This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“Is it Christmas tomorrow?” asked the little boy in excitement. “No,” said dad, “it’s October and Christmas isn’t till December”. “Well, is it December tomorrow then?”, “No,” said dad, “December isn’t for a long time yet”. “Well, how will I know it’s December?”. “It’ll get dark quite early, there’ll be Christmas lights in shops and houses, there’ll be lots of Christmassy things to buy and there’ll be Christmas music everywhere”. The little boy thought about what he’d seen and heard in town that morning and, clearly confused, said “but dad, it must be nearly Christmas then ‘cos I’ve seen all those things”.
It’s confusing when you don’t have a sense of time and the length of days, weeks and months. It’s even more confusing when some people are telling you it’s almost time for something and others are telling you it’s still a long way ahead.
Like Jesus’ disciples, we too are waiting for something that will happen, we just don’t know when. We think we see the signs and wonder if the day is coming but we’ve also been told that we won’t know the exact time until that day dawns when it’ll be too late to do any preparation in readiness.
In these four Sundays leading up to Advent our gospel readings will reveal themes of Christ’s coming again in glory, the establishment of his kingdom and his judgment of all peoples.
Today we hear Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem which the disciples link in their minds to Christ’s coming again and the final days of this world.
Like the disciples, we may want to say to Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Jesus’ reply, both to his disciples and to us, is far from comforting or re-assuring. He predicts confusion, wars, natural disasters and the personal suffering of his followers at the hands of others. He says that life will become so difficult, frightening and unpredictable that many will turn away from their faith and even betray those they once loved.
In spite of all this, Jesus then also promises that “this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world.”
We know that the first followers of Jesus did indeed spread the news of God’s kingdom throughout their world. What are we to make of this prophecy? How are we to live in the expectation that Christ will come again at some unknown time?
Jesus’ words may make us very uncomfortable. We live in a world where we see or hear about all these predicted things happening from earthquakes and tsunamis to wars, terrorism and persecution of Christians under oppressive regimes. Does this mean that the return of Christ is imminent? Are we to take it that the end of the age really is near?
What Jesus says about this to his disciples, he says also to us. He is very clear that no-one, not even he himself, will know when the day will be that signals the end of the age. He warns us against making that prediction or being distracted by those who claim to know or who, indeed, claim to be the returning Messiah.
Over the next three weeks we will hear Jesus tell parables about his return and about judgment. The clear message that is given by all of these is that we must prepare ourselves so that we are ready for the day whenever it comes.
We will be prepared and ready if we are found to be faithful to God’s word and focused on proclaiming the Gospel and working for the Kingdom in all circumstances.
We will be prepared and ready if we are seeking to heal the divisions between Christians which so weaken the church; if we are standing alongside those who are persecuted because of their faith and if we are doing God’s work in the world without spending time speculating as to when it will end.
We will be prepared and ready if, when war, earthquake flood or famine bring suffering to vast numbers of men, women and children we are found acting to relieve that suffering and doing all we can to prevent such things happening again.
Our task is to remain centred on doing God’s work so that we will be prepared and ready on the day of Christ’s return when we are promised a share in his eternal kingdom.
1. We know that Jesus will return in glory to be the judge of all.
2. We cannot know when his return will be and we are told to be ready at
3. Being ready means remaining focused and centred on God’s work in a
suffering world and not being distracted by false or confusing claims about the end of the age.
Let us pray to our Father in heaven that his will may be done on earth, the good news of his kingdom proclaimed throughout the world and that all people will be led into his glory.
Father, we pray for the unity of your church. We pray that we, and all who worship you, will remain faithful and true to your word brought to life in our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution, torture and death because of their faith. Help us to use our freedom to work for their liberation.
We pray for nations at war against nation. Defend us from alarm and fear when we hear of wars and rumours of wars. Keep us firm in faith and hope that you will bring healing for the kingdoms of this world.
We pray for those whose lives have been broken by famines, earthquakes, floods and disease. Help us to work for the relief of those who suffer now and for the prevention of further suffering and loss of life.
Father in heaven, receive our prayers for this broken and suffering world and bring us into your eternal kingdom where every tear will be wiped away and there will be an end to mourning, crying and pain and your glory will be fully revealed through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.