LUKE 21: 25-36

NOVEMBER 27, 2011

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            Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable people become when little seems to be happening?  For example, the great pianist Rachmaninoff was giving a piano recital when he was very young.  He began with a Beethoven sonata that had several long rests in it.    

            During one of those long rests, a woman leaned forward, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “Honey, play us something you know.”

            There is an awkwardness in silence, in inactivity, in waiting, and we are not very good at any of those things.

            I think of the man in a restaurant.  A waiter was passing by, and the man asked the waiter, “Excuse me.  How long have you been working here?”

            “About a year,” replied the waiter.

            The man said wearily, “In that case it couldn’t have been you that took my order.”

            Waiting is no fun.

            Over the next few weeks children, and some young at heart adults, will become restless with expectation and excitement waiting for Christmas. 

            A similar restlessness typifies the people of God.  After all, we are a waiting people. Think about it.  The Old Testament concludes with the people of Israel waiting on a coming Messiah.  The New Testament concludes with the followers of Jesus awaiting his return.  We have been waiting now for his return for nearly 2,000 years.

            Waiting is hard to do and Sherwood Wirt deals with waiting in his book Freshness of the Spirit.  In the book he reminds us that much of life is spent waiting.  Here’s what he wrote:


            Think of nations waiting for their rulers to die. Oppressed peoples waiting for a deliverer who will lift the yoke of the tyrant. Merchant traders waiting for their ship to come in.

            Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC, says that he spent virtually the entire period of World War II by the telephone, waiting for Winston Churchill to call him.  He never [called].  And think of all the [ordinary] people waiting today at the airport, at the bus depot, at the doctor’s, at the amusement park, at the bowling alley, at the post office, the ticket office, the unemployment office, the Social Security office.  Society has become a vast waiting room.[1]


            And here we are, as followers of Christ, waiting for his return, our anticipation and excitement fueled by passages in the bible like the one we read earlier.  And thankfully, those passages, also offer some clear Biblical principles for those who wait.  Our passage for today mentions two.  Before we turn to those two principles, however, let’s take a look at a problematic statement Jesus makes here.

            Look with me at verse 32.  Every now and again, we read through scripture and we trip over something.  Verse 32 is one of those “trip over” passages.  Listen to Jesus words one more time,


            Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.


             We read these words and we think, “What in the world was Jesus saying here?  Did he miss-predict the future?”  We know, “all things” did not come to pass in that generation.  Cosmic convulsions did not take place on their watch.  Heaven and earth did not pass away in their lifetime.  They did not witness the Son of Man coming back in the clouds.  So what gives?

            Well, one school of thought believes the answer resides in the word “generation.”   This school of thought reminds us that the Greek word translated here as “generation” could also be translated as “race.”  This school of thought contends that when Jesus refers to “this generation” he was using the second meaning, “race,” rather than the first meaning, “generation.”  What’s he’s saying is this race, the Jews, will still be in existence when he returns.  The Jews, as a race, will witness all these things. 

            Another school of thought contends the “all things” refer to what Jesus said in verses 20-24.  In those verses, which I won’t read, he foretells the fall of Jerusalem, which indeed took place within a generation.  Towards the end of 70 A.D. everything predicted by Jesus in verses 20-24 took place.  The Temple was destroyed to the last stone, Jerusalem was left in ruins, and the Romans killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. 

            I’m not sure if either answer is completely satisfying, but that’s the closest we can get this side of heaven to understanding this “trip over” verse. 

            OK, back to the guidelines, the principles, for waiting.  I love the story about the little boy who had returned from his first two weeks at summer camp.  He showed his mother two badges that he had won: one for making improvements in swimming, the other for naming the most birds on a nature hike.

            There was a blue ribbon in his pocket signifying a third prize, and his mother asked him about that.  “Aw,” he said, “I got that thing for having the neatest packed bag when we were ready to come home.”

            “I’m proud of you,” his mother said.

            “No big deal,” he said. “I never unpacked it in the first place.”

            What are we to do while we wait for Christ’s return?  Well, we need to unpack and work on a couple of badges.  

            First, we need to work on our faithfulness badge.  Jesus put it this way.  Verses 34 & 36:


            Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap ... Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.           


            Some of you remember the ancient epic poem The Odyssey by Homer. It is the story of Odysseus who traveled the world pursuing many adventures.  Meanwhile back home his beautiful wife Penelope was being pursued by various suitors trying to take advantage of Odysseus’ twenty-year absence.  In order to keep these suitors at bay, Penelope announced that when she finished weaving a particular garment, she would choose among the various and persistent suitors.  There was something these suitors did not know, however.  Each night Penelope undid the work that she put in during the daytime, and so she remained faithful to Odysseus until he returned.

            We are to be faithful to Christ while we wait for his return, and for the most part the church has been faithfully serving the world in Christ’s name for two thousand years.  Now is not the time to let up.

            Remember German-born Albert Einstein’s words about the church after the Second World War?  He’s speaking of the Confessing Church movement in Germany, who stood up to Hitler, led by the great martyr Diedrich Bonhoeffer.  He wrote a book during Hitler’s reign titled The Cost of Discipleship.


            As a lover of freedom, when the revolution came in Germany, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced.  Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities were silenced in a few short weeks.  Only the church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth.  I never had any special interest in the church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it, because the church alone has had the courage to stand for intellectual truth, and moral freedom.  I am forced to confess that what I once despised, now I praise unreservedly.


            We are Christ’s body in the world today.  Let’s work on our badge of faithfulness as we wait.

            Second, we need to be prepared.  In verse 32 Jesus says, “Be on guard.”  In verse 34 he says, “Be alert.”  If Boy Scouts had been in existence in his day, he might have said, “Be prepared.” 

            We are to be prepared for Christ’s coming.  We are to be prepared if he should come today.  We are to be prepared if he should come in another thousand years.  We are to prepared for we simply do not know when he will come and we don’t know what tomorrow may bring.

            As much as some people like to do it, and as much as we like to listen to their predictions, it’s difficult to predict the future.  Maybe you read the article in the Omaha World Herald this week about the economist addressing the Omaha business community who predicted the Midwest, as well as the Mid South, will fair the best economically over the next fifty years.  Of course, we need to take that with a grain of salt because economists are often as wrong as they are right.

            It’s difficult to predict what tomorrow will bring.  Who could have predicted the wars that ravaged our planet in the twentieth century?  Who could have predicted the scourge of terrorism of the past decade?  What wise person predicted the collapse of both the real estate market and our major financial institutions three years ago?  Not many.  Not many.

            We don’t know what the future may bring.  We may be here million years.  On the other hand, today may be our last day on earth. 

            So, while we wait we need to be prepared.  We need to get our affairs in order.  Are our relationships healthy?  Have we forgiven who we need to forgive?  Have we told the people closest to us how much they mean to us?  And maybe most importantly, are we right with God?  Have we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior?  Have we given all we know of ourselves to all we know of Jesus Christ?  Are we prepared?  Are all our affairs in order? 

            We know he’s coming.  The Scriptures make that quite clear and when company comes what do we often do?  Well, when we visited our daughter and her family out in California a couple of weeks ago, they spent the day cleaning the house from top to bottom.  By the time they picked us up at the airport they were exhausted.

            If they could do that for our coming, don’t you think we could do that for Christ’s coming?

            That is the lesson for this first Sunday of Advent.  As we wait let’s remain faithful and lets get prepared.

[1] Sherwood Wirt, Freshness in the Spirit (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978).