Monday, December 9, 2013

Advent 1: Maranatha (Revelation 22: 12-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember an author who told his story about being adopted.  He barely remembered his birth parents.   He learned as he grew older that his father had abandoned him when he was a baby, leaving him alone with his mother, who gradually descended into the dark world of drugs.   Parents are supposed to care for and protect children, but this didn't happen in his case.  Eventually his plight came to the attention of child protective services.  At age 3 he was removed from his home and became a ward of the state and was placed into the foster care system.   He lived with different families but the situations were less than ideal.   He said it just never seemed to fit.  

He said that from the time he could remember, he had dreamed about a loving family coming to adopt him.  He said he wanted desperately to find someone to belong to and to be able to call them mother and father and to be called son.  He waited and waited and hoped that day would come.  When he was 10 years old, a Christian family came to visit him.  He said the meeting was surreal, it was like they were always meant to be together.  Eventually the family adopted him and raised him with love and guidance and Christian faith.  He said that he was forever grateful to God for sending these people to adopt him after all the years of waiting and hoping to finally belong to a family. 

Yes in life we often find ourselves looking to the future for something.   Sometimes we await with optimism and hope.  Other times we are fearful and anxious about what the future holds, we are pessimistic and gloomy.   How do you look to the future?

Today is the first Sunday in the season of Advent and Advent is all about looking to the future.  That the future belongs to God and that God will fulfill His purpose for the world are fundamental truths of our Judeo Christian faith.  The future of this world does not belong to the devil, to sinful human eings, to evil, to any political system, to any nation, to any dictator, or terrorist organization, no, it belongs solely to God. 

What does the Bible say about the future, Christ is coming?  God who created this world has a plan for the consummation of all creation.  At Christ's return, the world as we know it will come to an end, and in its place, a new or transformed universe will be established.  No, the world will not be totally annihilated by God, but rather the world will be restored and set right. This is the Christian Biblical world view. 

The Bible paints different pictures about how God will usher in this future – Armageddon, the final victory of God over evil, the Apocalypse, resurrection, rapture, second coming, universal judgment, and glorification.  

It's ironic that another word which occurs only once in Scripture, has become a popular word in the language of the church and the Christian vocabulary about Advent.   Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word – and it means “Come Lord,” or Our Lord, Come”.  It expresses a profound desire and hope among Christians down through the ages for the cosmic return of Christ to the world.  It is perhaps the shortest of all Christian prayers.  It is a one word prayer, a petition to God, “Maranatha, come Lord.”   I'm sure you appreciate being able to leave church today knowing how to speak some Aramaic.

You see this word, this prayer, this notion everywhere.  There are Maranatha schools in San Diego and around the country, Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Maranatha music out of the 70's, Maranatha Book stores, Maranatha chapel,  Maranatha Volunteers International and more.

Jesus said: Watch, hope, wait for God’s future!   Yes, Jesus said watch out for false prophets and false messiahs, but he also said watch for the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus also said watch out for wars, famines, pestilences, and natural disasters but he also said wait for the coming Messiah.  Jesus further said watch out for times of persecution, but also watch out for the glorious return of the Lord of Lords.   Jesus always kept the accent on the victory, the triumph, the defeat of evil, the positive outcome, God's fulfilled purpose, the ultimate sovereignty of God. 

And we should too.  Often I hear all about bleak and dire predictions about the future.  We look with fear, with terror, with anxiety, with despair, about tomorrow.   But we as people of faith need to remember who holds the future, who the future belongs to, and whose plans and purpose will ultimately prevail in the future.

I believe with all my soul that Jesus’ is coming again in glory?   Why?  First, I believe it because Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the Lord, the Savior, the Word incarnate declares it to be so!  Jesus says: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”   

Second, I believe it because this truth is attested to in the Bible and the Bible is the unique, authoritative and inspired Word of God!  Entire chapters and books of the Bible are devoted to this promise about the coming end of the world.   There are 216 chapters and well over 300 references to the return of Christ.    

Third, I believe it because the Biblical and Christian view of history predicts it!   The ancient Greeks believed that the world  was eternal and cyclical, going round and round like an eternal merry-go-round.   According to our Judeo/Christian tradition only God is eternal. Once there was no world, no matter, no life, no organisms, no cells, no atoms.  God created the world.   Our Judeo/Christian tradition describes it as teleological.   The world is moving toward the end time, to the destination which God has appointed when God’s final purpose for His world will be realized.   Life and history are meaningful not meaningless.   There is one divine, far-off event toward which the whole creation is moving; the final triumph of God.   

Fourth, I believe it because the Biblical view of justice declares it.   We see in history and today as well that righteous and innocent people have suffered and been oppressed and persecuted.   The wicked have prospered.  We have seen horrific examples of evil in the rule of dictators and tyrants of countries who have murdered millions.  Yet, the Bible says we are not to despair.  God is holy.  They will be held accountable before the judge.  You reap what you sow.   Justice declares that Christ there will be a divine reckoning.   

Jesus’ judgment will be a universal judgment, all of the living and the dead.  God will judge humanity’s behavior, good and bad, moral and immoral, good deeds and misdeeds.  He will judge how much light humanity has about God and morality and what we have done with that faith and knowledge.  God will judge cruelty, injustice, oppression, disobedience and faithlessness.   And unlike human beings, and our judicial system, which though a good system in many respects, is imperfect and flawed, God’s judgment is perfect.   God will judge with consummate fairness and even handedness.  

Acts 17:31 says:  "God has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Finally, I believe in Christ’s coming because God loves His creation. God is a loving God, a forgiving God; merciful and kind, empathetic and compassionate, patient and slow to anger.  The God we worship is one who brings hope and new life and new beginnings in the future.    God loves the world and the people he created.   And that’s why the Bible is clear – God will judge the world and purge the world, but God will not destroy it, God will not annihilate the world.  I believe contemporary prophets of only doom and gloom are wrong.   God will renew the world. God will restore the world. God will re-create a new and glorious world.

In the mean time we must keep watch, keep awake, and wait, for we don’t know when Jesus will return.  We must look to the future with hope and not hopelessness, with courage and not fear.   Christ is coming and a new indescribable, unimaginable, and spectacular world will be established forever. 

I close with these inspiring words from the Book of Revelation:   “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”  Maranatha!  Amen!

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