But in those days, following that distress…
It is an odd place to begin a passage, but you see, in the story leading up to this passage Jesus talks about the days in which he walked… and these days in which we live… and the days to come, the time of which even the angels do not know. His description is hard for many to hear. It all sounds so negative and requires a deep breath of faith to get through it. That may be why the lectionary skipped ahead a bit to the place of comfort, that we will be gathered up, that we will not be forgotten. But I feel to really understand the message in this whole passage we need to not be afraid to face those days that were, these days that are and the days that will be.
Jesus spoke of his days, as he headed toward the cross so the disciples might witness to what they could not yet understand. At the same time, he spoke of our days, when we are covered with trouble, suffering and distress seemingly without end so we might see and be prepared for what we cannot fully understand. In the same breath he also spoke of the last days and the last thing and what is to come in ten or ten thousand years so that those who come after us might watch and be ready for what is impossible to understand.
This is what he said:
1. Jesus said, watch and do not be deceived by claimants to the throne of God, nor false prophets nor false teachers. Though they do miracles, we are to continue to watch, steadfast and keep our eyes open and on Jesus.. Such false people existed back then. They exist today. They will exist tomorrow. But here is the secret: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. Through none of it is Christ absent. If we watch and keep our eyes on him, Jesus, the child of promise will help us see what is false and hold to what is true.
2. Jesus said there will be wars, kingdoms and nations in turmoil. And here, we are fighting overseas and there is turmoil in the middle east and in the Sudan and Libya and Syria… Well… There are wars and rumors of wars, and we are in the midst of them. But there were wars back then as well. There has never been a time in history without wars, and sadly, they will continue into the future.
Jesus said there will be earthquakes and famines, and we might as well add floods and storms and all sorts of natural disasters. These days we can look at Japan and China and Bangkok and… Oklahoma. The world of troubles appears without end. But if we watch, if we pay attention, Jesus, the child born on Christmas is already there in the midst of it all to guide us to the safe place.
3. Jesus said we will be handed over to rulers and such where we must witness to Christ, as they presently do in China and are locked in prison for their faith. As they presently do in Egypt and are stoned in the streets. Back then, the Jews came to hate the Christians and drove them out of the synagogue. The Romans persecuted Christians for years and threw them in prison like Paul, or to the lions. Today, every reminder of Christ is being removed from public places, like Jesus has a plague or something. And tomorrow? Will we even be able to mention the name of Jesus without being accused of some hate crime?
Jesus said families will break apart and the betrayal of family members will be known. It should be no surprise that there are people in Moslem countries in prison, facing the death penalty for converting to Christ – turned in by their own family members. And even here in this so-called Christian nation there are already families where one person may be despised, ridiculed and belittled for daring to be a believer.
Let us watch. Just keep our eyes on Jesus, The child who was born in Bethlehem. He is already there when we arrive, and he is ready and waiting to hold us up in the worst of the persecution.
4. Jesus said the abomination would set itself up as God, and there are many in our day that would gladly fill that role, from the government on down. But do not be fooled, he said. Caesar has always pretended to the throne of God.
Watch, he said. Do not be caught napping. Keep your eyes open and you will see him. You will see Jesus. He will come in the clouds. He will come when you least expect. You will see. He is already here.
This catalogue of troubles that came in the days of Jesus and the apostles and continues to be with us to this day, will not stop in the future. It will go on until Jesus manifests himself at the end of time. No generation will pass away without knowing all these troubles. What he is telling us is we need not be troubled nor be afraid because he has gone ahead of us and he is already there, with us. All we need are the eyes to see. All we need to do is watch. Jesus was born on Christmas day for this very purpose: to walk beside us and hold our feet steady though all the troubles of this world.
In the face of false teachers who would turn us away from Jesus, in the midst of wars or natural disasters, in the midst of persecution where perhaps even our own family turns against us, in the face of the very abomination seeking to consume our soul, Jesus, the one we look for at Christmas time is there already, to hold us and keep us. If we watch. If we keep our eyes open, we will see him and he will see us and he will hold us up and keep us safe and never let us go. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again in the fullness of time, and yet he is already here, today, in the midst of us. He will never leave us or forsake us, no matter how bad the troubles get.