Sermon–December 1, 2013


Advent 1

December 1, 2013

William Bradbury

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44
Psalm 122


They were known as Millerites: an international group of followers of William Miller who was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1782. He said “My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.”Wikipedia

Those days, however, came and went like every other day. The members of his church called it “the Great Disappointment”.

Some of you will remember the 1970 bestseller written by Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth which also predicted the end was near since Jesus was supposed to return 40 years after the creation of the State of Israel. Lest you think this was a fringe book: “It was the nonfiction bestseller of the 1970s with over 28 million copies sold by 1990.” Wikipedia

What is so surprising is how certain Christians are endlessly fascinated by these speculations.

Most main line Christians, however, don’t focus on the “when is Jesus returning question” because we don’t read these passages as literal accounts of Jesus floating down from the sky like God’s Navy Seal.

Rather we read them as metaphors pointing to that time when Christ who is already present in the Church as its Lord, finally takes Lordship of the world.

The When question is a distraction since Jesus himself claimed even he didn’t know when this would be–“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”


The important question is the “What kind of world is God creating through Christ now and how are we to participate in this new creation?” Rather than misunderstanding one or two proof texts we are called to draw a line from those Biblical moments that reveal God’s Kingdom and follow that line into the future.

As Richard Rohr puts it we must keep connecting the dots so we “can see where the dots are leading”.

Look how the prophets of Israel envisioned God’s Kingdom and draw a line from there through the way Jesus acted during his ministry on earth, and then connect to the dot of resurrection and the birth of the Church and see where that line takes us into the future.


Isaiah, 600 years before Christ, gives us an important “dot” that shows us where God is leading history:

Isaiah says:

“God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”


Imagine what we could do if we didn’t have to train for war. We could use the trillion dollars a year we currently spend on the national defense to pay teachers what they are worth. We could repair our infrastructure and our health care. We could partner with other nations to bring healing and hope to the millions who currently suffer under brutal poverty and preventable disease.

All those brave young men and women who are sent off to fight so many idiot wars of the past 50 years could have been trained to heal and not to harm, and their parents would be able to sleep at night because no one was trying to kill their children.

Isaiah says this is God’s Dream of God’s Kingdom—guns turned into shovels, bombs turned into medical equipment.


Jesus, the Word made flesh, incarnates the Dream of God’s Kingdom and tells us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. He also says, “Love your enemies.”


But these in-breakings of God’s Kingdom are always met with resistance, because there is a primal belief that violence is necessary for human life and culture.

As a species we are addicted to violence. Violence is how nations are formed. Fighting a common enemy brings a people together. We became a nation by fighting the British; Hitler united Germany by attacking the Jews.

This formula also applies to the formation of groups and gangs.

The Ku Klux Klan formed an intense brotherhood by hating Blacks.

Some so-called Christian churches today find great solidarity in hating Muslims and homosexuals.

Bullies of all types pick on the weak precisely to build their own fellowship and egos through the camaraderie of abuse.


But God’s dream of the Kingdom can’t be extinguished by bullies, even if that bully is the Roman Empire that crucifies the One who makes visible God who is King.


But after all these years it can seem like only a dream.


I’m sick of our wars: My 11 year old step daughter has never known a time when America was not at war! Hundreds of thousands maimed and killed yet we still feel so unsafe neither your grandmother nor my grandchildren can fly without being x-rayed.

Violence creates more violence.



As long as the world keeps producing people who think violence is a strategy for success, the Church will keep producing people who in their personal and public lives obey Jesus Christ by loving their enemies and facing their own imperfections instead of trying to hurt others because of theirs.

Jesus says he doesn’t know when or how Christ will appear again, so he says we must keep awake and be ready. 

Paul tells us this morning “to wake from sleep.”


What they are asking us to wake up from is the nightmare of the world which worships violence.

What they are asking us to wake up to is the God who is manifesting God’s kingdom—The God who rescued Israel from slavery through Moses and rescued the world from the power of evil through Jesus, inaugurating God’s Kingdom of Justice and Non-violence.


Which brings us to this day where we are the people empowered by the Spirit to be “for the world what Jesus was for Israel” (N. T. Wright) extending the work of God’s Kingdom—its justice and peace—into every mountain and valley of this fragile earth, our Island home.

We are now in “The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world [which]is the [time of the] renewal of human beings—you and me!—in our own lives of obedience here and now.” N. T. Wright Surprised by Hope page 249


And this obedience isn’t to small laws to keep our noses clean but obedience to Jesus Christ, our living Lord, who calls us to live large lives as agents of the Spirit of Christ


This is what we must wake up to—who we are in Christ and what we are called by Christ to do as his disciples.


Anglican bishop and scholar N. T. Wright says, “The message…is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that you’re now invited to belong to it….Christian holiness consists not of trying as hard as we can to be good, but of learning to live in the new world created by Easter, the new world we publicly entered in our baptism.” Ibid 253


It is interesting to note that the “Great Disappointment” did not end the Millerites who morphed into the Seventh Day Adventist Church which has 17 million members worldwide. All of us have also known great disappointments in our lives so maybe we can learn from their deep faith to keep trusting God in spite of our mistakes!


So for these four weeks we too are “Adventists” who are not just looking backward to the first Christmas but forward to that time when

“God shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”