The date was Tuesday, October 22, 1844 – The Rev. William Miller and his disciple Samuel Snow had carefully calculated and announced that this date would be the date for Jesus’ 2nd coming. As the date drew closer and closer a near hysteria gripped Miller’s numerous followers. A mix of fear, terror and excitement spread through the community. 1000’s of followers throughout the country prepared for this day faithfully – some had given away all of their possessions in anticipation. That night many climbed up onto their roofs to wait for Jesus. So when the sun rose on Wednesday morning, October 23 there was great anguish and disappointment – in fact historians call this event “The Great Disappointment.” Henry Emmons – one of Miller’s followers wrote the following in his diary:
“I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.”
We have a fascination with end times. There is now a movie that has just been released – perhaps some of you have seen it – it is called “2012” and is based on some Mayan calendar’s prediction that the end of the world will occur in 2012. Others scour the scriptures and extract obscure verses here and there out of context to justify all kinds of strange and unusual end of the world scenarios. Some of these are pretty creative and have become very popular. For example, the theology of the rapture has become so widespread and popular that it has even spawned a series of popular books – despite the fact that it is completely unbiblical and even destructive. And in other cases we see groups and even individuals attempting to manipulate current events in the Middle East so that these events will at least mesh with their end of the world theories and at most so that they might induce God to usher in the new age.
But as the Rev. Miller discovered – God cannot be manipulated and God will act in God’s own time. This is an issue that Jesus had to contend with as well. In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is addressing this subject in his teachings in the temple courtyard – shortly before the events of the passion take place. Now in this group of people listening to Jesus teach there would have been, in addition to his own disciples, groups of Pharisees and Saduceees and zealots and probably even a mystic group called the Essenes. All of these had one thing in common – they were anxiously awaiting the coming of the Messiah. But they differed about how and in what manner the Messiah would come. The Pharisees and the Essenes both believed that God was waiting for Israel to return to following the law – and so they went to extreme measures to try to adhere to the law. The Pharisees, realizing that it was impossible for all Judeans to follow the law redefined who could be classified as a Jew – in hopes that by excluding those most likely to break the law they could induce God to send the Messiah. The Essenes went farther by completely withdrawing from society and creating a very strict commune in the Dead Sea region.
But Jesus, has little to no time for all of this. Jesus is constantly criticizing the Pharisees for their efforts to induce God to send the Messiah. When the Pharisees would criticize Jesus for not keeping the Sabbath, or for eating with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus was not impressed or intimidated. I think sometimes when we hear these stories we do not completely understand the seriousness of these issues for the men who were the Pharisees – we are too inclined to turn them into paper opposition to Jesus. But for them this was serious. For them, Jesus was imperiling the future of Israel by doing these things; Jesus, in their view, was preventing God from sending the Messiah.
But for Jesus, these guys all had it wrong. Jesus’ attitude is – look, forget about dates – forget about inducing God to act – instead recognize that God has already acted and that God’s top priority is people. God loves people! The reason for breaking the Sabbath – was to reach out to care for other people in need; the reason for making oneself impure and reaching out to help someone injured or sick (like the Good Samaritan did) was that we are to care for people; the reason Jesus eats with Tax Collectors and sinners is that God loves people and wants to reach out and bring in all those have been scattered! The reason Jesus dies on the cross is that people are God’s top priority! And because of this - because we see people healed and fed and cared for and forgiven and received through love and grace – because of this we know that God’s Kingdom has already burst into our own time through Jesus. We don’t have to wait for Jesus to bring about the Kingdom of God at some far distant time in the future, because we are living in the Kingdom – NOW. It is ALREADY here – But it is also NOT YET come in its fullness – nevertheless it is HERE, NOW. And do you know how you can tell, Jesus asks? Well, can’t you tell that summer is coming when the leaves begin to appear on the trees. Well – look around – can’t you see the evidence of the Kingdom in your midst – people are fed and healed and clothed and loved and forgiven and God’s grace is evident in so many unique ways.
Those who would have us believe that God will come with violence and destruction – that God would throw away hundreds of thousands of precious lives do not understand the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospel is about hope and forgiveness and grace – that is what we celebrate during Advent. “Come Lord Jesus” we repeat throughout this season. “Come Lord Jesus.” These words are a prayer of hopeful expectation, of waiting and longing; but they are also an affirmation that God has ALREADY come into our midst. And so Advent is waiting – 1st we wait the celebration of the birth of Jesus in child who has come to us in the past; at the same time we wait and look for the 2nd coming of Jesus sometime in the future when Jesus will come and transform the world through the power of his love and grace. But ultimately and most importantly in Advent we celebrate that through Jesus, God has come into our midst, and we experience Christ NOW in so many ways. Lillie experienced the power of God’s grace through her baptism last night – those of us who witnessed this or affirmed our baptisms this morning celebrate the fact that we have all been received into God’s heart through our own baptisms; we experience God’s presence through the bread and wine of Holy Communion; God stands with us in our grief and pain; God brings light to our darkness and joy into the midst of sorrow. God is always present with us.
All of this – the sacraments of Baptism and Communion – the liturgy of healing – the opportunity to prayer – is evidence that God has come to us in the midst of our lives. God loves us and God is present with us no matter what. The word of the Gospel today is that as we look for the coming of the Messiah – past and future – we must always recognize that Christ is already come – NOW – into our midst. Come, Lord Jesus.
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