It's Not The End Of The World...Yet
Text: Mark 13:24-37
Several years ago, Hal Lindsey wrote a best-selling book, called The Late Great Planet Earth. And in that book, Lindsey very carefully laid out his calculation as to when he thought the world would come to an end. For him, the creation of the nation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of Scripture, as the Jewish people were once again allowed to return to their homeland. And so based on that event, Hal Lindsey predicted that Christ would return in 1988. Now in case you didn't notice, Hal Lindsey was wrong. But he did sell a lot of books and made a lot of money.
For many Christians, talk about the end times is sort of an embarrassment. As we go through the check-out line at the supermarket, just about every week one of the magazines or newspapers there will have an article about someone who claims to know when the end is coming. But for most of us, when we see that, we sort of just chuckle and shake our heads.
But here we are now in Advent. And in Advent, our Bible readings once again remind us of the end times. Because in Advent, the real emphasis is not on getting ready for Jesus' birth. Because Jesus has already been born, in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. You see, the real emphasis in Advent is on getting ready for Jesus' return on the last day. As we say in the Apostles' Creed, we believe that Jesus ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and from there he will come to judge the living and the dead. And so during Advent, that is what we are really supposed to be getting ready for.
But here in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus talks about the end times, his point is not to get us to pull out our calendars and to try and figure out when the end is going to be. Because Jesus is quite clear with us. Not even he knows when that day will be. Only God the Father knows. And so when we read in the Bible that the end is getting closer, we are not being asked to make predictions about when it will happen. Instead, Jesus warns us that the end is coming so that we might be ready. So that we might live our lives each day, so that we will always be ready, no matter when that time comes.
In colonial New England, state legislators were meeting one day when an eclipse occurred, causing the daytime sky to become very dark. Now when that happened, several of the lawmakers panicked and requested that they adjourn, thinking that the world was about to end. But then one of the legislators stood up and said: "Mr. Speaker, if we adjourn and this is not the end of the world, we will all look like fools. And if it is the end of the world, I would prefer to be found doing my duty. So I move, that candles be brought in and that we continue with our work."
If we believe that the end is coming someday, how does that belief affect the way we live? There was a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. Calvin is the little kindergarten-age boy and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who talks to him. One day Calvin said: "You know, tomorrow I could step out in the street and be hit by a cement truck. So my motto is: Live for the moment. What's your motto?" And Hobbes said: "My motto is: Look down the road."
And that's the basic choice we all have with our lives. Do we just live for the moment? Or do we look down the road, and live our lives today based on what we know is coming in the future?
So in the Bible, when we hear about the end times, one of the things we are being told is that we should prepare ourselves for the future, because that final day will come at an unexpected time. But when we hear about the end times, we are also being told that we can have hope. As Christians, we can have hope, despite all of the awful things that we see in the world around us. Even in the face of war and starvation and disease and crime, that there is still hope. Because so often, we look at our newspapers and read about all those awful things, and we just assume that that's the way it is. And that's the way it's always going to be.
You see, back in ancient times, people believed that the sun and the moon and the stars were kinds of gods -- that it was the sun and moon and stars that controlled life here on earth. And many people still believe that even today. Look at how many people are fascinated with horoscopes.
But look at what Jesus says here in this passage in Mark. He describes a time when the sun and moon and stars will fall from the sky. And in their place, Jesus will appear. So in this passage, we are being told not just to accept things as they are, and to assume that that is the way it will always be. Instead, we are called on to imagine how things could be, to imagine how things will be when God's kingdom comes in its full glory.
For example, imagine a world where there is no violence or murder. For us in the United States, that's a hard thing to imagine. For instance, in a recent year, the United States recorded over 8000 murders caused by handguns. And we have come to assume that that is just the way it is. But we need to look at a country like Great Britain, where in that same year, only 8 people were killed by handguns. Or Canada, where in that same year, only 5 people were killed that way. Don't just accept the way things are. Imagine how things could be.
Or there is a 90-year-old lady out west who wanted to do something about the problem of teen pregnancy. So she was ready to give $250,000 to the University of Arizona as a scholarship for women who are virgins, as a way to encourage young women to refrain from sexual activity. But the school declined her offer, saying that they didn't think it was right for the University to dictate morals like that. So it seems that University of Arizona assumes that it's best to leave things as they are. But that 90-year-old woman refuses to accept that way of thinking, because she is brave enough to imagine how things could be.
Or recently the nations of the world were negotiating a new nuclear test ban treaty. The treaty would call on the countries of the world to stop developing new nuclear weapons. But India refused to sign that treaty. And instead, India said that the only way it would sign was if all the countries that already had nuclear weapons promised to eliminate them. But immediately the United States and the other nuclear powers rejected that idea. We have come to assume that nuclear weapons have to be a part of our world. But there is India, daring to imagine otherwise. Daring to imagine what the world could be like.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. And Advent is a time to get ready for Jesus. But it's not a time to make predictions about when he will return. Instead, Advent is a time for us to get ready by living our lives each day, so that we will always prepared for his return. And what's more, Advent is a time for hope. It's a time to realize that we don't have to accept things as they are. Instead, Advent is a time to imagine how things could be. To imagine how things will be, when God's kingdom comes. Welcome to Advent.
Rev. Dr. C. Edward Bowen Trinity United Presbyterian Church Vandergrift, PA Slickville Presbyterian Church Slickville, PA
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