“What Are You Waiting for?”
Jeremiah 33.14-16 & Luke 21.25-36
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
27 November 2022 (Advent I)
You have not heard me preach a lot about the Second Coming or the end times, because neither is a particularly large part of our theology. But that was not true for many of our earliest forebears in the faith, who thought it was coming right around the corner.
The earliest followers of the Way of Jesus, most of whom worshiped with Jewish communities, had some sense of apocalyptic literature from The Book of Daniel (where we hear that mysterious moniker, “The Son of Man”) and from sections of the major prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. And the words from Luke’s Gospel, likely written at the end of the first century, 50 or 60 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, point toward the Second Coming.
Jesus’ followers soon realized that his execution was not God’s final word, that there had to be a next chapter unfolding with the empty tomb and post-resurrection experiences. Jesus had come proclaiming the kingdom of God: a new world in which life would be organized the way God intended, rather than the way normal path of civilization and the resulting Empire ruled things.
Many Jews in the first century anticipated the coming of the Messiah as a military leader who would restore Jewish home rule in the homeland and eject the occupying Romans. They didn’t get the Messiah they were expecting, instead they got a subversive sage who proclaimed an alternative to the violence, greed, and injustice that were normal in that civilization. I wish I could go back and sing a few lines of the Stones’ song to them: “You can’t always get what you want…You can’t always get what you want…But if you try sometimes, you just might find…You get what you need.” They wanted a generalissimo and instead they got nonviolent Jesus, which is actually what the world needed.
Luke quotes Jesus as saying, “There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky.” Doesn’t that sound a bit like what is happening today? We know all about epidemics! And climate change is upon us. We have distressed the earth and it is resulting in rising sea levels and all kinds of chaos that it is difficult to foresee.
Wouldn’t it be great if God would just do a big clean-up and let us start over in a world where we cared for Creation and for each other? That’s the underlying message of the tale of Noah and the great flood, and I’m not so sure how great that would be for us. Or God could send Jesus back for “The Kingdom of God, Part Two” (for those who didn’t get it the first time). That is what Luke describes when he writes, “When you see these things taking place, you know the Kingdom of God is near.” For first-century Jews, religious and national crisis was writ large by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the army of Rome.
There was expectation among Jesus’ earliest followers that something radical was going to happen to clean up the injustice of Empire.
Christians have waited for more than 2,000 years for the Second Coming. Was it just that the timing was off when Luke writes, “this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened?” Maybe. Advent is all about waiting, but, my friends, 2,000 is a very long wait.
I don’t think their timing was off. But I think they missed something that Jesus said while he was still teaching and preaching in the Galilee. It’s a radical little nugget of truth that is so volatile (kind of like, say, a mustard seed) that it isn’t even included in the Revised Common Lectionary.
I don’t think the early Christians’ timing was poor. I think that some of their eyes were closed, and their ears stopped up. They missed it! The Kingdom was right there in front of them all along. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they could have gone home to the Kingdom of God anytime they wished, and they didn’t even have to click the heels of their ruby slippers. They just had to live into it, even under the boot of Roman oppression.
Here is what they missed, which we find earlier in Luke’s gospel. “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed [like earthquakes, epidemics, or changes in the sky]; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
The Kingdom of God is among you. Have Christians been waiting for something that has been available to them for 2,000 years? We have been shown the wisdom and the way to live out the kingdom or kin-dom or realm of God. We’ve had this knowledge for two millennia, so why are we not willing to live into it? What do you think: why haven’t Christians, why haven’t WE, lived into the Kingdom of God and created the Beloved Community? I think I know at least one answer. Being a part of God’s Kingdom is costly. It requires self-giving love. It requires putting the needs of the community above the needs of the self. And as Jesus shows time and again, it can even mean putting the needs of the new family in Christ ahead of the needs of one’s biological family.
Advent is a season of waiting, of longing for a world that is closer to what the God of justice and peace intends for us and for all of creation.
The earliest Christians were waiting the Second Coming, yet that may not be a big part of your faith journey. Isn’t it time we paid more attention to the “First Coming,” rather than waiting around for the Second? For a few thousand years, emperors and bishops, priests, and pastors have often considered the message of Jesus too hot to handle. If Jesus is Lord, doesn’t that imply that Caesar is not? If we pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God, where does that leave our patriotism? If we live out self-giving love, where does that leave the market economy on Black Friday and Cyber Monday?
In 313, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity. A short 12 years later, in 325, he called the Council of Nicaea to institutionalize and unify the doctrine of the church, and the creed that emerged from that council says only this about the life and teachings of Jesus: He “became incarnate and became man, and suffered, and rose again on the third day.” There is no mention of the kingdom of God. No reference to the Beatitudes or to what Jesus did. Nothing about the message of parables. Nothing about love. The church, which had been counter-cultural, became the establishment instead of becoming a movement. That is what happens when Empire melds with and supersedes religion. And it fuels Christian Nationalism in our country today.
So, what are we waiting for? The Second Coming? The Rapture? I suspect that none of you are waiting for those things to happen. Are we waiting for somebody else to “do” faith for us? Do we wait for “somebody else” to step up and step in when we share ministry and mission in this place? We are the movement!
The Kingdom of is among us, here and now and still unfolding! Even though we may never see the reign of God in its fullness, I deeply appreciate the way our congregation acts for justice, peace, and inclusion and engages in acts of compassion with one another. That gives me tremendous hope. At Plymouth, we do our best (however imperfectly) to keep Jesus at the forefront, rather than Caesar or doctrine, dogma, or ancient creed. In the final analysis, love wins. During this Advent season, may each of us deepen our journey as followers of Jesus. And may every heart prepare him room. Amen.
© 2022 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
 Luke 17.20