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Dec 3 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 28, 2015 – Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

First Sunday of Advent
Life Between Yesterday and Tomorrow

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the LORD is our righteousness,” Jeremiah 33:14-16 

There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Then He told them a parable: “Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
Be on guard, so that you hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36

Intro: There are three things I need to explain about these passages:

  1. It was not my choice to use these particular verses for my talk today
  2. Thousands of churches around the world are reading the same verses
  3. Both passages belong to an Advent tradition that has been observed for centuries

The Jeremiah passage: the promise of a coming Messiah

The reign of King David was seen as the beginning of Israel’s golden age
– eventually, God would give Israel an ultimate king
• “branch of David” was one of his symbolic titles–David’s dynasty was the tree trunk
◦ Israel’s ultimate king would replace every human government
• through the Messiah, God’s would establish universal justice and safety for Israel
– think of it, perfect justice! An idealistic dream come true
• many convictions overturned in the last decade by advanced DNA testing
◦ those and other judicial errors reveal the fallibility of human administration of justice
◦ we frequently mess up in the collection, examination and evaluation of evidence
• If ever I’m in court for crime I didn’t commit, I don’t want to be judged by a jury of my peers
◦ I want a jury of exceptionally perceptive, well-educated, brilliant and fair-minded individuals

However, Jeremiah could not see that the Messiah’s mission would involve two installments
– from his location in time, it looked like one historical event
• it is not unlike the way we talk about the Roman Empire
◦ as if it were a single, monolithic period of history
• we overlook the details and developments of its rise, evolution and fall
– the first installment of Jeremiah’s prediction is our Christmas
• the first Advent (or coming) of Jesus
◦ he announced that the kingdom was “at hand” (near and already present, Mk. 1:15; 14:41-42)
◦ in Jesus God’s kingdom (dimension) entered our world, but as mystery, hidden (Mt. 13:11, 33)
• those who experience the kingdom willingly sacrifice everything for it

The Luke passage: Jesus’ describes events relating to his return

Instructions are interspersed with predictions of cosmic signs, fear, dismay and perplexity
– how his followers were to respond to these things
• both in the future when they happen and now
– Douglas Coupland wrote an intriguing series of first-person vignettes: “The Dead Speak”
• each author reports his or her experience of a nuclear explosion
◦ a typical introduction: “I was by the fridge in the kitchen when it happened.”
• it got me thinking about how a report of Jesus’ return might read

I was walking Kona in the hills near our home when it happened. From childhood I had naively believed there would be a literal trumpet sound, perhaps amplified a million times. It was more like the concussive blast of cosmic thunder, an infinite-sized sonic boom. The universe shuddered–not in a rolling or jarring motion like an earthquake, but the way a person shivers when panicked or a child trembles with excitement.
And then the infusion. Every molecule, every atomic particle in the universe charged with alien energy.  Only the new fundamental force (if that’s what it was) did not come from outside space and time, but from within–the essence that thrust space into existence. In that instant, the four-dimensions of the universe dimmed in the radiance of another dimension. Invisible until this moment, the kingdom of God was unveiled. Totally foreign, unnervingly strange, and  yet I responded as if it were entirely natural. I whispered, “Of course,” just before being swept into the nothingness that is everything.

◦ whereas Coupland’s vignettes end with phrases like, “and then I was dead,” Jesus said,

. . . straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

– so “Christmas” comes twice in history and what Luke presents is the second Advent
• it is easy to get sentimental over the first Christmas
• it is wise to get serious over the second Christmas

Why? Why do we need to think about the “End Times”?

Normally, I do not encourage people to study “eschatology”
(end of the world predictions that occur in biblical prophecy)
– it has become tangled in a lot of nonsense
• people use passages from prophetic writings that are not predictions
• ideas that were introduced as speculations have become dogma for many
– biblical prophecy is not a clearly detailed map that is easy to follow

  1. Eschatological language is intentionally elusive
    – it employs analogies (fig tree) and ambiguous imagery (symbolic “beasts”)
  2. The meaning of prophetic predictions is partially hidden until their fulfillment
  3. The details–e.g., when and how–are none of our business and, so, not our concern
    It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority (Acts 1:7)
    – eschatology lacks anything like the precision of scientific timing
    • for example, calculating the time it will take a probe to reach Mars from lift off to landing
    – Jesus did not say, “When these things begin to take place, begin your computations”

But still, it is important that we do not lose our way, and eschatology helps with that
– history is going somewhere — our world has a God-appointed destiny
– and for now, we are not living in peacetime
• a cosmic war that we cannot escape is being waged around us
◦ good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, generosity versus greed
• we cannot disengage from the battle — there is no such thing as neutrality in this war

Another way of thinking about Advent, past and future

Advent was not only a birth–with the star, angels, shepherds and wise men
– it was God entering the world he made to join himself with humankind
• in the first Advent, God set the project of salvation in motion
• in the second Advent he will return to complete it

But there is another Advent — my personal Advent, when God comes for me
– theologian Helmut Thielicke referred to this Advent as “Individual Eschatology”
• and in my death, like the final Advent, God will break over me like a tsunami
• he will come without invitation, without warning and without my permission
– I think it’s natural that we sometimes doubt the biblical end of the world scenario

. . . in the last days mockers will come with their mocking . . . and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” (2 Pe. 3:3-4)

• but I never for a moment doubt my own ending
◦ my life will not continue “just as it was”
◦ and that realization forces crucial questions on me

What did my life amount to? Did I enjoy the ride?
Did I drink in the nectar of every moment?
Bask in the laughter of family and friends?
Pause to enjoy natural beauty?
Indulge myself in the pleasure of giving to others whose need was greater than my own?

• the fact of my death pushes me back into life with a sense of immediacy

Richard Bode observed, “It is only when I am fully conscious of the finite nature of my life that I begin to live. The instant I let go of that awareness, I submit to pettiness and drudgery, and the precious seconds slip away.”

Our destiny was to be planted here, in this in-between time

It’s like the months between one Christmas and the next
– but this in-between time is not limbo or “down time”
– in Romans 8, Paul talks about

the anxious longing of the creation [that] waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God [that will occur at the second coming of Christ]. And the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth . . . . even we ourselves groan withing ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons . . . . the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words . . . (Ro. 8:19-25)

• together, one chorus, as creation groans, we groan and the Spirit of God groans
• waiting for God can get discouraging
◦ waiting with God is a comfort

It is this in-between time that belongs to the Spirit and his work in and through the church
– the Holy Spirit gives this time a special quality
• God is completing and perfecting his work in the world before it all comes to an end
– Jesus says we must be alert, watchful, aware and not allow our hearts to be weighted down
• a heart “weighted down” is less sensitive to God, to others, to opportunities
◦ heavy heart becomes its own burden, it loses the moment, it misses the opportunity

Helmut Thielicke reminds us, “To wait in the biblical sense is not just to sit around. It is to go meet what is coming.”

But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” (Mt. 25:6)

Conc: Besides the first Advent (Christmas), the second Advent (eschatology), my personal Advent (death), there is yet another Advent

God is constantly coming to us in this present moment
– we have to give up the idea that during this in between time nothing is happening
• or assume that for now God is distant, uninvolved
• to sit in contemplative prayer is to wait in silence until we become aware of his nearness
– to wait for God does not result in frustration when it is a spiritual exercise
• prayerful waiting and watching  from one Advent transforms chronos time into kairos time

Between the Advents, we have the opportunity to taste the future
• to live in energy of what is to come

We do not have the star to guide us, but we have the One to whom it points
We do not have the choir of angels, but we have the One of whom they sing

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