‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
Those who like preaching from this passage are probably a little odd! Apocalyptic passages like this disturb us and are a far cry from the normal Advent and Christmas messages of peace and goodwill. Yet Jesus knew how to read what Pope John Paul II called “the signs of the times.” In the passage he warns his hearers to flee the terrible judgement the Romans would bring when they ended any semblance of a Jewish state.
As we read the signs of our own time we can see, again, the need for the Lord to come. We listen again to the haunting words of the great Advent hymn, today in Latin yesterday in English, and recognise the longing for our world to change. 2020 has been a tumultuous year; we’ve been struck low by a pandemic which has had a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people around the world. Wars continue whilst the world looks away; despots cling to power like alcoholics to bottles and, here in the UK the press teaches us to treat refugees as dangerous whilst it struggles to portray a government it wants to support as anything approaching competent.
In the midst of this gloom we long for Christ to come again. We remind ourselves of the stories of his birth, born into poverty and exile, wrapped in a woman’s blood, needy and naked for our sake and find hope. That baby grew up and taught us how to live. The values of the baby of Bethlehem are needed again in our world and, whilst we long for him to return, we have to face up to the fact that, in the meantime, it’s our job to proclaim His values and offer His hope to the world.
Lord Jesus, as we prepare to celebrate your coming amongst us, remind us that it’s up to us, until you come again, to do your work in this world. Amen
The Rev’d Andy Braunston minister with four churches in and around Glasgow.