2018-19 RCL-C Advent 01
Additional Resources for Proclamation & Preaching
First Sunday in Advent: December 2, 2018 • Gospel Text: Luke 21:25-36
Slouching Towards the Parousia
Proclamation for Today
by Rev. Dr. Clint Schnekloth
Each start of a new church year is further proof of the interminable delay of the parousia. In a sense, all Christian theology—from Christ’s preaching to the present moment—is framed around this delay. This generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. But generations have passed, and all the things haven’t taken place, unless we find creative ways to redefine “generation,” “passing,” and “taking place.” Just so all preachers launching into yet another church year may at least get a bit angsty when confronted with these apocalyptic texts. “He said it was going to end. It didn’t end. What am I supposed to say (again this year) about that?”
Well, quite a lot of interesting stuff has been said about precisely that. Like Will Butler Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. It’s probably the best poem ever written to articulate, in short, “Oh shit, everything is going to hell.”
Okay, it doesn’t quite say that. But it does say this:
Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Preachers might could simply read this poem out loud a few times the first Sunday of Advent and call it good. It says the whole thing. But just in case you need a few more thoughts, consider: the two essential problems preachers are presented with at the beginning of Advent are these. First, why does this season weave together Second Coming readings and Nativity readings? And second, how in the world are we supposed to stay “ready” for 2000 years?
On the first question, Yeats gives us an answer. It is the Second Coming that captures our vision. If there’s any kind of end, if our personal end is marching ineluctably towards us, that’s going to capture our eyes and our ends. Duck and cover. Run. Freak out. Or, in reality, if the second coming is always just coming and never arriving? Sleep.
Then peek-a-boo, in the midst of that sleep, a nightmare (for the saints, a dream), a rocking cradle. A simple gesture towards the other arrival, Jesus borning in Bethlehem. But because the Nativity has been encompassed and wrapped up in the beast that is the Second Coming, the Nativity is re-imagined, transfigured. The endless delay of the parousia in Yeats image is transformed into a slouching rough beast, gaze blank and pitiless, with slow thighs.
But because of the pointers to Nativity, there’s another consideration. Perhaps it is not endless delay, but always arrival. What if the Second Coming isn’t always delayed but always arriving, at every moment? In this sense, it is like that famous line from Martin Luther: “From eternity Christ is born, he is always being born” (A little bit of Latin for you: Quicquid ab aeterno nascitur, semper nascitur).
Yeats keeps just the right tone, avoiding as he does an saccharine presentation of the gospel. He gets the tenor of our text for this Sunday precisely right. We keep Christ’s preaching of the Second Coming tethered to the Nativity precisely because it puts an edge on the good news.
Christ is always being born. That slouching little infant’s gonna wake you up, and the world’s going to think he’s all kinds of things other than he is. So be ready, because your sight’s about to be troubled.
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Historical Exegetical Resources
"An Exhortation to Bear with the Weak," Luke 21:25-36, Martin Luther, ca. 1521.
From the Geneva Notes. "We must be sober and watchful both day and night for the Lord's coming…”
From Matthew Henry's Commentary ca. 1700. "When he comes to judge the world, he will redeem all that are his from their troubles."
A Good Read
Bless the Lord (Son of Man) - Tye Tribbett & Greater Anointing feat. John Owen
Free RCL Daily Devotional Calendar
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Dramatic Reading of the Text
Readers: Narrator, Jesus
Narrator: Jesus said,
Jesus: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Narrator: Then he told them a parable:
Jesus: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 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. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”