Sermon for 2nd Sunday before Advent, 18 November 2018
Follows the Gospel of Mark 13: 1-8
So where are we now?
Whatever your views on Brexit we are all probably nervous about the outcome. I think the only people to be benefiting from the chaos are political journalists – who have never had it so good!
We often hear dire warning and prophecies of doom – its difficult not to get swept up by it all and get a bit depressed.
And today in the Gospel Jesus is warning those around him of dire consequences..
He’s not talking about the end times.
He’s talking about much sooner than that – about 40 years alter – the destruction of Temple in the year ad 70.
In the year 66 AD the Jews of Judea got fed up and rebelled against the Romans. In response, the Emperor Nero sent an army to restore order. By the year 68, the northern part of the province had fallen and the Romans turned their full attention to Jerusalem.
The Roman legions surrounded the city and began to slowly squeeze the life out of this Jewish stronghold. By the year 70, the attackers had broken through the outer walls and began a systematic ransacking of the city. The assault culminated in the burning and destruction of the Temple that served as the centre of the Jewish religion.
The Romans slaughtered thousands of people. Of those spared: many were enslaved and sent to work in the mines of Egypt, others were sent to arenas throughout the Empire to be publicly slaughtered for the amusement of the public.
The Temple's sacred things were taken to Rome where they were displayed in celebration of the victory.
The rebellion carried on for another three years and was finally finished in 73 AD.
This is what Jesus is looking towards. He is warning of what is to come.
And its not very cheerful news.
He is saying the unthinkable – saying that the temple will fall. It can’t – the Temple is what unites the Israelites. It’s the biggest building for miles. Its colossal and not just physically – also spiritually – it’s the seat of power of the Jewish religion. It is the symbol of God’s presence on earth. The Holy of Holies is so holy that the chief priest only goes in once or twice a year. God’s presence hovers there.
So to say it will be destroyed is quite a scandalous thing to say. A similar prediction as in the book of Daniel – who prophesied many years before, while a Jewish exile in Babylon, about the coming of a similar time of distress.
Jesus warns them that when things start getting tricky, dangerous, scary – this is just the beginning. Its not a sign of the end.
Like a woman going into labour it is just the beginning of the birth pangs.
So Jesus is warning them about this but also about what will happen to them. As we know, to be a Christian in the first and second centuries was a very dangerous business.
Christians were first targeted for persecution by the emperor Nero – the same Caesar who destroyed the Temple. In 64 AD. A fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. The rumour were that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the situation - building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire. Maybe to divert attention from these rumours, Nero blamed the Christians and ordered that they should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches.
So for the next hundred years or so, Christians were persecuted. But it wasn’t till the mid-third century that the persecutions became intensive.
Sadly it is the same today, in lots of places being a Christian is something that gets you into trouble.
Asia Bibi, is a Christian woman recently acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row, and has finally been freed from prison despite the demands of many of her compatriots for her to be executed.
She was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a row with neighbours about a bucket of water. The women said that because she had used a cup, they could no longer touch it, as her faith had made it unclean. It was alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.
She was later beaten up at her home, her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy.
This all happened in Pakistan – which is in the commonwealth.
This is just one country where Christians are in danger today, just as much danger as those early Christians.
Luckily you and I aren’t in danger. But as a result we can face the temptation to stagnate, to become cynical and believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is simply a pious dream.
Because we are relatively safe we don’t have the same urgency of faith that those persecuted Christians had – and still have. Jesus gave his disciples a wake up call.
Perhaps the chaotic world we live in should wake us up?
Father Matthew BUCHAN