The Holy Gospel is written in the 21st Chapter of Saint Luke, beginning at the 25th Verse.
At that time, Jesus said unto his disciples: And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
My father-in-law has an unbelievable devotion to The Weather Channel. There seems to be no limit to the amount of time he can spend in front of the television waiting for yet another announcement, “And now, here’s your Local on the 8’s.” In fact, he will watch The Weather Channel for hours, even when a big red “H” has remained steady over his Florida home for days. Undoubtedly, my father-in-law loves The Weather Channel. And, I must confess, so do I. The fact of the matter is this: Everybody wants to know the future. Everybody wants to know what’s coming next. Perhaps this comes from our desire to be prepared for bad weather, or sour economic times. Or maybe it simply comes from our desire to remain dry. But whether your passion is The Weather Channel, or “The Universal Stock Market Timer,” or – God forbid – the Psychic Friends Network, everybody wants to know the future. Christians are no exception to this. For example, take a look at today’s Gospel.
In our Gospel reading from Saint Luke, Jesus warns His disciples of the signs of the end of the age telling them what the markers would be that signaled His return. Jesus paints the picture of a horrifying apocalypse in which there are signs in the sun, the moon, and even the stars in heaven. He describes political tension and great confusion among the nations, men living in terror as even the very powers of heaven, the entire angelic chorus is shaken by the force of the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of the fig tree and He uses it to teach the disciples and us to read the signs of the times. Our Lord tells us that when we see these signs come together, then we should lift up our heads and rejoice. Rejoice, even though the world quakes in terror, because we will know with blessed assurance that our redemption draweth nigh, that the Lord of Heaven and Earth, the Lord of our lives, is coming in great power and glory.
For over 2,000 years, the Christian world has waited for that day when the Lord will return. Saint John the Divine saw the return of Christ immanent in the great persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Saint Augustine was convinced that the fall of Rome would usher in the return of the Lord. Throughout history, generation after generation of Christians have been born, lived and died with the conviction that they were living in the last days, that the final battle between the Antichrist and the Lord Jesus was just around the corner. Even in the last century the global terrors of the First and the Second World Wars, the nuclear terror of the Cold War, and now the conflict with Islamo-fascism, all lead some Christians to see the end of time and the coming of the prophesied “son of perdition,” the Antichrist.
And speaking of the Antichrist, speculation has run rampant as to his identity. Some thought that Nero and Diocletian were good candidates. Nero’s full name actually had the numeric value of “666.” Martin Luther was convinced that the Antichrist would be one of the popes and I’m sure that several of the popes felt the same way about Martin Luther. Adolf Hitler was the candidate for many people, and he certainly was an appropriate candidate. Even the late President Ronald Reagan was considered a candidate for the position of Antichrist since each of his names, Ronald Wilson Reagan, had six letters in it, making him the dreaded 6-6-6.
Additionally, theories concerning the end times have abounded since the earliest days of Christianity. Many of our evangelical brethren hold to theological positions that are known by the technical titles of “pre-millenarianism,” “post-millenarianism,” or “amillenarianism.” Our Catholic brothers generally foresee a great chastisement followed by the restoration of a Catholic spiritual and political order. And our liberal protestant brothers…Well, they just believe that it’s all a myth that means anything other than what the Bible really says. So with all these competing theories, what is a Christian to believe?
Which one, of all the competing theories, is right? Well, I’ve studied them all pretty closely over the years and I think I have reached a definitive conclusion: I have no idea. But there are a couple of things that I do know. There is a one good simple reason why every generation believes that it is the “Terminal Generation.” Only the Father knows when the Lord will return. The Devil does not know and this puts him at a distinct disadvantage. Since only the Father knows when the Lord Jesus will return, then Satan is forced to have an Antichrist in the wings at all times, waiting for that moment in history when the time will be right for his emergence on the world stage. So, to a greater and lesser degree, the signs of the times foretold by our Lord are always present in our world.
The only way to resolve this tangle of theory is this: As Christians, we are called to live in the awareness that our Lord could return at any moment. Think of what our lives would be like if all Christians woke up every morning resolved to live their lives as though the Lord would return before the day was over. What difference would it make in how you lived your life if you knew for a certainty that Jesus would come to earth this very day? Would you be kinder? Would you be more charitable? Would you look at your brothers and sisters in Christ in a different light? Would you hold up your head and rejoice as your salvation drew nigh?
My brothers and sisters, the signs of the times are among us now, just as they have been for more than 2,000 years. As we prepare to gaze on the Christ-child in the manger in just a few weeks, we recognize the promise that just as Christ became Man in Bethlehem, so too will He return to call us all to Him. As Advent continues, look up and rejoice, because your salvation draws near.