24 Nov 2013
“‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’” (Matt. 24:34) In the name …
Did you hear that Bill O’Reilly is really a liberal Democrat? Did you know that Mircosoft’s Bill Gates loves his Apple iPhone? Do you realize that Coach Bill Belichick wears a New York Giants tee-shirt underneath his Patriots sweatshirt? Can you believe that I recently joined the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s fan club? I imagine that we all quickly realize how silly these statements are because of how out of character they are. But as the church finishes her liturgical year and we speak of the terrifying events of the end-time when the sun is darkened, the stars fall from the heavens and chaos engulfs again the God-ordained order of creation, and then the Son of Man reappears descending on the clouds of heaven as a powerful and judgmental king, we have every right to ask … what happened to Jesus? Where did the child go born in an animal’s manger? What about the carpenter’s son? Was the peaceable, prayerful teacher and healer all an act? Can the end-time Jesus be the same Jesus who suffered and died on the cross, but who still breathed out words of forgiveness to the last moment?
Some will go as far as to call the last Sunday of the church year Christ the King Sunday. The origins of this feast are more earthly than heavenly. The church was losing power, earthly power, back in the 19th century. At one time the church ruled territory and commanded armies. 150 years ago all of that began to collapse, and as it did the church said, “Christ is the king in heaven. Therefore, the church is the king on earth.” Christ the King Sunday was the futile attempt to preserve the church’s earthly kingdom. Its modern day equivalent would be the unappealing example of Iran where the clerics run the nation. That’s what Christ the King Sunday hoped the world would go back to.
And even if you strip the politics out of the story of Christ the King, this kind of imagery is still a square peg that we are trying to force into the round hole of Jesus’ life story. One of the phrases that we can most confidently attach to Jesus is “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Our Saviour went out among the ordinary and even the outcast. He called women and children to be beside Him when that just wasn’t done. Since we can’t figure out why anyone would make it up, we can also be confident that Jesus actually said, “The Son of Man came not be served, but to serve.” Service, not privilege, defined His idea of righteousness. We also have in the Bible the record of one of the earliest Christian hymns about this humble Saviour. The first Christians were inspired to sing of Jesus: “Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, rather, He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave.” A slave! Jesus never called Himself the Messiah, the kingly descendent of David. And probably for good reason. Joel Baden has just written a book about this ancient Israelite king. He was a powerful man and transformative leader, but he was not a decent person. And David was the ideal king of Israel. If you want some real entertainment, read the Books of Samuel and Kings in the Old Testament about the other less than ideal kings. These guys, these kings, are not Sunday School teachers.
Beginning next week we enter the Season of Advent. That season represents the putative four thousands years that the world awaited the birth of Jesus. We waited that long for God’s perfect revelation of Himself. Then after Advent we will celebrate Christmas and the grand mystery that God became one of us. Jesus isn’t only a prophet. He’s not just the Messiah. Jesus brings God Himself into our world. Jesus is the incarnation of God. Jesus shows us what God is like. The last of the Gospels has the disciple Philip say to Jesus, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” A saddened Jesus replies, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” I think this conversation is in John’s Gospel because it represented a real dialogue in his own church community. They knew of Jesus, but they still wanted to know God, and John’s reply is they are one in the same. I wonder if the church is still having this discussion. We have the teachings and example of Jesus, of humility and service. We waited four thousand years for this revelation. It cost God heaven and glory to become one of us in Jesus. And yet with as clear a revelation as we have, we throw it all to the side and imagine Christ returning as something He never was in Jesus. It makes the wait and then the reality of Jesus trivial.
And there’s one more thing. We’re not good at predicting the future. I think this is a fundamental revelation that God is allowing us to determine the future. It has not been decided already for us. That’s why we fail at prediction. The last we heard from today’s Gospel was that all of the heavenly signs and the glorious return of Jesus would take place before that first generation of believers died. Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians. They have witnessed first hand the destruction of Jerusalem and even the sacred Temple. They felt this had to be a sign from God that history was over. They got it wrong. We’re still here. Some people today believe that the Muslim mosque on Temple Mount is “the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place” and that Jesus will be here soon. They’re going to get it wrong too. If we can’t tell the short-term future, then we have even less of a chance to tell the long-term future.
This all points us back, once again, to the example and teachings of the child born in a manger, who was a carpenter, who gravitated to the humble and the outcast, and who died on the cross preaching forgiveness. With the three Bills – O’Reilly, Gates and Belichick, we quickly recognized how unfair it was to say the obviously invented. Let’s do the same with Jesus. Let us pray today that we better embrace how God has revealed Himself in Jesus, who is more servant than king, more love than fear, and more forgiveness than judgment. It is in His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo