early followers of Jesus understood there is more than one kind of time. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (χρόνος) and kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time. Kairos signifies a proper or opportune time for action. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature. In the New Testament, "kairos" means "the appointed time in the purpose of God", the time when God acts; when kairos is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand. It is the kind of time the gospel of Mark is talking about.
"Kairos" is used 86 times in the New Testament and refers to the opportune time, a "moment" or a "season" such as "harvest time", whereas "chronos" (used 54 times) refers to a specific amount of time, such as a day or an hour.
Our challenge is to move from trying to fit God’s time into our time. You simply cannot fir Kairos time into chronological time: it simply does not work. The failure of every denomination or sect built upon guessing the date of the end times is indicative of this fact.
As we begin the season of Advent, let's build our lives and our hopes on something more solid than a pet rock or the newest predictions of Armageddon.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers words that are foundational for those seeking to follow. Unfortunately, the gospel of Mark does not include this important set of teachings. Mark tells us that Jesus "went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message" (1:39), but then skips over three chapters of teachings that appear in the gospel of Matthew.
So Mark is not a big help when it comes to the words of Jesus. Better to turn to Matthew, in which Jesus says, "Do not resist an evildoer ... give your cloak ... go also the second mile ... give to everyone who begs from you ... love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (5:39-44).
Such words are difficult to hear and to follow. Jesus begins by saying, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'" (v. 38), and this makes perfect sense to us. After all, we live with a justice system which generally follows the conventional wisdom that the punishment should fit the crime. It only seems fair to take "an eye for an eye."
But then the immutable and eternal words of Jesus point to a substantially different
reality: God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good" (v. 45).
In this reality, everyone, evil and good, righteous and unrighteous, is a child of God. God loves us all, whether we are saints or sinners.
Our job is not to follow fads that tend to lift some people up and bring others down; or guess who is “saved” and who “doomed” or “damned”.
Instead, we are to try to love other people as God loves them, seeing the image of God in people who may look very ungodly to us.
In a rather sarcastic tone Jesus asks, "If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" (v. 46). In other words, if you only love your friends and family members, what have you accomplished? Anyone can do that -- even the corrupt tax collectors of the Roman Empire.
"Do not resist an evildoer," says Jesus (v. 39). Jesus is not being soft on evildoers with these words, but is teaching that resistance can lead to an escalation of violence; while non-violent tactics can facilitate change. Nelson Mandela took this approach in South Africa when he said, "If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
One resource Homiletics, remarked, "Give your cloak," says Jesus. "Go also the second mile" (vv. 40-41). Show your neighbors that you love them so much that you will literally give them the coat off your back. Demonstrate that you are seeing God so clearly in them that you will walk a great distance with them.
Look an oppressive Roman soldier in the eye and see the image of God in him. Carry his gear farther than the law allows, so that he will be forced to see you as a person, not a pack animal. Make him so uncomfortable that he will have to wrestle his gear out of your hands and take it back to avoid breaking the law!
"Give to everyone who begs from you," says Jesus. "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (vv. 42, 44).
In each of these commands, we are being challenged to see other people in a new light -- in the light of Jesus' words.
As we walk in this way, in Kairos time, we begin to see our neighbors as children of God, and as people who carry inside them the image of Christ.
I am not saying this is easy, but it is the key to our Advent hope, moving from our interpretation of time into God’s time, following the words that last forever.
Part of the problem with end-times theology is that western people see time as a line. We think in terms of beginning, middle and end. Thus, to consider the "end times" is to anticipate the end of the world-as-we-know it ... when history will cease to be.
But the biblical texts of Advent point in another, more mysterious direction -- that time is not a line. Rather, time is held in the being of God. Indeed, time is timeless. Think about it for just a moment: What do the divisions past, present and future really mean? When does the present slip to the past? When does the future arrive? When is the now of the present? Isn't time much more of a wonder, a spiritual or philosophical question, than a line?
If we enter the Advent journey with a different perspective on time, the apocalyptic texts speak afresh. ...This is the dance of time, grace-filled steps that enact God's vision that the end-times are all times; that all times are the end-times. In this spirit of times-enfolded-in-time, we walk through Advent. Jesus has been born, but we act as if we are still waiting. Christ will return, yet Christ has already come.
Pastoral Prayers Advent
Loving God, as we enter into this Advent season, help us to remember what is truly important in our lives. Jesus instructed us to "Be on guard!" and to "Be alert!" Yet we have become complacent and have forgotten these admonitions to be aware.
Keep our eyes open to your arrival and inspire us to live as if each day were our last day. Let our focus be on preparing our hearts and homes for your coming -- not on the frenzy of shopping and decorating. Help us to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life.
Let us pray and care for one another, mindful of those who enter this season, not with a sense of gladness, but with grief or wistfulness. We lift up, in particular, this morning those who are ill, who mourn the loss of a loved one, who struggle to make peace with painful memories of past Christmas seasons. We continue our prayers for those who struggle with addictions, knowing the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. May their and our hope be in you and the promise of your presence in our daily lives. We pray in the name of Jesus, who offered us this simple prayer: