So also, when you see all these things, you know that the Son of Woman is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Most High God.
(Matthew 24:32-33; translation from Wilda C. Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year A)
It’s not often that preachers will tell you that Jesus was wrong, but here’s one of his biggest mistakes: “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Sorry, Jesus— you were way off with this one.
The early church expected Jesus to return and establish his new kingdom at any moment, “before this generation passes away.” But over the years, one by one, his disciples died. The last eyewitness to Jesus’s ministry may have been the storyteller responsible for the Gospel of John. This apostle lived to a ripe old age, and his community began to theorize that he wouldn’t die before Jesus returned.
When he finally kicked off, it must have been devastating. You can hear the author of the postscript to John trying to account for their disappointment: “So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” (John 21:23)
Jesus himself created that expectation. “This generation will not pass away.” Even today, 2000 years later, we’re still trying to account for his delay.
But perhaps they did see the kin-dom at hand. Time seems to get suspended in Jesus’s words here: heaven and earth will pass away, but not this generation, nor his words. Yet he still doesn’t know exactly when this will happen.
This is one reason we celebrate Advent—”The Arrival”—because God’s act of creating, bringing about the Kin-dom, and birthing something new is always at hand. It is always arriving. Like tender fig leaves, the signs of a new season are already here for those who pay attention.
Prayer: Creating, birthing, and re-ordering God—we wait for you even as you announce your presence with us. Amen.
—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.