First Sunday of Advent (29 November 2016)
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“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.”
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not 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.” (Luke 21:25-28 & 34-36 – NRSV)
Find similar texts in Matthew 24.29–31 and Mark 13.24–27.
Seeking “signs” seems to have been very much the case in the time of Jesus. Luke has already told us that Jesus’ opponents wanted him to show them a “sign” – see Luke 11:16. Earlier in this chapter Luke also records that Jesus’ disciples asked for a “sign” – see 21:7. A problem seems to have arisen among the Christians in Thessalonica concerning this matter – see Thessalonians 3:6-15.
Luke is suggesting a culminating event that encompasses “the nations” and includes “the (whole) world”. History is not going to go on forever. God’s action in history and through history will end with the triumph of God’s will – good over evil, love over hatred, truth over the lie, grace over sin. This state of being we call the Kingdom. We pray for it daily: “Thy kingdom come!”
The reference to “the Son of Man coming on a cloud” is a direct reference to Daniel 7:13. This “coming .... with power and great glory” has been intimated a number of times by Luke – see in 9:26; 11:30; 12:8, 40; 17:22, 24, 26, 30; 18:8. There is a sense of God’s action in Jesus coming to a climax. There is no cause for the disciples to be alarmed: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The English word “redemption” here translates the Greek word apolytrōsis (ἀπολύτρωσις) – a word that is used for the “redemption” (ie liberation) of slaves.
“Be on guard!” The Greek verb is prosechō (προσέχω) and is used by Luke a number of times – see 12:1; 17:3; 20:46 and Acts 5:35; 20:28. Luke uses a different word but the same idea a little further on in this text when he tells the disciples to “be alert at all times”.
“ .... so that your hearts are not weighed down.” Although a different Greek word is used, this injunction echoes Jesus’ rebuke of Martha – see 10:38-42.
“A gargantuan asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, with enough power to wipe out life as we know it. That’s the belief of an online community of biblical theorists who predict our collective demise will occur between 22 – 28 September 2015.” (Huffington Post (UK), 8 June 2015.)
And so it goes. Human beings – non-believers no less than believers – love “signs”. The more compelling the better. And there is a certain kind of person who loves the thought of “signs” that spell the end of everything! See for example the phenomenon of millenarianism. “Signs” can distract us from the tedium of life, they can give us “proof” that we are actually in charge of this thing called “life”. “Signs” can assuage our anxiety.
Jesus says: “Be on guard!” Refuse the distractions. The essence of our existence is found in and through our relationship with God. That is what matters. In God I find my true self. In God my longing will be fulfilled. All else will pass away.
"How did it happen that now for the first time in his life he could see everything so clearly? Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he allowed himself to come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself forward from some dark past he could not remember to a future which did not exist. Not once had he ever been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream. Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way that one misses a plane? And how is it that death, the nearness of death, can restore a missed life? Why is it that without death one misses his life?" (Walker Percy, The Second Coming, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980, 123f.)