1701) Advent (part three of three)

Image result for advent images

      (…continued)  Martin Luther himself found this to be the case.  When he was young and brilliant and powerful, and the revolution he started in the church was going his way, and he was riding high on a wave of public support—then, he did not care much for the book of Revelation.  It is too strange, too negative, too wild and chaotic, he thought.  But then in later years, when the reformation he started turned chaotic, and his whole world was reeling out of control, and he was old and sick and cranky and did not know what to do; then, Luther took another look at the book of Revelation, and then found great comfort in its message that God can and will work in the chaos to bring about something new and better in the world, both now and in the future.

      Of course, you don’t have to be Martin Luther or live in a cave in Nigeria to experience the unraveling of your life.  No matter how good things are in the country or the economy, and no matter how stable or secure one’s personal life is, the troubles and chaos eventually come to everyone.  Either by disease or accident or death or the heartbreaking rebellion of a loved one or something else, everybody gets their turn at seeing their world get ripped apart and over-turned.  While apocalyptic literature contains plenty of bad news and misery, it is nothing out of the ordinary— nothing beyond what anyone in this life can expect at any time.

     One of the oldest sermon illustrations in the book is the one about the graffiti painted on the outside of a building.  “Jesus is the answer,” said the spray painted letters.  And below that, someone else had sprayed painted, “But what is the question?”

     The apocalyptic writings of the Bible raise the question.  The world pictured in such writings is a world that can be blown apart anytime, and is indeed being blown apart and turned upside-down at any given time for half of us.  And the question is, “Where can we find hope in such a dangerous and uncertain world?”  And the answer the Bible gives, is that hope comes from God who is bigger than this world—from God, who gives us the promise of another life in another world, beyond this brief life in this dangerous place, and can give us the strength to endure whatever comes at us until then.  And that hope is in a person, in the person who God became in a visit to his world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the answer that we need.

     Advent is the Season of the Church Year that anticipates the birth of that Jesus, and the Season of Advent begins by raising the question of what it is we need most.  And what we need most in this brief and fragile life is a ‘sure and certain hope,’ to use words from the Committal Service as we bury our dead.  We need something solid to look to, and depend on, and live for.  And where else can one look for that but to God, and what better place can one look for God than to that time and place where he came to earth in person?  One of the old Christmas carols puts it best when it sings of Jesus with these words: “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

     So these end of the world passages are not really bad news after all, though they do sound that way.  The writings themselves don’t necessarily bring, or even promise, such bad times.  Rather, the writings simply describe this life and this world, and how it is and will always be.  But the Bible always goes on to say that this is only the beginning.  In fact, when it is describing the very end of the world, it is still saying even that is only the beginning.  There is another day coming, a better day, in which, as it says at the end of the book of Revelation, “There will be no more death and no more pain, no more sorrow and no more tears.”  That is the kind of perspective that gives real and lasting hope.


John 16:20-22  —  (Jesus said), “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.

Revelation 21:3-4  —  “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Matthew 24:13-14  —  (Jesus said), “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.


O come, O come Emmanuel… Come and cheer our spirits by your Advent here… Disperse the gloomy clouds of night… And death’s dark shadow put to flight… Close the path to misery… Make safe the path that leads on high…  And open wide our heavenly home…  O come, O come, Emmanuel.

–Phrases from Veni, veni Emmanuel, a 12th century antiphon; versifed and translated in 1851 by John Mason Neale (1818-1866)