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Sermons

His Coming

January 13, 2008

Bible Reading

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city will be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city will go into captivity, but the remnant of the people will not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. And in that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives will be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain will move toward the north and half of it toward the south. Then you will flee through my mountain valley, for the mountain valley will reach to Azal. Yes, you will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.

Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with him. It will come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It will be one day that is known to the Lord--neither day nor night. But at evening time it will be light. And on that day living waters will flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it will occur. And the Lord will be King over all the earth. In that day there will be one Lord, and his name one.

(Zechariah 14:1-9)

As the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

(Matthew 24:27-31)

Sermon

The twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew is sometimes referred to as the "Little Apocalypse." It deals with the Second Coming, and it does so in language that sounds a good deal like the language in Daniel or in the book of Revelation. It makes sweeping statements about wars and pestilences. Things seem to be on a cosmic scale.

It is worth remembering that similar things do occur in the Old Testament in prophecy of the Lord's first coming. There is scarcely a prophet without some touch of this cosmic view of the day of the Lord. In our Old Testament reading, Zechariah spoke of the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives, the mount splitting in half and people fleeing, of the light of day being darkened, and of living waters coming out of Jerusalem.

Then, some five hundred years later, the Christ sat with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and spoke of another coming day of the Lord. The mountain did not split, the sun was not darkened, and no river started to flow from Jerusalem.

Yet even as he spoke, these things were happening. Their worlds were being shaken by these indications of the Lord's size and power. Their exaltation would soon be shattered, the light they had from their Lord dimmed. And then from Jerusalem would stream a new gift of life and truth.

There has been no more literal fulfillment of his prophecies than there has been of Zechariah's. The Second Coming, like the first, passed unnoticed by most of the world. But the same world that did not notice still participated. In each case, it was a world racked by internal and external strife; a world where self-righteousness, hunger for power, cynicism, and cruelty mixed together with innocence, faith, and simplicity; a world lost and foundering. And in each case a new message began and gathered force.

In each case, the message was more than new information. It involved a shift of focus. It singled out a dimension of life that was there, that was somewhat known, and it raised this dimension into the light. It enabled people to gather together their fleeting and confused impressions of the quality of their lives, and to make telling sense out of them.

In Heaven and Hell, Swedenborg takes a chapter to describe the cardinal directions in heaven. Everyone in heaven, no matter which way he or she turns, faces east, for everyone in heaven loves the Lord, the Sun of heaven, and turns constantly toward him. The Lord's comings to earth have the effect of giving us new cardinal directions. He offers us more than a new chart and a new compass; he offers us a whole new geography. It does not matter if we happen to live in New England, in the Northeast. What matters is which way we are facing, and what we seek.

In True Christian Religion (#475.3), there is the following statement:

Between heaven and hell there is a great interspace, which to those who are there looks like a complete orb. Into this interspace, evil breathes from hell in all abundance; while from heaven, contrastingly, good flows in, also in all abundence. . . . Every one of us, as to our spirit, is within this interspace for this reason alone: that we may be in freedom of choice.

This is the geography that counts to eternity. This is where mountains are split, where the sun is darkened, where living waters flow. This is where we should turn our minds when we read these prophecies; this is where we should look for their fulfillment. For this is where we are now living as far as our souls are concerned.

We do not become permanently conscious of that spiritual world until we can no longer be conscious in this one. We do not see the Sun of heaven and the sun of this world at the same time. Until the sun of this world is darkened for us, we do not see the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; we cannot.

This applies to our conscious mental and emotional states. If we are preoccupied with external matters, we do not notice more internal ones. If we focus on someone's stammer or lisp, we miss the import of what he or she is saying. If we take our identity from where we live or from what other people think of us, we are in darkness as to our spiritual home, as to what the Lord thinks of us.

To the extent that we are preoccupied with externals--and to some extent we all are--there will certainly be an upheaval someday. In this world or the next, this physical geography has to pass away. The hold material things have on our minds and hearts has to be broken--and the stronger the hold, the more violent the process.

The world must perish, not literally, but in the sense that it must cease to have intrinsic value for us. Material things are good or evil only by virtue of the way we use them. Value itself is essentially a spiritual matter. We value what we love, and love is not material.

Somehow it all sounds so direful, so forbidding, this death of the world with us. We tend to fear that if material values perish, our lives will be bleak and worthless. Are we not to enjoy sunsets and springtime, the comforts of home, and all such dear outward things?

But the joy we have in such things is not literally "in" the things. Many people see sunsets, many people breathe the air of spring. But only those find joy who have opened their hearts.

No, what happens when the world perishes with us is very different. Many of the things that trouble us, many of our insecurities, disappear. The world dies with us, and with it die our fears about what other people will think of us, our need to prop ourselves up with possessions, our need for outward merit points. We are free to live in a more spiritual geography, free to look for good wherever we find it, to recognize evil whatever form it takes, whoever does it.

The world dies, and with it goes a host of distorted and tyrannical standards that have hidden the Lord from us. "For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together."

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

Then the Lord's light will shine on this earth. Because we know the earth to be dead in and of itself, the Lord's life will be everywhere evident, like the lightning that comes from the east and shines to the west. Then we will not look in this corner or that for the Lord, trying to identify him with this set of words (sound waves) or that set of actions (atoms in a pattern of motion). For we will know him as the life of every soul that lives. Sunsets will be beautiful, spring will fill us with joy, because we are turned toward the Sun of heaven; because his warmth and light meet and fill the warmth of earth's spring in our bodies and the light of earth's sun in our eyes. Amen.

Prayer

O Lord, thank you for making the day of your coming brilliantly clear, and flashing with powerful insight, to all whose minds are receptive of your inner presence. Thank you for opening the deeper meaning of the Scriptures to us, and showing us the tremendous spiritual events pictured there. Amen.

Rev. Dr. George F. Dole