“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.
Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:24-37
It may surprise you to know, although then again, it might not, that I was not brought up in the Anglican church. My mother and father were “Chapel..”
“Chapel” meant small churches that didn’t indulge in the ritual of the mainline churches, believed the Bible literally and preached about the end of days as if they were just around the corner. Many of them were very adamant about the suffering that would take place, especially by the ungodly, on that great day.
And they also wanted people to know that it could happen – Jesus would return – at any time. Like to tomorrow!
I tell you, as a child I found such stuff very scary – and I hadn’t done anything wrong – yet!
One of the more notable preachers in that denomination was a Rev. Ravenscliffe.
He was often invited to preach when a number of chapels got together once a year as they did, and met in the very large Salvation Army Citadel in Oldham
The building was massive, and as well as a large amount of seating at the ground level, had two balconies. It had probably been a theatre at one time.
Anyway there was a time when Rev. Ravenscliffe was preaching in the Citadel,, and he chose as his text the verses that lead into the Gospel reading we had today:
Nations shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, There will be earthquakes, there will be famine…….
……..and in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and so on and so on.
And they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, with much power and glory.
And Rev. Ravenscliffe expounded on this theme in a loud and querulous voice.
Unbeknownst to the people sitting there, Rev Ravenscliffe had arranged for a Salvation Army trumpeter to be in the uppermost balcony, with his trumpet.
And when Rev Ravenscliffe voice was raised the highest he shouted out, ” And The trumpet of the Lord will sound, ” the trumpeter in the uppermost balcony played a loud fanfare on his trumpet.
Most people were startled almost out of their wits.
They looked up in wonder and surprise, expecting to see Jesus coming in the clouds.
I imagine some of them nearly had heart attacks.
Others may have cried at the idea of leaving loved ones behind.
Some may have had a feeling of fear because they were afraid of being left behind.
And so on.
The only thing we know for sure, is that for a moment, people thought the end days had come.
Were some of them ready?
Were some of them so living their lives that they had no fear of being taken up?
Were some suddenly cognizant of not being ready because of unresolved issues, unforgiven sins, unrepaired relationships?
I wonder how many of us here would react?
Are we ready?
If Jesus were to show up today, would we go with him, or hang back because this life has too much of a hold on us?
Too much to leave behind?
Today is a sort of schizophrenic day, isn’t it?
It is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the lead up to Christmas, when we aren’t looking forward to the end of time, but to celebrating the birth of Jesus at his first coming.
The beginning of time, in a way.
So why do we have these words of Jesus selected for us to hear in today’s Gospel? At the beginning of Advent.
We are looking forward to a happy time, a joyous time, a jolly time, a time when we are especially close to family, aren’t we?
Not being called away without any time to pack our bags!!
Not looking forward to the end of the world.
The end of the world came to the people of Pompeii in 76 AD when Vesuvious erupted and covered the city in lava, Two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned. It wasn’t until 1748 that explorers rediscovered the city.
Under the ash and lava they found a city pretty much intact, and have been able to excavate and discover much about life in Pompeii at that time.
One of the things discovered in an almost intact home, was the figure of a woman reaching out to something, but entombed in lava.
It seems that after the alarm was sounded, and with people having only seconds to spare, she had gone back for her jewelry and was enveloped in the deadly lava.
There is a lesson for us there isn’t there?
About what is really important.
No-one knows when that dread – or joyful – day will come. No one!
But in the 1925 the Watchtower, the newspaper of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was prophesied that the world was about to end. I think the phrase used
was, “Many now living will never die.”
And as we know, they were wrong.
Jesus, when asked by his disciples when that day would come, said only the Father knew, not even the Son of Man knew. .
Mother Shipton among many others prophesied the time the world would end, but all have been wrong.
It’s a waste of time.
Better to look forward.
That’s what Advent is all about – it’s about looking forward. The word itself means “coming” as in the ‘advent of the computer’,’ the advent of spring.’
For us it means the coming of our Lord.
And that is something to look forward to and to celebrate.
And to note – the coming of Jesus, and why?
Why did Jesus come into the world?
Why did God send a child, a human into the world?
There are billions of stars in our galaxy and there are numberless galaxies.
Some have suns that have planets around them that could support life as we know it.
But they are so far away.,
And out of all that numberless infinity of worlds, how did God choose this one?
From what has been going on in this world, the tragedies, the wars, the killings the bombings, the rapes and murders, all the awful stuff we read about, and sometimes may experience. How could God even care about us as a race?
Well he sent someone to show us how to live …..and how to die, didn’t he?
And although there are so many who have never heard, or if they have heard have never heeded his example, and his sacrifice, and who do such horrible things, there are many many more, many many more who have known Jesus and have listened to him, and have aspired to follow him, and do today, and in this dark world, in this country, and in this town and in this church – numberless!!
God told Abraham that his progeny would be as numberless as the grains of sand upon the shore.
Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many others are living the lives that Jesus epitomized, even if they wouldn’t admit it.
You don’t know it but the person standing in line ahead of you in the supermarket could be one of us.
I have been going to my dentist for twenty or so years. I just found out this week that he is a practicing Christian – a United church one, mind you – that he prays faithfully every night and tries to live as Christ would have him live.
So its not only the man or woman ahead of you in line, it is also the man or woman with their hand in your mouth.
And I thought why didn’t he tell me? How come I didn’t know?
He told me about other things. In fact while he is working on your teeth, he goes on about the news of the day and he asks you questions. You can’t speak but he asks those questions.
So one day after he had finished, I said, ” Yes, No, Maybe, or maybe not, I can’t think right now.” And he looked at me and asked, ” What do you mean?” I said, ” I am answering all the questions you asked me while I couldn’t speak. “
He took it good spirit, of course.
But this week when I found out he was a practicing Christian I thought about how he always had a smile, and how his staff seem so happy to be working for this man, and are always so nice and polite and helpful – as he is.
And that I don’t feel ripped off by the work he does and bills me for.
Those are signs of Christian principles, aren’t they?
Praise God that he has many such people as you and me, and my dentist and your neighbour, and the people at Binbrook United, and Knox Presbyterian, and in the local synagogue or mosque.
Millions of people doing his will
Not all who believe in Jesus
Not all who believe in God, because there are many atheists who live in loving ways and relationship, and do good work.
So why be Anglican, or why be Chapel, as my family was?
Because the way we worship, and the way we come together as people, and the things we try to do in his name, and the way we remember what His Son did, and commemorate each Sunday in worship and in the Eucharist, all these things bring us closer to the God we love and who loves us, and helps us to live as he would have us live.
Just as other good people find their own way to paradise.
We don’t need trumpet fanfares to awake us to the coming of Jesus.
We don’t need panic merchants trying to scare us.
We have loving fellowship to reassure us if and when we have doubts, or needs, or troubled times in our lives.
That’s why we are here when you think about it, and that is why they
( whoever they are) are there ( wherever there, is) – standing on the road, holding a road sign that says ‘stop’, or’ go’, putting your stuff through the register, or holding a drill in his hand read to plunge into your decayed tooth- with anesthetic, of course, because he doesn’t want to hurt you.
However and who ever, we are God’s own, and this Advent, this waiting for the birth of Jesus, this season of preparation and anticipation, is something we treasure and look forward to in these dark wintry days.
Hold onto it.
Spring is sure to follow.
Count on it.