(Here is the sermon from my friend Pastor Bob for this, the first Sunday of Advent. Please forward or pass it along to anyone whom you think might today benefit from this word, or who, for whatever reason, won't be attending church today. Bless you all; I hope you're having a wonderful holiday season.)
A sermon by Pastor Bob
November 27, 2011
Text: Mark 13:24-37
“But in those days, following that distress,“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The Day and Hour Unknown“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
--I remember first seeing the huge billboard in San Francisco.
--It said that the end of the world was going to take place on May 21, 2011.
--At first, I thought it was a local church cleverly advertising some event.
--But, then I realized that they meant it. They were serious.
--And then I said to myself, "Why don't they just wait for the Mayan Calendar to run out in 2012?"
--When I drove back to San Diego that day, I realized that there were more signs like that one, and soon discovered that this was a much bigger movement that I thought.
--It seems that the Family Radio group, who own about 150 AM and FM stations across America, were heavily investing in the end of time.
--According to their leader, Harold Camping, a popular radio host, he had done the calculations, and the end of the world would definitely occur May 21, 2011. There were be a rapture followed by cataclysmic events.
--Well, $100 million dollars later and with the anticipation of many of Camping's followers, May 21, 2011 came and went.
--And unless, a select group we don't know about were raptured, then it seemed that Camping was wrong. But this did not stop him from making another prediction.
--After May 21, he told people that May 21 was really the beginning of a Spiritual Judgment and that the actual physical rapture and simultaneous destruction of the universe would come October 21, 2011.
--By now, you've probably guessed that this too did not happen.
--And instead, we have made it to another Advent, another anticipating of Christ, but not accompanied by a legion of angels, earthquakes and fires, but rather, by the sighs of Mary who waits for her baby to be born.
--We wait with Joseph, as he tries to navigate a new wife, and a soon-to-be-born son whom the world will call Messiah.
--We wait with shepherds who will hear heavenly voices.
--And with wise men who will follow a star to a soon-to-be newborn king.
--"Keep awake" our gospel proclaims, "keep awake." --As we sit some 2000 years later, waiting in anticipation both for Christ's coming in a manger and Christ's second coming with shout of trumpets and the raising of the dead, we are caught in a mixture of feelings.
--I have always found it kind of funny that we begin our Advent season, the beginning season of the new church year, with words of apocalypse.
--Instead of picking out baby names this morning, we are warned to pick up our lives in anticipation of the one who is to come.
--And as all prognostics of the world's end must eventually come to the conclusion: no one knows when this will happen.
--Startlingly, Jesus will tell his disciples not even he knows: not the Son, but only the Father.
--To tell you the truth, I feel sorry for the Harold Campings of the world, who risk literally everything in proclaiming that the Lord will come on such-and-such a date.
--History is literally littered with such would-be prophets who would later be labeled as false.
--Those who meticulously calculated future dates based on Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation.
--When I was very little, from zero to five, I stayed with a kind, elderly baby-sitter who came from the Seventh-Day Adventist tradition, and though my parents would have nothing to do with the church, this baby-sitter and her husband would steep me in the stories of the Bible, play old hymns on an upright piano, and proclaim Christ in every deed.
--Years later, after I left such stories as fancy, only to discover them again in joyful grace as a young adult, I would once again sit at their table, listening and observing.
--The year before I went off to study to be a pastor in seminary, I attended a weekly Bible study in my old baby-sitter's home, and I'll never forget when I was handed a piece of paper that showed not only the dating of the world, but predictions of the future.
--Except, unlike Harold Camping's work, the final date of Christ's coming was left only as a question mark.
--Back in 1844, what would become the unintentional beginnings of the Adventist movement occurred when followers of William Miller, some 100,000 people, waited into the night anticipating Christ's second coming.
--Many had sold their property and belongings in such anticipation, and by the morning, found only disillusionment.
--A remnant of these followers would interpret Oct. 22, 1844, as the beginning of Christ's preparation of the Most Holy Place in heaven.
--This time, however, they left the date of Christ's earthly return open.
--They had learned something that Oct. 22, 1844.
--No one knows when, only God.
--It was such Seventh-Day Adventists who would help in raising me not only to value a good diet and the importance of medicine, but an urgency and immediacy that Christ will return, if not now, soon.
--And many a time, I would remember my baby-sitter's words to me, that though she might not see Christ in her lifetime, I surely would.
--So here I am. A pastor sharing a word of advent to you two days after what has become known to the commercial world as Black Friday, and almost one month before we celebrate the birth of Christ.
--What do we do with the predictive words of Christ's return?
--Why hasn't Christ returned before now?
--Why do people keep getting this wrong?
--These aren't just million dollar questions; these are questions that cause some to doubt, some to redouble their efforts to be good, and others to wonder if this applies at all to their lives.
--As I parse these questions for myself, I can't help but be both discouraged and encouraged.
--Honestly, what drives me absolutely crazy by the Harold Campings of this world is that in their efforts to reach out to those who do not know Christ, they drive away far more people.
--The Bible is not a tool to be manipulated like some chronological hammer.
--Such fire and brimstone speech manages only to scorch those who look desperately for some direction, and to drive away those who have no real grasp of Christianity in the first place.
--Worse, such an attitude can lead not to an anticipation of the future, but rather to antipathy towards any future action.
--If Christ is coming soon, why care about the environment?
--If Christ is coming soon, why worry about the future of our children, grandchildren, or beyond?
--If Christ is coming soon, why care about anyone else who does not subscribe to my precise definition of Christianity let alone show any compassion to people of other faiths?
--Isn't Christ teaching me to be concerned only with the salvation of someone's soul, and not really their need to be fed, cared for and even loved?
--Do we really have to authentically care about anyone else?
--On the other hand, as much as this holier-than-thou attitude makes me crazy, at the same time, I can't help but think, like many Christians throughout the centuries, that there is something beneficial in believing that Christ will come again within our lifetime.
--That to live in such urgency and expectation means that what we do today really matters.
--We are not just making payments on some life-assurance policy after we die, but are in compassion caring for a hurting world now.
--We are to live fully now. Not holding back, not waiting, but living and loving to our capacity.
--That this is what it truly means to live in Christ.
--Why doesn't Christ come? Why doesn't Christ just pick up those few thousands of people who have been predestined?
--Maybe Christ is not interested in rapturing just a few folks.
--Maybe God is after the kingdom that Christ died for in the first place.
--Maybe there is still time.