Matthew 23:37-24:14One metaphor for Advent is that of pregnancy -- we, like Mary, wait in joyful (and perhaps more than a little fearful) anticipation for the Promised One -- Emmanuel, God With Us.
37“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you, desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God.’”
24 1As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, the disciples came to point out the buildings of the temple. 2Then Jesus asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” 3When Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
4Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs. 9“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
In today's reading, however, we are reminded that Christ is already mothering us. Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, crying out, "How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" How familiar that must sound to parents of willful children...
Confident in her own power and security, Jerusalem has rejected the prophets God has sent to her, has refused the transformative calls from her God and Maker.
Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple -- the focal point of religious power and authority. The coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth means the overthrow of all the human kingdoms that are already here on Earth, even the ones we might have a strong personal investment in -- "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
The disciples ask, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"
Typical, Jesus avoids answering the question directly. Instead, Jesus cautions them not to be led astray -- and also not to be afraid. "Be not afraid" is a greeting we hear often from divine messengers throughout Advent and Christmas. When God shows up, you can be assured that you are going to be asked to make some radical changes in your life -- and the more we have to lose, the less that appeals to us (one of the many reasons God has a preferential option for the poor).
Jesus also cautions the disciples that there will be much conflict ahead. I don't think this is necessarily to be read as an assertion that all of this disaster will be a sign that the Second Coming is at hand -- famine and disaster are as old as the Fall; they predict nothing, though they indicate quite a lot. Rather, Jesus exhorts the disciples to endure; "you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet."
All this pain and suffering and disaster? This is not the end. "This is but the beginning of birthpangs."
I have never given birth -- and I really have no desire to, in fact -- but I have it on good authority that it can at times be an incredibly painful and difficult process. If that's true of bringing a regular human baby into the world, would we expect any less of bringing a whole new world to fruition?
And unlike pregnancy, where we have at least an approximation of a due date, we don't know when this Second Coming will be. We hear over and over again throughout the Gospels that no one knows the date or the hour, and so we must always be prepared. We can ask, "What would you do if you knew that Jesus was coming back next month?" or "What would you do if you knew that Jesus wasn't going to come back during your lifetime?" but the reality we have to work with is: "What would you do if you were assured that Jesus would return but you had no idea when that would be?" Every year, during Advent (and also during Lent) we take time to intentionally practice both waiting and preparing ourselves.
So as we approach the season of Advent, let's review Jesus' advice:
* you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God."
* Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Messiah!" and they will lead many astray.
* you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed
* the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
I'm intrigued by the twinning of these first two -- the second one is perhaps more salient, connected as it is with all the doom and gloom foreshadowing, but the first is no less important. Jerusalem is exhorted to proclaim: "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God." While we should be wary of those who claim divinity for themselves, we are also exhorted to be open to the presence and call of God in our lives.
Be not afraid. An exhortation used throughout the Advent and Christmas stories to assure us not to be afraid of the new thing God is doing in our lives and in the world -- but here we are also reminded not to be afraid of all that is happening in the world. For we have so great a hope... as we heard Paul proclaim on Sunday: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."
Do not let your love grow cold. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." "Love one another as I have loved you." Over and over again we hear this exhortation, this love which is at the heart of the good news.
And so I invite you, as we move into this this season, to remain open to God, to be not afraid, and to not let your love grow cold.