Summary: Let’s not be taken in by speculation about the second coming - Pastor Harold Camping notwithstanding
TSL and TSJ 23-10-2011
Following a severe storm in a village in Northumberland, the local Anglican priest and local Methodist minister decided to help their community and so each made a sign and positioned himself on the local road leaving their village.
It wasn’t long before a car came speeding toward them, and the priest held up a sign that says
"Stop, before its is too late!"
The driver shook his head in disgust and drove on even more furiously.
Further down the road, he came across the Methodist minister who raised his sign, which said
"The End is Near!"
The driver yells "You religious jerks, get off the road!"
But as he rounded the bend, the two ministers heard screeching tyres and a big splash.
The priest turns to the pastor and says "Perhaps we should have made a sign saying “Bridge down”
When I looked at the Lectionary reading for today I wondered what on earth does a passage that majors on the Second Coming of Christ - have to do with our day and age!
However people in the world are still interested in speculation as to when the end of the world will come.
Just this week, an American pastor from California, Harold Camping made the news that he had recalculated the end of the earth to be October 21st 2011.
Man has always been fascinated by the future:
Pope Benedict XVI wrote, in his book “Jesus of Nazareth”
“In every age, man’s questioning has focussed not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so he can avoid perdition and set out towards salvation.”
Pope Benedict goes on to say
“Religions do not aim merely to answer the question about our provenance; all religions try in one way or another to lift the veil of the future.”
And we can see a resonance in what Pope Benedict says in our society
Story: In the late 19th Century in America, there was a wave of enthusiasm for prophecies predicting the actual date for Christ’s Second Coming.
One such prophet was an Adventist leader William Miller (1782-1849). And it is in his movement that both the JW’s and the Seventh Day Adventists find their roots.
Miller first predicted that Christ would return on 21st March 1842, but then revised the date to April 3, 1843.
Over 3,500 of his followers jammed the Boston Advent Temple, only to be disappointed.
You might have thought that the movement would have died.
But it didn’t. Rather it continued to grow.
Miller decided to recalculate his date for the Second Coming and soon publicised a new date - April 18, 1844.
When the Messiah did not show up on that date, there was again frustration and some followers left the Adventist ranks.
Undeterred by these failures, Miller came up with a third date - 22nd October 1844.
The date was publicized as the Millerite publication True Midnight Cry.
And, surprisingly, this third date rallied his followers.
They began to spread the news of the new date of the second coming with an enthusiasm that had not seen before.
Churches which did not accept this message were denounced as agents of “Babylon.” and the devil
And - despite opposition from established, mainline religious groups -, thousands of people – including many clergy – began to defect to the Millerite cult.
As doomsday approached, the Millerites began to prepare.
One account notes that “Fields were left unharvested, shops were closed, people quit their jobs, paid their debts, and freely gave away their possessions with no thought of repayment.”
Huge press runs of Advent publications like The Midnight Cry warned the public that “The Time Is Short”. “Prepare to Meet Thy God!” and “The Lord is Coming!”
William Miller himself began peddling white “ascension robes” to the faithful, many of whom waited for the miraculous event in freshly dug graves.
But as we all know, the Second Coming did not occur on 22nd October 1844.
In fact if they had read the words of Jesus from this morning’s Gospel reading, where he said
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mt 24:36)
and believed them – they would not have been taken in by Miller’s false prophecy.
It is interesting that Jesus refused to be drawn into speculation about the end times.
So what are we to do about the End Times?
I think there are three things that Christians should be aware of
1. He is coming again
2. God has work for us to do on earth