Coming in History - Advent Reflection - Week One
These reflections can used in a variety of ways, by individuals or groups, please amend as necessary. The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.
Someone read aloud: Matt. 24.1-35.
Reflection. Preferably read by one voice, with everyone having a copy to follow.
“Isn’t this place fantastic?! Just look at the size of it, and all that beautiful décor. It must have cost a packet, (-Grand Designs eat your heart out!) It’s magnificent and such a heritage, a cultural treasure. …..Sorry, -what was that you said?”
“I said it’s all going to be flattened, destroyed; not one stone left standing on another. Honestly, -I’m not kidding you. This is true”.
What’s the next question you would ask at this point?
Chances are it would be: ‘when’, or perhaps, ‘why’? And you might throw in: ‘how will we know to expect it?’
For these men, the Temple in Jerusalem was not just a symbol of worship of Yahweh; it wasn’t just an icon of Jewish culture; it wasn’t just the centre of their religious and social life; it was where God himself could be found. His Presence was there. So how can such a place be destroyed? It’s unthinkable!
By the time Matthew was composing this Gospel he knew two things: firstly that the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, in 70AD. Secondly, Matthew knew that his Master, Jesus the carpenter-turned-teacher, was also the Presence of God on earth, with people. And Matthew lets us know this, as he links this warning of Jesus about the Temple, with the question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The Temple may have gone, but Jesus the Messiah was raised from death by God and his Presence was with them still. What’s more, he’d promised that he would return to them. So Matthew expands on Jesus’ teaching about when he will return.
Jesus was born into a time and a place. Matthew knew him; was his pupil or disciple; journeyed the local places with him; gathered stories of his birth, -dark and difficult stories of foreign travellers and the danger into which they inadvertently plunged Jesus. Stories that told of the brutal response of a cowardly king called Herod.
Jesus also died in a time and a place, -Matthew wrote it all down in his Gospel, too. But God raised Jesus to life again: after death there was new life, new hope, new glory. The Kingdom has come and is established, but, as yet, it’s not universally applied. There’s a lot of stuff to be dealt with in history, before it all ends. That’s the difficult bit that Jesus told his disciples, and Matthew is telling us, here.
Many of these warnings can be interpreted as being about historical events in the life of the early Church. Many are timely warnings for any period of history. Some may make sense to us only far into the future.
Don’t be deceived, there will be false ‘christs’ who want to lead you astray.
There will be wars and rumours of wars; international conflicts; famines and earthquakes. Maybe we’ll be saying, “What is the world coming to?!” But we have to live with the tension between the Kingdom coming bit by bit, person by person, joy by joy, -but the bad things still going on, until God chooses to bring it all to a close, in his time.
Those who love Jesus will be persecution for his sake; some will ‘grow cold’ in their faithfulness. Before the end comes, the Gospel will be preached in all nations. Terrifying evil will threaten people, but beware false prophets, even when they come with miracles! You will know Jesus when he returns. There will be no mistaking him for a hamburger seller in Memphis or a second-hand car dealer from Clapham, so don’t believe the stories in the popular press about delusional people who claim to be Jesus, returned to us. He’s done the ‘come-as-an-ordinary-person’ once: next time there’ll be no question.
But what’s all this strange stuff got to do with my new-found faith in Christ, or my personal life, or my political leanings?
We live in difficult and uncertain times, with economic ‘melt-down’ and ‘credit crunch’. What about our future: our jobs and mortgages, savings and pensions? How will all this affect our children? Are we on the brink of the complete decline of Western Civilisation as we know it? One question leads to another.
If we had been Christians in the early Church we may have had similar questions about our security, way of life, place in society, and the future of our families and the Church to which we belonged.
If we had lived in the USSR thirty years ago, or in N. Korea or Afghanistan today, we might be asking these same questions.
Many parts of the apocalyptic literature of the Bible may be difficult to get to grips with, but where persecution, suffering and the cost of discipleship are concerned, they speak clearly across the centuries.
Jesus is making connections for us here: God knows, God cares, God has not forgotten us. This is about faith set in time and place, in history and geography, -in reality. We live between Advent and Advent, both in our annual calendar and in our world’s history.
The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.
E. Christine Bailey, 29/11/2008