Eschatology: Prophecy and Advent

Eschatology, Prophecy and Advent –

the homiletical challenge of

Advent Year C

With Thanksgiving as early as it can be we have enjoyed an extra week to prepare for preaching in Advent. Good thing, because we need it, as this sample of texts easily demonstrates:

Jesus said, "People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." (Luke 21, Advent One)

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. …. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3, Advent Two)

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Luke 3, Advent Three)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” (Luke 1, Advent Four)

Can’t we just skip to the Fourth Sunday of Advent?

No. We must stay with Malachi and Micah, Luke’s version of the “little apocalypse” and John in his “full Baptist” glory before we can gather with Mary and Elizabeth around the Magnificat. This is not easy to do.What we need is a plan. What we need is an eschatology.  Because if the late Stephen Covey was correct and the key to planning is to “Begin with the end in mind” then being mindful of our eschatology is not just biblical, it is fundamental to right living. And to preaching in Advent. So what is your eschatology.

Rob Bell caused no end of uproar last year when he published his eschatology under the title, Love Wins (HarperOne). Pretty much lost his job at Mars Hills Bible Church over it, if you read the excellent article by Kalefa Sanneh in The New Yorker (November 26, 2012 - http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/11/26/121126fa_fact_sanneh), although friends and colleagues of Bell tell the story somewhat differently. The point, obviously, is that our eschatology is not peripheral to our faith and our worldview, so it should not be peripheral to our preaching. Indeed it cannot be with texts like these in a season like this.

Here’s the thing – folk want to know how we think things end up, what it will look like, and why we think so. They want to know where their beliefs are taking them so that they can see whether or not they are going in the right general direction. If, like Bell, we believe that love will win in the end then we have a strong eschatological conviction that needs to be proclaimed. To be honest I don’t know if John the Baptist thought love would win. But since what we have of him is mostly caricature it is good that  John is not the only story in Advent. Consider:

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all (1 Thessalonians 3, Advent One).

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best (Philippians 1, Advent Two).

The LORD, your God, is in your midst … he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love (Zephaniah 3, Advent Three).

My soul magnifies the Lord….

We are so conditioned to talk about the “coming of the Lord” we sometimes neglect to talk about the weightier matters of our eschatology – our confidence in the divine plan, our sense of how we fit into the wider telos of God, and what it means to live as one who believes that “love wins.” We need to sharpen our eschatology and proclaim it with all the conviction of a prophet like John. Have a blessed Advent!