Summary: The start of Advent
Such a text. Wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, family discord, signs of the end of the world. Could be the nightly 11:00 news. We’ve heard it and seen it all. If we were of a ceratin theological bent, we would talk about the end of the world and see all sorts of proof of it about to happen.
Is it about to happen? How do we live in such times? How are we to live as disciples?
Look how far we have come.
The disciples come out of the temple and are awed by the magnificent temple. No doubt images of their history was running through their minds -- "My father was a wandering Aramean. Abraham was no more than a gypsy and now here they are, God’s chosen people with this wonderful temple. We don’t have to take a back seat to anyone." Surely they had reason to be proud and if they congratulated themselves a bit, you can hardly blame them. They had come a long way.
Today we look around at our city, our province and our country and find it hard to imagine that 100 years ago this area was just opening up. Pioneer existence was hard, communication was a chore and life was a challenge. Today we look at the technology that exists, the pace of life, the ease presented by our economy and we see that we have come a long way.
Our church has come a long way as well. Once meeting in borrowed facilities, we now have this beautiful and functional building with a new roof. Where once you came to worship and other activities by horse and buggy or sleigh, we now hop in a car and think nothing of it. We celebrate the growth of our congregation as we welcome 20 new members today. We have come a long way.
In the appearance of so much stability, Jesus looks around and tells us of how fragile what we put together really is. He said of the Temple, "Not one stone will be left here upon another." That temple had walls 9 feet thick. The four disciples are taken back by this and ask Jesus, "Tell us, when will this be?" And Jesus warns them not to be lead astray. Don’t let the appearances of stability or permanence fool you. What you see can disappear in an instant. Don’t put your trust in anything other than God, because you will only be disappointed.
We know this only too well this past week. We have had two funerals. Life that was going on as expected is suddenly changed forever by the death of people who we knew and loved. The fragility of what we know is shown to be so fragile. Possession, relationships, allegiances are all thrown into confusion by the death of a person. Where do we look for permanence? Where do we look for continuity and purpose for life?
Jesus speaks to us words which we know so well. What can be built, can be destroyed so easily. One car accident, a fire, a slide on the stock market can mean disaster and ruin. Sometimes what we "know" or think we know as certainty is wrenched from us. We see it on the news every night and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving that it is not happening to us.
And Jesus says, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ’I am he.’ and they will lead many astray." We have much which calls for our allegiance today. Powerful forces that offer to give us the purpose to life we so desperately crave, worth in the eyes of others, activity to fill our days. Jesus tells us to beware of putting your faith and trust in things that can be so easily destroyed. We live in a world that puts a high value on selfishness and caring for oneself. We live in a world that values wealth and status above all else. Jesus comes among us and tells us not to be lead astray.
Jesus comes among us as the one who can give the purpose and meaning that we desire for our lives. The purpose and meaning that is found as we live as we are created to live, in relationship with God and with one another. Caring for one another, loving one another and worshiping God who created us. All else is false and a mere house of straw that will be destroyed.
Yes, we will see and hear of earthquakes, wars, and rumours of wars. Yes, our lives and the straw houses of security we build around ourselves will be torn down. But Jesus tells us not to be alarmed. These things will take place but they are merely birth pangs. The pain that tells of new life to come. Sometimes we need our false securities shaken in order to see them for what they are. Sometimes we need to have our important ideas and allegiances shaken to see that they are insignificant in the presence of God. All of these are merely birth pangs. In the midst of the little explosions, stands a God who will not be shaken.