Text: Matthew 24:3-13
Today we begin to be reminded that there is an end to all this. As Christians mark time we are nearing the completion of the story Holy Church tells on an annual cycle, the only story big enough, comprehensive enough to put everything else in its proper perspective, to make sense of the seeming randomness—the advances and reverses, victories and defeats, hopes and fears that define our walk through this thing we call life in this place we call the world. The Advent warning and promise of deliverance is quickly bolstered by the Christmas miracle of the Incarnate Word come to save us. The Epiphany Light shines in our darkness only to lead us to face that darkness in Lenten discipline. In Holy Week we discover and proclaim the great price of our redemption in the cruel wounds borne by the Savior on the Good Friday Cross. Just as one begins to think of the Easter victory as the happy ending of the story, however, suddenly the Lord Ascends into heaven, leaving us behind and wondering in happy tears. Even with the Pentecost Gift of the Spirit, still, life remains a struggle and a mystery. That’s why we need to hear and proclaim the end of the story, which is, for faith, but only the rest of the story.
Yet even when Jesus talks about the end, the end of the world, as we know it now, it is not a pretty picture he paints. In fact, it seems rather dismal. He doesn’t seem to share the hope of politicians who promise a golden age of glory if we cast our vote for them. He doesn’t seem to have much confidence in what we like to call human progress. He doesn’t have much faith in the attempts of churchmen with their tenuous visions of a bright and golden future for the kingdom of God in the world.
Our Lord had spoken of the destruction of the holy city Jerusalem. It was natural for his disciples, with their knowledge of Old Testament prophecy, to connect the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem with his predictions concerning the end of the world, so they asked, “When shall these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world?”
In answer, Jesus didn’t set a date, as some who claim His name have sought to do. But he did give them signs by which to recognize the end—signs to serve as reminders that this world will not go on forever: false Christs arising, false prophets who will lead astray, wars and rumors of war, nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, earthquake, pestilences, disease and death. There will be a growing opposition to the Gospel of the Kingdom, as those who hold the name of Jesus are hated for His name’s sake. Multitudes will fall away from Christ and walk no more with him. Wickedness will multiply, crime rates rise, Christian love grow cold. There will be reminders in the sun and the moon and the stars, and on the earth distress of nations and men’s hearts failing them for fear. These are the signs, the stern reminders that the earth will not go on forever, that the Day of Judgment is approaching. You can read about them every day. They scream at us in the headlines of our daily papers and the voices of the newscast. They are to remind us of God’s call to stay awake, watch and pray.
Stay awake, watch, pray, and remember—remember the story we have been telling every year and proclaim today: the Christ who will appear as Judge has already come as Savior. Because he has broken into our world and enlightened our minds with faith and love, we already know that we can stand before the Son of man at his appearing and hear no condemnation.
By his Word he lifts our gaze above the world to anticipate with joy and longing our eternal life with him. Certainly the immanence of his return should move us to daily repentance, but the Christian life is never lived in valleys of despair and gloom and fear alone. The Savior came into the world to perform a ministry of ransom, to break the bondage of our sin and death. By a cross of sacrifice in death he gave us everlasting life. Our feet are heaven-bound, not earth bound, toward that inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fades not away, reserved for us in heaven. This is his promise. See that you are not alarmed. He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved. And even though the days may darken the victory is assured.
If the signs our Lord appoints are both warning and promise of mercy, and if our victory is assured, then they will affect the way we live, the way we think. Christians expect Christ to return, and this world to end. They are in the world, but they are not of the world. There is a steadiness in their walk and a certainty in their talk, a conviction in their hearts and a purpose in their lives. They talk like fools as they echo the conviction of St. Paul: “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” Just as the last days of the Church Year lead to the telling of the story again beginning in Advent, so for the Christian, the end is only the beginning. Amen becomes Hallelujah. And he who endures to the end shall be saved.