4th Sunday before Advent – 5th November 2023
Micah 3:5-end, Matthew 24.1-14
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today is the beginning of the end of the Church year, when the new year starts on Advent Sunday in 4 week’s time (now there’s frightening!). The Church year through our readings and festivals does a journey. It begins with the hope of the coming Messiah on Advent Sunday, works through Jesus story through the year and ends over the next four weeks with the proclamation of his kingdom over all with Jesus as Lord of earth and heaven. This chunk of seasonal time ends with the Feast of Christ the King.
This season has been called the Kingdom season or now the time between All Saints and Advent, and we have moved to red as part of this season is about marking the kingdom of God and the Saints within it – as it starts with All Saints day that was on Wednesday this week. Red is the colour of blood to remind us of the cost of following the faith – for Jesus and the many martyrs. Red is also the colour of fire – indicating the presence of the holy spirit with us and to indicate things are hotting up as we journey ever onward
Our gospel reading is a rather dramatic one! It starts with Jesus saying of the temple buildings 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. This would have been a deeply shocking thing for him to have said and for those around him to have heard. At this stage in their history, the people of God had already endured one temple in Jerusalem being destroyed (reference to that in our first reading from Micah today) and then being rebuilt subsequently. The thought that this might happen again was utterly abhorrent. The temple was viewed by this stage as a barometer to the people’s relationship with God. So when it was good, all was good, and when it was destroyed all was very bad indeed.
The trouble was that the temple and ritual observance – right action had taken over the peoples – obsessions about what made them clean and pure rather than living with a right heart – loving God and sharing that love. And this again is a wake-up call to us about making sure we have our hearts on fire with God’s love for us. Every day and not just for an hour on a Sunday or when we feel like it. The temple to Jesus had come to symbolise all the things that were getting in the way of God’s love in the heart of the people of God of his day. In a way we can probably own the things in our hearts that get in the way of God too. Today’s a day to think about it, pray about it and move on. Letting God forgive us, and resolving to do better.
This reading then moves into the apocalyptic, which means talking about the end times of Jesus’ kingdom on earth and what that will be like. Jesus describes frightening times and hard times ahead. This is partly a reflection of the times the Christian’s were then experiencing when Matthew’s gospel was written some 40 or so years after Jesus died and it is writing into the reality that the Romans did indeed destroy the temple again. That this had probably happened before Matthew’s gospel was written. This kind of writing is generally not easy for us to understand. Culturally we have rather lost this mystical magical style of apocalyptic writing – embedding deeper truths in colourful pictures. We are children of the enlightenment and meet it with cold hard logic and science.
The real point is that difficult times will come and that there are times when life is more about endurance than anything else, and endurance built on hearts on fire in love with God come what may! Endurance is probably not always the most attractive quality and expectation. Things being endured rather than enjoyed is a bit of a daunting prospect in a way, but I also think this is an object lesson in our expectations of life. Culturally we are selling the dream
Money = happiness, The latest greatest gadget or gizmo = happiness, The high pressure job = happiness, Disposable fleeting relationships = happiness, What I want = happiness
And none of this is actually true! Life has ups and downs but love weathers them all. God’s love of us today and every day. Our love for God in our hearts in response, and our lives lived in pursuit of God’s will and purposes for our lives. This is much more likely to bring inner peace and contentment, but will not bring us a guarantee from difficult times. Endurance is a deep and eternal way to cope with all that comes our way.
In way these words of Jesus are also encouragement to live today, for today, being part of his kingdom on earth for as long as we are here and being part of his kingdom in heaven when our time comes. All this talk of Endurance and eternity, reminded me of the story of Maximilian Kolbe
He was born near Lodz in Poland in 1894. His parents were Franciscan tertiaries and, He trained for ordination in 1907, Maximilian became a franciscan friar and eventually he returned to Poland and became a lecturer in church history. After suffering a severe illness, he resolved to publish a magazine for Christian readers and this soon gained a huge circulation. Soon his community was producing daily and weekly journals.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Maximilian was arrested as an ‘intellectual’ and taken to Auschwitz in May 1941. There he continued his priestly ministry, secretly celebrating the eucharist. When, after an escape, a prisoner was chosen with a large family to forfeit his life as an example, Maximilian stepped forward to take his place with 9 other prisoners and to be put to death by starvation.
After two weeks he was still alive in the starvation bunker. Finally Maximilian was injected with phenol and died on August 14th 1941. The man Maximilian died in place of lived through his experience in Auchwitz and went on to have a large family. He was present at the celebration when Maxmilian Kolbe was made a saint in 1982
In a way all I have talked about this morning as we have started our look at God’s kingdom, can be summed up in 2 words – Endurance and Eternity. Endurance – to keep going on through the ups and downs of life, and eternity – God loves us here in this life, and in the next – with the promise of eternal life with him in heaven for ever. Amen
Exciting Holiness, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989, 1995) ©