My Words Will Not Pass Away
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.
According to Wikipedia in the 10 years spanning 2000 to 2009 64 movies were produced with ‘end-of-the-world’ or ‘apocalyptic’ theme. In the 10 years from 2010 to the present, including what is coming in 2019, there have been 90 similarly themed movies produced. Apparently, interest in the subject of the end of the world has not diminished among us. Producers make these movies, at least from a commercial standpoint, because they perceive that there is an appetite for this theme among movie goers. I have no knowledge of these movies but wonder if there is a note of hope in the theme of these movies and, if so, what it is that is believed to make for hope.
I sometimes wonder what it is about humanity that this ‘end-of-the-world’ idea fascinates us. The late and accomplished physicist Stephen Hawking predicted that the earth would turn into a ball of fire by the year 2600 and that humans need to get busy preparing to colonize another planet. Hawking’s view of humanity was that “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” Do you find this hopeful?
1. Advent means coming or arrival. The church season of advent focuses on the coming of Christ. Our attention turns to Christmas when he came among us as infant in Bethlehem’s manger; we also turn our attention to his promised coming again. Our Lord’s reign that was inaugurated in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—his first coming or advent—will find its consummation when death will be no more at his second coming or advent. The church season of advent begins with reading of Jesus’ promise of “the coming of the Son of Man,” as we have done from Luke’s gospel.
And our attention is drawn again to the theme of the end of history and the promise of the new heaven and the new earth. We may want to be thinking about our celebration of Christmas—something that seems a little more tangible that end of the world stuff. But I remind you that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and our imaginations ever need to be shaped by the gospel. As believes, we need to take our clues from what God says to us in and through the scriptures in understanding our world and our lives within that world.
I invite to you to take note that, for the believer, this end of history or the final consummation of our Lord’s reign is always spoken of by Jesus as a word of great hope. When Jesus spoke with his disciples about these things he is offering them a word of hope and comfort in the face of what they will soon experience in seeing Jesus crucified, dead, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. His word is a word for his disciples that this final consummation is really a good thing for you: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
2. Josef Seifert is an Austrian Catholic philosopher. This past October he was in Warsaw at the Second International Congress of the European Society for Moral Philosophy. The topic chosen for this congress was “Hope.” What hope should we have for Europe’s future?
We sometimes wonder if the hope of the life to come held out in the gospel has anything to do with hope for our world. Hope in the practical realities of our lives. At the congress they talked about hope for Europe’s future; we may wonder about hope for Canada’s future and what the hope set out in the topic of our Lord’s coming again had to do with hope in our world. It may appear that we ought to give up on our world since the end is coming. But Jesus did not give up and in his teaching of his disciples he gave the command to love one another—not to huddle on a mountain top awaiting the end.
Back to the philosopher Joseph Seifert for a moment. In an interview about his talk at this congress about the meaning of hope and the future of Europe he said this: “Unlike mere optimism, hope can only meaningfully be directed to a person, and to a completely trustworthy person who can grant us what we hope for. Hope, to make sense, presupposes a good and loving God.”
The reason we can have any hope at all; the reason hope is greater than mere optimism; the reason in the One in whom we hope. This is what Jesus indicates when he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Our Lord’s word to us is a word of redemption; a word of eternal life in him; a word of love—love one another as I have loved you.” We hope for life because of him and his sure and certain love of human life. Hope has to be given to us; we cannot generate hope on our own for the same reason that the world cannot produce its own Saviour.
In this conversation with his disciples Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” Now some theologians read this text as referring to Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in 70 A.D. Others think Jesus is referring to future events and a way to think about “this geration not passing away” is to read this as promise to his disciples; Jesus will preserve his people such that they too will see the final consummation. It is the same promise in Jesus’ saying “everyone who lives and believes in me will never die”, meaning that not even in death are you lost to God. (John 11:26) “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life,” the Psalmist declared. (Psalm 121:7)
The point being that our hope arises because of the One who really can do this for us; because of the one who can actually make the claim, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
3. But now to return to our question about hope in the things of this life. We want our hope to be something more than wishful thinking—like I hope a certain team I love wins the Stanley cup. We have this great hope given us in Jesus that transcends life. But what about having hope generally in this life. Hope for a successful marriage or for our children to find their way to good things or hope in overcoming disease or hope to be able to find peace in life when we lose that loved one who is dearer than life to us.
Saint Bonaventure was a medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher. St. Bonaventure had an interesting image of what he called Christian philosophy: the image of the two lights. If you once have seen the world in the light of sun, you will also see much more of it in the far weaker light of the moon and the stars at night. Similarly, once the same reality has been illumined by divine revelation, you will also see much more of it by human reason.
I think his parable about two lights can help us think about the relationship of the great hope we have in Jesus and the other hopes we have for life. Once our reality has been illumined by divine hope in the Son we can see much more in the weaker light of these other hopes. God’s outpouring of the Son on the cross is because of his great love for human life. God purposes to preserve us because the life God has given us is a good thing. We treasure life because God treasures life. We hope for good things in this life because this life we have been given was created for good.
In the twenty-first chapter of John’s revelation we have the future consummation depicted as a new heaven and new earth and the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. John writes, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” (Revelation 21:23-24) Notice that the kings of the earth will bring their glory. Human achievement is never trashed but refined so that it may be preserved in that great future. Don’t we hope for the discovery of some methodology for conquering this or that disease? And these hopes are illumined by that great hope of the day when all disease will be over. All that is noble in our lives is not lost but refined and perfected for his glory for that glorious future God has in mind.
Daniel Bezalel Richardsen is an advisory member of the Millennial Network of Faith in Canada 150. He recently published an article about travelling to the city of Lviv in the Ukraine to witness the diaconal ordination of his brother-in-law into the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. On the day after ordination Daniel’s brother-in-law served his first Divine Liturgy as a deacon at St. George Cathedral in Lviv. There, in 1946, Soviet authorities orchestrated the dissolution of this church and pushed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church underground. According to scholar Robert F. Taft, “one of the bitterest and most violent persecutions in Christian history.”
Seventy years later, at his very church that the Soviets tried to push into extinction a grandson of those who fled returned to have such a memorable event transpire on the very ground where all was once bleak. Daniel wrote that it was a wonder to witness indicating a people who persevered for long decades with hope. The next day they visited the St. Peter and Paul Garrison church that had various restoration projects underway. The church suffered damage during two world wars, subsequent closure, neglect, and then consigned to being a book depository during the Soviet era. Daniel wrote, “It was moving to see young artisans undertake the painstaking work reinstating this sacred space.
Who inspires such hope? Yes, the church is much more than a building but the building houses
the work of God’s people in blessing life as they are blessed with faith and hope and love. “My words will not pass away,” said our Lord.
4. What does this hope look like in our lives? It is manifest in living life spiritually alert. “Be alert at all times said Jesus.”
The Toronto World was a newspaper that existed in the nineteenth century. In the June 4, 1813 edition the front page carried a column titled, “Impressions of Congress”. As far as I can determine, it was a report of a meeting of the Presbyterian Church. The report told of how the congress began with a prayer offered for the King of England and the entire text of that prayer was published in the column. Whey was the last time you say the text of a prayer on the front page of a newspaper? Or a favorable report about church activity?
It wasn’t that long ago that talk of God was common in the general public. Our agnostic and atheistic world that treats God indifferently has had the effect of flattening our existence were the spiritual dimension is ignored. I encourage you to resist this flattening of existence and live life spiritually alert—alert to the great hope of our Saviour’s promise. Alert such that these ordinary hopes are reignited and find renewed life.
Why Advent? To help us see beyond our present. Why Advent? To give us a lens through which to see God at work when it seems only evil gets the spotlight. Why Advent? To assure us that God has secured a future for us that breaks into our present, and really, truly changes our here and now.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away