Summary: First Sunday in Advent, year C
The Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent
December 3rd, 2000
Thank you Lord Jesus for teaching us to use the measure of eternity; to see that disturbances are nothing to fear, rather they are really opportunities for redemption. Amen.
After foretelling the end of Jerusalem and the Temple in the week before last week’s gospel reading, Jesus moves on to another “end” and the coming of the Son of Man in the gospel reading for today. As Jerusalem was faced with a crisis when Jesus appeared to teach there, so will the whole world be faced with a crisis when he appears in the “World Temple.” For the “worldly” it will mean judgment, for the “other-worldly” salvation.
The End Time is inevitable, but unpredictable, despite any signs. “Signs” are present in every age and are signs of the “age,” which means they are signs of sin. Jesus teaches his disciples to be just as concerned with the “meantime,” the in-between time, as with the end-time, even more so. They are to live lives prepared for the End at all times, both the end of the world and the end of their time in the world. In the meantime there will be false messiahs, persecutions and catastrophes of all sorts –cosmic, agricultural, social, political, familial and personal. They are to keep their sights on the horizon and goal and live accordingly.
In verse 25 there will be signs: Jesus makes use of apocalyptic stage props similar to those of Joel 3: 3-4. Such language is often used in apocalyptic to denote sudden and violent change and the emergence of a new order. The fabric of the universe will show signs of breaking up.
Nations will be in dismay: Those without the eternal vision will react in a predictable way – with fear and in panic. It is the “way of the world” to do so. Fear and panic are themselves signs, signs of unbelief. Whenever there is an appearance of God to humans, the message is always begun with, “Fear not.” Only believers can counter fear with courage in the midst of tumult and conquer it. The this-worldly simply encounter fear and are paralyzed by it.
In verse 27 they will see the Son of Man: There will come a time when no one will be able to deny the presence of God. For now, his presence is available only to believers, but the day will come when denial of God will be impossible because he will be too obvious to do so.
In verse 28 stand erect and raise your heads: Jesus empowers believers to take this “resurrection stance” at all times. Here, he is especially commanding it as a sign of distinction from the cowering and fearful.
Your redemption is at hand: There are facts and then there is the interpretation of those facts. Jesus tells his followers not to deny the facts (the undeniable), but to interpret then correctly. To unbelievers this will be a terrible experience. To believers it will be an awesome one. Though the line between terrible and awesome is a fine one, it is a real one, making all the difference in the world.
In verses vv. 29-33 the fig tree: The fig tree reminded Jesus of the final judgment and what leads up to it. And deservedly so. In contrast to most of the trees of Palestine (the olive, oak, and evergreens) the fig tree loses its leaves in the winter and (in contrast to the almond which blossoms in early spring) it shows signs of life later than other trees. So, when the branches get soft by the sap flowing through them and leaves begin to appear, it is a sure sign that the warm season is very near. The lesson is that there is not a lot of time between the first signs of life and the full-blown blossom, like the other trees. So be careful, the end is soon. Keep a watchful eye for all signs of life (the presence of God). The image of the fig tree lends itself to Jesus’ constant teaching of being watchful and prepared for the imminent End.
In verse 34 beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness: “Your hearts” rather than simply “you” clues us into what Jesus means. While he would not recommend carousing and drunkenness in any event, he is using the image metaphorically. Hence, “your hearts,” means your attitudes. He is saying, “Don’t succumb to the intoxicating attractions of a sinful world while you are waiting for the end. Don’t let the delay of my return lull you into complacency, compromise, comfort or the conceit that you have plenty of time. Beware that your way of life is not burdened or dulled by dissipation, intoxication (poisoning) or excessive solicitude for material things.”