Sunday 18 November at Stoke Hammond
2nd Sunday before Advent
Old Testament Daniel 12
The end times
12 ‘At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
Epistle Hebrews 10
A call to persevere in faith
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.
15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 ‘This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.’
17 Then he adds:
‘Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.’
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Gospel Mark 13
Alleluia, alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Hear the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark.
The destruction of the temple and signs of the end times
13 As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’
2 ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.’
3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’
5 Jesus said to them: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains.
I have recently finished Dan Brown’s latest thriller published October last year. You’ve probably read some of them—light hearted page turners that are good for holiday reading providing you don’t take the content at all seriously.
The book is called Origin. The story is the usual mix of science and religion. It starts with the assassination of a scientist who is about to reveal a new absolute proof that creation happened out of chaos, and that no creator—no God was involved.
I won’t spoil your next journey through Gatwick, Luton or Stansted by revealing any more of the story—except to say if you liked any of his other novels you will probably enjoy this one—and maybe it will give you pause for thought about what the Bible calls The end times.
Two of today’s readings are headed with the end times and the Hebrews passage talks about the last day approaching. Like Revelation, and much of the apocalyptic literature of the Bible, the language can seem fanciful—most Christians never look at it—but today the preacher can hardly avoid it. Is this fair—or should eschatology (as it is called) attract our attention more than it does.
Why should it? You may ask. Well, the study of eschatology is described as ‘the part of theology concerned with death, judgement, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind’ which sounds pretty important to me, and central to our faith. Increasingly we seem to think about our own mortality as we age—so why not reflect on what will be the scenario when the world ends, as almost all respected scientists agree will inevitably happen.
Mark’s portrayal of what Jesus is like dominates his gospel. At the beginning, Jesus proclaims the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven. He grapples with demons and other worldly beings. Chapter 13 is an extended discourse about the end times, but in reply to a question about when this will all happen from Peter, James and John—he will not be drawn.
32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
The portents and warnings given by Jesus are similar to what is in the Old Testament, and has been developed for centuries. Religious deception, violence, and betrayal. Planetary signs in the skies—the sun and moon go out—the skies will shake—'And God will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.’
Interestingly, these warnings can be linked to events at the time when Mark wrote his gospel—narrowing the dates down to around 66 – 70 AD.
The warnings accompanying the end times all sound terrifying, as Jesus must have intended. Why did he frighten his listeners in this way—especially as all they asked was when the world would end, not the signs and events that would accompany it? The answer seems to be in the repeated words “Watch out.” They appear in verses 5, 9, 23 and 33. Be prepared. Take nothing for granted.
The discourse ends with a parable about a man who leaves on a journey. Jesus’s charge to his disciples is the same as to those in the house while the owner is away.
35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’
What is the equivalent charge Jesus would give us today? We live in an age of unprecedented scientific discovery, although perhaps not as dramatic as the E wave supercomputer imagined by Dan Brown. But our knowledge doesn’t really change anything—the cause of the end of the world might be a massive asteroid—climate change—a threat to the human race along the lines of whatever caused the elimination of the dinosaurs—or conflict using nuclear weapons and so on.
Whatever happens and when, we should remain active in the faith. Not become lukewarm. Not think the end times are so far away we have plenty of time to prepare ourselves.
If Jesus were sat here today, he would almost certainly repeat when he said in answer to his disciples’ question: Be on guard! Be alert! For you do not know when the end times will come. God works outside the cosmos, and can end this experiment called human kind at any time. Amen