We Christians who live in a world “born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. “(1 Peter 1:3) We who believe in the Risen Christ now wait for “the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).
The epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians assumes that the congregation in Corinth is basking in the light of the “living hope” and it refers to the blessed hope when the apostle declares that “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The theology behind this is simple. If Jesus Christ is who his followers think he is, the Christ who appeared for the first time on the plane of human history in humility and hidden-ness, his true identity known only to a select few witnesses, and to faith, must of necessity appear a second time in power and in glory, visible to faith and unbelief alike.”
When Jesus Christ is revealed in Glory he will “transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory.” (Philippians 3:21)
The gospel lesson comes from Mark 13 which scholars of the New Testament call “the little apocalypse.” Apocalypse means “unveiling” and this chapter describes the “unveiling” of the end-time and the appearance in glory of the Son of Man (A name which Jesus claimed for himself.) The major events described in this chapter are much like the major events described in the Revelation of St. John the Divine, hence the name “the little apocalypse.”
According to Mark 13, these events are recorded as Jesus and his disciples are sitting opposite the temple. Jesus says that the time is coming when not one stone of the temple will be left on another. And the disciples ask, “When will this be, and what will the sign be that these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus then answers them. He says that when the time is right, and believers see the events that preceded the great and terrible day taking place, they will know that the Son of man is near, at the very gates. The events that precede the day include (I am not listing them all) 1) the arrival of false prophets saying, “I am he”, who will attempt to lead believers astray, 2) wars and rumors of wars, nation will rise up against nation, and 3) earthquakes and famines. Jesus says that the disciples themselves 4) will be brought before councils and beaten in synagogues. And 5) like the prophets of old, they will be given the opportunity to testify in the power of the Holy Spirit before governors and kings. Jesus says that things are going to be so bad that: 6)
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Of primary importance, Jesus says that 7) “the good news must be preached to all nations.” After this period of tribulation, the Son of man will be seen:
“26 in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
Jesus ends the little apocalypse with a series of warnings: 1) Disciples should know that when they see these things taking place, “he (the Son of Man) is near, at the very gates.” He tells them that 2) “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” He says that 3) heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will not pass away.” And he confesses, 4) “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus finishes his “little apocalypse” with the warning 5) to watch and keep awake. Then he speaks to them and us saying, 6) “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Perhaps we should note that many scholars think that Jesus was affected by what some call “a prophetic shortening of events.” When this happens, the prophet sees things that are to take place many years apart as if they are happening “all at once.” Thus, Jesus looks to the future, and sees the fall of Jerusalem, and the return of the Son of Man, as happening “all at once,” and “before this generation passes away,” when, in reality, these two events are spaced out by a long period of time. Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D., and in the year 2020 A.D., the Son of Man, Jesus, has still not returned in glory.
In Romans 8, St. Paul says that no one hopes for what he sees, but if we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience. It is my conviction that human beings are not long on patience. If our major hope is delayed, we ask for and take consolation in a series of minor hopes. When I was a boy, awaiting Christmas, which was my major hope, I took consolation in a series of minor hopes. My minor hopes included: 1) Catalog season, 2) the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade, 3) The Winston-Salem Christmas Parade, 4) Cutting the Christmas Tree, 5) Decorating the Christmas Tree 6) a visit with the Sear’s & Roebuck’s Santa Clause, 7) writing a letter to Santa Clause. Spiritually speaking, I enjoyed getting ready for the annual Christmas Play, attending Advent Services, and the Christmas Eve Candlelight Lovefeast.
Of course, all these things were just minor hopes that tided me over to the great hope, Christmas day. On Christmas Day in the morning there would be presents from Santa, and from my parents, and that afternoon, the family, including all my favorite aunts, and uncles, and cousins, and Granny and Pop, and guests like Mr. Bruner, would gather for a wonderful meal. Then we would gather around Granny’s tree, decorated with tin foil ice-sickles and spray-on snow from a can, and there would be more giving and receiving of presents, and then deserts, and a supper of left-overs, and in the evening, when it was time for bed, there would be memories.
Likewise, as we, like Isaiah, and the disciples, waiting for the great hope, when God, in the person of the Son of Man, will “tear open the heavens and come down,” we take consolation in the realization of series of small hopes that provide us with comfort in the present. My smaller hopes include the consolation I receive from: 1) Family, 2) Scripture, 3) the Church, 4) Friends, 5) Useful Work, and (What do you think? What is on your list?)
I love Isaiah 64, especially the translation that asks God to “tear open the sky and come down.” The late E. Stanley Jones, Methodist missionary and evangelist, use to tell the story of an English public (private to us) schoolboy who was a boarding student. He looked forward to Christmas when his father would come and take him home. Unfortunately, his father had to call the headmaster and tell him he could not come. The boy watched all the other boys go home, then the headmaster came and told the boy his father was not coming, he would have to remain at school. The boy was visibly shaken. The headmaster said, “If I could grant you one wish, what would it be?” The boy, ignoring the limits of possibility, went to his desk, picked up a picture of his father, and said, “I wish my father would step down out of this picture frame and join me.” That is precisely what God has done in the person of the Messiah, he has stepped down out of the frame of the universe to join us in our human life. The Son of God arrived in humility. He is known only to faith, but knowing him in faith, even as we await his return in glory is a powerful consolation.