Sunday, November 29, 2015


This Sunday we talk about the second coming of Jesus. In November we think about the last things. That is heaven, hell, death and judgement. In advent we think about waiting for the coming of Jesus. So the two connect well with one Sunday to contempalte the second coming. 

Really the coming of Jesus that matters most is when Jesus comes to us. When we encounter Him in our heart and allow Him to love us. Jesus approaches us in both ways. He comes as God in the form of a simple carpenter and even a baby. Yet He also comes to us as the King of Kings. We need to encounter Him both ways but often one comes first and the other lags behind a bit. 

This week's gospel contains some real apocalyptic language. The signs of the end times. There has been a ton of effort put into trying to figure out exactly what is going to happen by analysing these passages. It is probably the least useful area of biblical interpretation. I know when I was a teen I read a book by Hal Lindsey called "The Late, Great Planet Earth." It argued that a significant war was going to begin in 1984. Russia was going to invade the Middle East. Europe and China were going to get involved. This guy had it all figured out. Needless to say 1984 came and went and no such war took place. 

So if we are not supposed to figure out exactly what these prophecies mean then why are they there? Why does the church ask us to contemplate them this Sunday? We are supposed to learn some thing. One is that God's plan is going to involve a lot of sin and suffering. There will be days when it feels like evil has won. Can God's plan really involve wars and famines and persecutions and apostasies?  God answers that question for us. It can and it does. 

That is important because many suggest than an all-knowing, all-good and all-powerful God would prevent disasters from happening. It can be helpful and interesting to think about that argument and figure out why it fails. Yet it is important to note that God never makes that claim. He never says He won't tolerate the existence of any evil, any where. He says the opposite. That the forces of evil will be allowed to run their course. That when we do good many times we will feel like we are all alone. That it will take faith to believe God is in charge.

We can actually get great comfort from this. Why is that? The real problem of evil is not out in the world. The real problem of evil is in our hearts. We look at our lives and think an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God would not want anything to do with us. We want to be good but sometimes it seems that goodness is swimming upstream against a very negative tide. Yet if the world is an evil place and God still wants to save it then maybe we can also believe that this same God would want to save a guy like me. If the world's salvation takes a long time and has a lot of setbacks then we should not be discouraged if our own salvation takes time and includes many embarrassing episodes. 

This is why it is fitting that the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared would start this advent. Ultimately it is all about Mercy. Judgement is there to show us the need for mercy. Jesus' birth show us how much He is willing to lower Himself to offer us mercy. God's willingness to tolerate centuries of evil and love us through it all despite the fact that many philosophers say it is illogical. That shows us just how awesome God's mercy is. 

Ultimately any encounter between us and God needs to involve extraordinary mercy. There is just no other way it can happen. The gap between us and God is just so great. Christmas is a time to marvel at God's amazing willingness to bridge that gap by becoming man. Yet His goal is not just to be on the same planet with you. His goal is intimacy. He wants to enter your heart and transform you. Astounding. 

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