The second Mayan says, "Ha! That'll freak somebody out someday."
I grew up in a church tradition in which a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation understanding of the end times was the default eschatological template for any preacher in our circles worth the price of his King James bible.
You had the Cold War, Hal Lindsay selling his Late Great Planet Earth books, you had Kissinger as the Anti-Christ and you had charts showing dispensations of the Church Age, the Tribulation, the Millennium, and the Great White Throne and so on. Really fascinating stuff.
And totally beside the point.
Today the world is arguably in as great a mess as it ever has been, although I suppose the Great Generation people would argue that the first half of the 1940s were no picnic. But you get my meaning.
The eschatological texts of Advent 1 remind us that the advent of the Messiah, regardless of the advent we’re talking about (2,000 years ago or perhaps 2,000 years from now), is the grounds for our hope.
Now I think theologians make this “hope” business way too complicated. What is hope? I’m okay with you thinking that hope is a type of wishful thinking or whistling in the dark. It’s like having a strong desire for something, coupled with an equally strong sense that you’re going to get it—but you have your fingers crossed behind our backs anyway.
And it is also the quiet confidence of knowing with ultimate certainty that something will happen, without knowing anything else. It is the emotion that keeps us going from day to day.
You hope your spouse is going to give you the camera you’ve been looking at. A Christmas present. You have a strong sense that she or he is going to do it. That’s hope. Yes, it is. I think that we should let the language inform us of what hope is. How do we use the word “hope”? That’s what Advent 1 is about.
We forget that all the end times talk in the Bible, including Paul to the Thessalonians, and John in the Revelation, was written to provide comfort and hope. That’s all. This stuff was not written for the purpose of providing timetables of the end. Far from it.
The eschatological testament of Scripture gives us something. Hope. Define it as you will, we all know what hope is. And what is real cool is that we have it at all! When a loved one dies, there is no hope of that loved one returning. When the clock runs out in the fourth quarter, and your team can’t run another play, there is no hope that your team can win.
Yet the miracle is that as big a mess this world is in--I say the miracle is that we should have hope at all!!! Yet we do, and Jesus is that hope!
This Sunday we might point out that some of us live as though we don’t have hope. Or we don’t have a hope, as if we don’t have a prayer. Our job is to point out that we DO have hope. So the homiletical mission this Sunday could be to restore the sense of hope, and to help us understand how we can actualize all of the kingdom expectations for which we hope.