Skip to content

The 1st Sunday of Advent; Luke 21:25-36

Each year Advent 1 plays a nasty trick on the preacher. Advent, as a season, is rather late to the church year party; it first appeared in the early 7th century. By that time the pattern of the rest of the church year, particularly the long post-Pentecost season, was fixed. The church year ended with lessons from the Gospel that had been read all year particular to the 2nd coming of Christ. Then Advent became along, and began by looking forward, not to Christmas, the first coming, but to the 2nd coming, with an appropriate reading from the Gospel for the next year. That makes for a duplication of lesson themes with a few Sundays between.

On the Sunday before “The Reign of Christ”, last week, the Gospel was one of the three passages called “The Little Apocalypse” because they are a miniature version of the “Apocalypse” or “Revelation to John”, the last book of the New Testament. This church year, C, starts with Luke’s version, which you just heard, and guess what, two weeks ago the Gospel was Mark’s version! Both deal with end times. There is no way to avoid it, I’m going to have to preach about eschatology!

I can hear your thoughts! What’s eschatology? Animal, vegetable, or mineral? Can I get along without it?
Bear with me. To be an informed Christian, a little eschatology helps. Let’s get rid of the word first. Eschata is Greek for “last things” and logos is Greek for “word” or “teaching.” So, eschatology is teaching or speaking about last things, doctrine about the end, the 2nd coming of Christ. It’s a good topic for this Advent Sunday.

For some this is a difficult subject. Those taking an interest in the end are often labelled “crackpots”, like the cartoon character with long hair and untidy beard, with a “The End is Near” sign. In England I visited the ruins of a large white tower, built in Victorian times by a cult convinced the end of the world was near. On the day of the end they assembled in this tower to await the 2nd coming. It didn’t come! The day was like any other day. The mail was delivered, the trains ran more or less on time, and if there had been broadcast news, they would have been a small filler item. This sort of thing makes it easy to label those who study eschatology as crackpots.

Trouble is, there’s a lot of eschatology in the Bible. And in Advent, especially on Advent Sunday, we can’t escape it. Our Gospel, and other lessons, are full of how it all will end! How are we going to deal with this emphasis on last things? Let me tell you about three kingdoms, all the kingdom of God.

There was the kingdom established in Israel with the founding of its monarchy. The kingdom of Israel, compared to others of the time, was a lily rising above a stinking swamp! A thousand years before Jesus was born a kingdom founded on pureness of living, and a king who served one God on behalf of the people, was a novel idea. In a very real sense, the kingdom of old Israel was God’s kingdom. In it God was honoured, God’s laws were respected, and the breaking of God’s Law was punished. At least that was the idea!

It failed of course! Humans were involved! Despite the prophets trying to keep Israel’s kings true to God’s law, it failed. The kingdom split into two, Israel and Judah. Both fell away from God. Both went into captivity. True, the idea of a kingdom ruled by God’s laws never wholly died, but it was never wholly practiced either, and so during and after the return from captivity, the people of Israel began hoping for a 2nd kingdom of God.

This 2nd kingdom of God was not part of history. It was beyond history, at the end of history. Jeremiah hints at it in the Old Testament reading. The Psalmist sings of its ideals! It is not a kingdom created by humans, but a kingdom created by God. In the pain and frustration of exile, and in failure to re-establish the kingdom of God after the return, the Jewish people dreamed of a kingdom of God at the end of time. Then God’s power would become real, God’s name would be honoured, and God’s people would walk in God’s way without rebellion. This 2nd kingdom would have peace and justice, shalom, universal brother and sisterhood.

This eschatological kingdom was the one for which the white tower was built in Victorian times, by crackpots. But we must not dismiss this kingdom at the end of time, the final establishment of God’s rule, too lightly. First, we confess belief in it whenever we recite a Creed. More, if we do not accept that God will ultimately establish a rule of justice, of shalom, then we are condemned to history forever going in circles, with neither beginning nor end. Just think: if you knew for certain that you would never die, that life would always go on, no matter what, would you have any ambition, any goals, any reason to do anything? Life without end is life without purpose, and history without end is history without purpose. To be purposeful, history must end in the kingdom of God. (Actually, I could introduce another Greek-derived word here, teleology, but I’ll practice economy; one Greek word per sermon only!)

But there is a 3rd way to think of the kingdom of God. It is the way of life given to us by Jesus. This 3rd way sees the future kingdom of God as already come in Jesus. Remember the first words Jesus preached, at the beginning of his ministry: “The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel.”

Jesus preached that the end of time had arrived in the midst of history. This was eschatological preaching, astonishing preaching, as astonishing to those who first heard it as it is to us. No wonder people came by the hundreds to hear. They were looking for a kingdom at the end, beyond time, a kingdom in which God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven! One in which everyone would have their daily bread, in which sins would be forgiven, in which shalom would be the only governing principle, in which death and deadness would be no longer. And Jesus was publicly proclaiming that this kingdom was already here. “The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent and believe the Gospel.”

That is still proper Christian preaching. The power and the glory of the kingdom at the end of time are available now, through the person of Christ. In Jesus’ time people saw this power with their own eyes. The lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the blind saw, and even the dead were raised. There in Galilee, the powers of the kingdom to come were seen in Jesus. God’s rule was there, God’s rule was obvious, even though the Romans ruled the country.

After the resurrection the apostles and early Christians continued with the power of Christ to heal, to bring shalom. Story after story in the “Acts of the Apostles” tells of this. But it didn’t stop with the apostles, and it hasn’t stopped now. The whole story has not yet been told, and will not be told, until God’s final kingdom comes. But even imperfectly, we all know stories of the kingdom, of men and women who, through the power of Christ in their lives, have trampled down degrading selfishness, joylessness, despair. Even in the worst of circumstance, even in the presence of death, they have brought life and hope, and a glimpse of what the kingdom of God is all about, to those around them.

Just three examples. I doubt if any of you have heard of Albertus Magnus. (Well, maybe Father Matt!) In his time he was a great theologian; his books would fill about 15 feet of a modern library shelf. But all have heard of someone from his time, who wrote little, and chose instead to live in poverty, care for lepers, and who saw all created things as creatures of God and therefore sacred. All have heard of St. Francis of Assisi, and Francis did more to bring the kingdom of God to the people around him, and made more of a difference, than Albertus and all his books.

Or, most of us have heard of the Crimean war, especially those old enough forced to memorize “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” But do we remember when that war was, who fought in it, what it was fought over, who the generals were? Probably not! But, all remember one woman, a woman in the field hospitals of the Crimea, bringing comfort to the wounded and the dying. A woman who was so beloved and thought so holy that wounded soldiers would kiss the walls over which her shadow had passed. All have heard of Florence Nightingale, because she showed a glimpse of the kingdom of God in a world of evil and death.

Do any of us know much about modern India, about its politics, its government, its economy, its life. Yet all of us know of Mother Teresa, a little nun, who ministered to the most wretched of the wretched, in a country that specializes in poverty and illness. In Teresa we saw yet another sign of the kingdom, yet another person in whom the power of Christ worked.

And there are hundreds, thousands, through whom that power of the risen Christ is working in the world today. Some we know, others are completely unknown. Yet all of them are preaching by their actions: “The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel.”

That is the message of Advent Sunday. The power of the kingdom at the end of time, the power to overcome hate, bitterness, resentment, weakness, sin, is in the world now. The power to bring hope and relief in the presence of terrible suffering and tragedy is present now through faith in the crucified and risen Christ.

Yes, Christ will return, and his kingdom will have no end. But, Christ is already here, now, and the power of his kingdom is available to all who will believe and claim it. Our salvation, and the salvation of the entire world lies in repentance and in faith.
So, my brothers and sisters, this Advent; “The time has come; the kingdom of God is upon you; repent, and believe the Gospel.”

Amen. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Copyright ©2021 by Gerry Mueller