Our world is haunted. We are not alone in this world, as many living around us would have us believe. Our world is enchanted. Our world is deeply mysterious, deeply mystical, deeply enveloped in the presence of the Holy Ghost. Our world is haunted by God. This conviction is not shared by most of our neighbours. Many living around us have a deep fear of the Holy Ghost. Many living around us want to make sure that this world is cleansed of anything resembling the supernatural. So throughout the year, the stories they tell, the lives they lead, and the meanings they make are scoured clean of anything to do with God. They believe they can carry on just fine ignoring the God-haunted reality of the world. Or at least they appear to carry on just fine. But many are unsettled by the constant work of scouring this world free of God, and cannot totally suppress the deep fear that something vital is missing from their lives. They cannot suppress the fear that this world really is haunted by God, and are aching for what they are missing. All this comes out at Christmas. Christmas is the time of year that people venture to talk about their fear that something vital has gone missing from our lives. Christmas is the time of year that people in our communities begin to wonder if this world is haunted after-all. Christmas is the time of year that our non-Christian friends and neighbours begin to wonder if ignoring the presence of God comes at a deep cost. Look at the stories and songs our culture tells at Christmas. These are stories about the things we’ve lost touch with — faith, belief, miracles, giving, family, feasts, the list goes on. Most of the time there is no room for belief in the supernatural, miracles are ruled out, people only have faith in themselves, people are disconnected from family, generosity is an afterthought. But the stories we hear at Christmas say this shouldn’t be so. The stories we tell at Christmas are about trying to recapture what we’ve lost in this world they’ve tried to detach from God’s presence. We’ve become more alone in this world, and we don’t like it. The stories and songs our culture sings at Christmas voice a deep desire to regain this God-haunted world. This Advent Season, we will see how the story of Jesus speaks to our culture’s deep desire for God in a disenchanted world.
Take for example the idea of a Christmas miracle. Generally, our culture doesn’t put a lot of stock in miracles, but not so at Christmas. At Christmas, our culture wants to believe in the Christmas miracle. The Christmas Miracle isn’t just any old sort of miracle. A Christmas miracle is what happens when everything seems to be spiralling downward, family members are fighting, a child probably won’t get the gift they want, the ground is bare without snow, your loved one is stuck over seas, In short, it looks like Christmas is about to be ruined. That’s when the Christmas miracle comes in. When Christmas is about to be ruined, Christmas magic happens: the family is reconciled, the child gets the toy, the snow begins to fall, the loved one’s are reunited. There is peace on earth and good will towards men.
The passage we read this morning invites us to anticipate a different sort of Christmas miracle. Jesus invites us to trust that Christ is in control even when it seems like the Christmas miracle forgot to show up. Jesus invites us to trust that He has all power and authority even when things on earth are spiralling into chaos, even at Christmas. Let’s look at the passage.
In order to understand this morning’s passage, we need to start at the beginning of Luke 21. Luke 21 is very similar to Mark 13 and Matthew 25. Each of these chapters begins the same way. (Slide 2) The Disciples are in the Jerusalem temple with Jesus, and “Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God…”. Jesus and His disciples are in the most holy place in the world, the heart of their religion, the place where heaven and earth were said to meet. The disciples are awestruck in the splendour of the temple. At that moment Jesus tells them, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left on another; all will be thrown down.” Take note of this. Jesus prophecies the total destruction of the temple that was to take place, forty years later it happens.
The disciples were caught off guard. In the very next verse, they ask Jesus, (Slide 3) “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” The rest of the chapter Jesus is responding to this question. Jesus has just said that the temple will be destroyed, the rest of the chapter Jesus tells them how to anticipate when that will happen.
He first describes not the event itself, but the things leading up to the event. When you are waiting for something bad to happen, you can jump at every noise you hear. Jesus says don’t do this. Hard stuff will happen, but that doesn’t mean its the time when the temple will be destroyed. Jesus says you can expect a lot to happen before the temple will finally be destroyed - other will people claim to be the messiah, wars will break out, there will be earthquakes, there will be persecution, His followers will testify before kings and governors and the Spirit will tell them what to say. Family members will betray one another. They will be hated because of the name of Jesus. Much of this is described in the book of Acts. But all these things are not the sign of the fall of the temple, they are just the labour pains.
(Slide 5) Jesus says that the disciples will know that the temple is about to be destroyed when they “see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” This is how it happened. In the year 66, a Jewish group of Zealots rebelled against Rome and gained control of the city. They had control of Jerusalem for about four years. But in the year 70, the Emperor Titus, and his second in command, Tiberius, attacked and conquered Jerusalem. The Romans made a name for their ferocious way of keeping peace. To punish those who fought against Roman rule, they utterly destroyed Jerusalem. Forty years prior, Jesus tells the disciples that when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, (Slide 6) “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written.” The advice of Jesus when Roman is about to attack Jerusalem is to run. What is interesting is that historians tell us that just prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, a group of Christians did in fact heed Jesus’ words. They ran to a place called Pella, and were spared the awful violence inflicted by the Romans.
Now we can begin to understand the meaning of the passage that we read this morning. After Jesus prophecies to the disciples what the destruction of the Temple would look like, Jesus begins to telling the disciples what the destruction of the temple means. Jesus says, (Slide 7) “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” You’ll find this sort of imagery in the prophetic books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and Jeremiah. This is prophetic language of judgment. Jesus uses this language to describe God’s judgment on Temple. Jesus is saying that the destruction of the temple is the result of God’s judgment on the way the religious order had become corrupt. But that’s not the big takeaway point. Jesus tells the disciples that when they see the destruction of the temple, they will know something huge and significant has happened. (Slide 8). Jesus says, when you see the destruction of the Temple, you “will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the cloud with power and great glory.’” Jesus is inviting his hearers to think back to the prophetic book of Daniel. In chapter 7 of that book, Daniel has a vision. He sees four beasts coming up out of the water, one after the other. Each beast each represents a different kingdom. The last beast is the worst, persecuting the people of God. In his dream, Daniel sees God, “the “Ancient of Days” take His throne.” Daniel tells us about how he watched as the “court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” Daniel tells us about watching as that fourth beast, the one representing that kingdom that was most cruel in its persecution of the people of God, that beast is put to death.” And at that moment, Daniel describes seeing (Slide 9) “One like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him.”
Jesus is saying that the temple being destroyed will be the sign that He, the Son of Man, has come before God. Jesus is saying that when God’s judgment falls on Jerusalem and the Temple is destroyed, that is the sign for you to know that Daniel’s dramatic vision has been fulfilled. The temple is no longer necessary. Jesus has come before God and has received dominion, glory, and kingship and that all peoples, all nations and languages shall serve Him. That’s the deeper reality that the disciples will know has taken place when they witness the destruction of the temple. Jesus was certain this would happen and tells His disciples, (Slide 9) “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That is Jesus’ most solemn way of speaking, assuring His disciples that their generation will certainly live to see the fulfillment of His words. Indeed they did 40 years later. The disciples’ generation did live to see the destruction of the temple. They saw the walls come tumbling down. They fled for their lives. And as they fled, they knew that this world is indeed haunted and enchanted by God in a way they never dreamed. For they began to realize that what looked like their world collapsing around them was in fact God’s way of ushering in a new era of life with God. No longer were sacrifices necessary to be repeated over and over. Now, the sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient once and for all. No longer was the temple the locus of God’s presence, God had made a temple out of each beleiver through the sending of His Spirit. The moment when it looked like the world was collapsing was in fact the confirmation that Christ had come into His kingdom. At the moment of their nations deepest chaos, God was bestowing on His Son all glory, power and dominion. At the moment the temple was destroyed forever and it truly seemed that the world was devoid of God’s grandeur, that was the moment God confirmed he had enthroned His Son who was now ruling the world from the Father’s right hand.
This is a different kind of Christmas miracle. A normal Christmas miracle is about bad stuff prevented from happening. miracles at Christmas, we need to consider what kind of miracle we are expecting. A Christmas miracle takes place when disaster is magically averted. A Christmas miracle happens when snow mysteriously begins to fall Christmas morning. A Christmas miracle happens when Santa gets his hands on that special toy for that little boy. A Christmas miracle happens when the soldier finds his way home for the Christmas meal.
The miracle we get may not read like a Christmas miracle. Jesus invites us to put our faith in a deeper kind of miracle. Jesus’ invites us to trust that when it seems that anything that could go wrong has gone wrong, even still Jesus is on His throne. Jesus invites us to trust that he is ruling in spite of no presents under the Christmas tree, Jesus is King even though we are separated from loved ones, to trust that Jesus has all power even when our families are riddled with conflict, Jesus is Lord even in the appearance of chaos. But Jesus even invites us to faith in a deeper miracle still. Perhaps, the chaos we encounter this Christmas season is the demolition that must happen for something new to take its place. Perhaps, it’s only when the stone wall come down and the rubble is still smoking that God can rebuild your life. What if that were the Christmas miracle we anticipate this Advent Season.
For this we know; Christ is ruling at the right hand of the Father. In spite of whatever is going on in our lives here on Earth, Christ is ruler, he shall bring His Kingdom fully to Earth, and the place of God will be among men.