Advent 2: The Future is Now

by admin on December 23, 2014

Reflections for 7 December 2014
Luke 21: 25-36

“It will seem like all hell has broken loose.” They thought that in Indy last night. I might even put my OSU flag back up on the front porch, because as you know that proverbial saying—it ain’t over till the fat lady sings….or Jesus returns.

Jesus returns. That’ll break hell loose for sure. Hard to put these two images together at this time of the year…Christmas and the chaos of a divine second coming. We do live between the two, you know. And feel a whole lot better about the first one…baby, crèche, wreath, poinsettias….Masterworks Chorale singing from the Messiah. We get that, and for most of us a baby sleeping isn’t too frightening.

But that second coming. We don’t get that; especially when it’s written like an ancient science fiction story. The transition between the two is rough, and so full of emergency. It will seem like all hell has broken loose when Jesus returns. War, bloodshed, famine, earthquakes, tsunamis…..sounds like hell may be closer than we think. Then shining through the carnage, the Son of man, as the gospels call Jesus. The God agent who will work justice and peace. Sure is an interesting way to usher in the kingdom of peace.

We’ve been expecting Jesus to come back for a long time now….21 centuries. Hard to stand on your tiptoes looking out the window for that long. After a while people settle down. Settle down into a kind of everydayness in religion. We just quit scanning the horizon and have committee meetings and coffee hours instead.

If we are good at anything–it’s common sense religion. Stay close to the ground….below the radar…don’t make eye contact. We don’t deny the big booming events like this spectacular Apocalypse Now scene of Jesus come back. It’s just that we don’t think much about either. Hey, we still got church, the coffee pot, and my seat. Still got the Golden rule and the Ten Commandments—they still are down on the courthouse lawn, aren’t they? And every week we do a pitch for some kingdom money on kingdom causes. That’s what some folks call, ground level Christianity. Just enough to keep us going. Or as Will Willimon says, just enough Jesus to keep us from going to hell.

Maybe that’s why this second coming stuff makes us restless. We got this Jesus thing down to where it’s working pretty good for us, but that second coming gig doesn’t fit into it. Too fantastic, too supernatural. Too embarrassing. Who wants to be associated with those preachers who have turned end of the world speculation into a billion dollar industry? Prophesy buffs with computer charts, wrong predictions, pocket calculators…and an ear at government…at least in Texas.

Who wants to fly in a plane whose pilot is raptured up into the sky while you’re back in coach just fighting to open up the bag of peanuts?

All hell broken loose….”so be on your guard,” Jesus says. “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping”…and taking for granted that just because you’re number four and a half you don’t have to worry about the Crimson Tide. Just kind of sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?

Jesus is talking to people who know a lot about hell breaking loose. First century Jewish men and women–Living under the yoke of that western imperialist army from Rome. Largest army ever assembled in the Middle East until we got there 20 centuries later.

You and I–we don’t know much about that kind of experience. When life is good our prayers for the coming kingdom get a little faint. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” softly….so God won’t hear them. Thy kingdom come, we pray, but hope it won’t. Thy kingdom come, but not right now.

Do we have to wait till all hell breaks loose to take God seriously? Wait until the fire is out of control before we resort to last measures—like scream to God for help. Hell breaking loose to finally get us out of our cocoons of luxury?

The Bible has a strange world in it…and a strange view of history. There is no déjà vu in Scripture, no reruns, no play it again Sam, no repeat performances. As a Jew Jesus viewed history not as a never-ending circle, but as a straight line with beginning and an end. Someday, there will be no tomorrow. The door will be open then shut. Bad news for those of us with the procrastination gene. No manana.

That sure won’t sell books, board games, and grow big churches. There will always be a tomorrow. Scarlet O’Hara can’t be wrong about that. After all, there have been thousands of tomorrows since Jesus told us he’d be back.
Jesus says that for all of us there will be a day when there is no tomorrow. The invitation comes, the door opens, the word is spoken and that’s it….time’s up. The clock runs out.

Willimon: rural Georgia; members relative died. W and wife go to funeral out of respect. In a small, hot, crowded independent fundie Baptist country church. Wheeled the casket in and the preacher started in….yelling screaming, flailing.

“It’s too late for Joe. He might have wanted to do this or that in life, but it’s too late for him now. He’s dead. It’s all over for him. He might have wanted to straighten his life out, but he can’t now. It’s over.”

Yikes. Some comfort. “But it ain’t too late for you. People drop dead every day. So why wait? Now is the day for decision. Now is the time to make your life count for something. Give your life to Jesus!”

On the way home: it was the worst thing I ever heard. “Can you imagine a preacher doing that kind of thing to a grieving family? I’ve never heard anything so manipulative, cheap and inappropriate. I would never preach a sermon like that.”

She agreed with me that it was tacky, manipulative, and callous. “Of course,” she added, “the worst part is that it was true.”

If you’re in a place where all hell is breaking loose all over you…what in the world are you waiting for? If you think you can manage life’s unmanageability on your own?….that’s the number one reason why most of us find hell breaking loose now.

Meghan’s Father’s Day gift—Jesus is coming. Everyone look busy. Busy doing what?

Lewis Smedes Standing on the Promises: hoping for others is hard, but not the hardest. Praying for people is hard, but not the hardest. The hardest part for people who believe in the second coming of Jesus is “Living the sort of life that makes people say, ‘Ah, so that’s how people are going to live when justice and peace take over the world.’”

We are wrong to think that between his first coming and his second coming that Jesus is somehow absent from earth in the meantime. Today when we decide for Jesus as if there’s no tomorrow, then our lives will be caught up in the life that Christ is living now on earth and will continue to live throughout eternity. And that is why being his disciple is the greatest opportunity any human being can ever have now and in the future.

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

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