It is difficult to prepare for the second coming of Christ – to plan for something when we don’t know the timing.
As a new cycle begins on Advent Sunday, we meet the Gospel-writer for the coming year. Today we meet Luke in his dramatic warnings. Warnings of the signs that will announce the coming of the Son of Man in glory and judgement.
There is a tension between beginnings and endings, the start of another year. The beginning of the end of time.
At this point in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-36 ) Jesus is on the way to his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. He tries to tell his disciples what will happen. To help them to understand his death as what might be called “the end of the beginning”. Out of these events will come something whose real end lies at an uncertain point in the future.
The word “Advent” means “arrival”. In the next few weeks, we will be learning to recognise the arrival of Christ among us. Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. The earliest Christians expected an imminent Second Coming. Luke, is interested in the urgency of being prepared to stand before the final judgement of God in Christ;
26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Luke 21.26)
He considers the human reaction, the confusion and paralysing fear. These words may well describe part of our lives today.
Yes this season is a preparation for Christmas – the celebration of the incarnation – and also a reflection on the consummation of all things. But it has a third dimension.
1. Our salvation is not just about going to heaven when we die,
2. or about living until the glorious return of Christ.
3. God’s Reign is always coming to us. Jesus said ‘I will be with you always.’
Our salvation is a reality that we can, we should, embrace and experience now. For this reason, we are constantly called to watch, to be mindful and aware of God’s presence and activity among us.
Advent is the only season in the Church’s year which invites us to think seriously about judgement. This is to remind us that our world is going somewhere. There is a purpose, a direction and a meaning to the created order, and God is at work to fulfil that purpose – to bring all things into wholeness and unity in Christ.
The Christmas celebration, then, is not a “stand-alone” event. The incarnation can only really be understood in terms of God’s saving purpose for all creation.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
We are challenged to respond to God’s Reign as it seeks to enter our lives, and to become messengers who proclaim God’s salvation through our lives and words. We need to become watchful followers of Christ.
Jesus was speaking directly of the coming destruction of the Temple and the conquest of Israel by the Roman Empire. The language he uses is taken straight out of the Old Testament prophets – especially the apocalyptic messages. verse 27 echoes Daniel– which Jesus’ hearers would have recognised.
27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
This image is about Jesus returning to his eternal throne in glory because his task of winning salvation is completed. Whenever biblical writers wanted to express the inexpressible glory and power of God’s activity in the world, they used images of natural upheaval. Their purpose is not to give a journalist’s report of future events, but to communicate the impact of God’s presence on the entire universe. When God acts, the effect resonates throughout creation.
We do need to be careful not to take these images too literally. We must listen carefully for the message Jesus is trying to communicate.
The parable of the trees:“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Live a life that keeps you mindful of God’s presence and purpose.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
There is something joyful about the way Luke presents the prophecies of the final signs.
He seems close in spirit to Jeremiah.
Assuring the exiles that the Davidic kingship will be restored, and that Jerusalem will be rebuilt in righteousness (Jeremiah 33.14-16).
14 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
Luke’s signs embody hope as well as terror, and the way to face them is with confidence, standing up, heads raised, expecting redemption (Luke 21.28).
28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Even though the disciples do not yet have the angels’ assurance of peace and goodwill at this point in the narrative, the story is told in a way that counts on things’ becoming clear later on. What are the implications for the time between the resurrection and ascension, and the glorious return of Jesus as saviour and judge?
The time in which we now live?
Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians is believed to be the oldest document of the New Testament. It glows with the affection and concern of the apostle who brought the gospel to this northern Greek trading port. Yet even these most responsive converts need continual encouragement to remain firm in their faith in the face of persecution, and to be active in their love for each other (1 Thessalonians 2.14-15; 3.10-12).
Paul knows that they will face the judgement awaiting the whole world. His concern is to shape them in the present to perfection. A perfection that will make them able to meet their judge in the confidence that their lives already bear his likeness.
This Advent – why don’t you try to make it a time of mutual encouragement? Spend time keeping others going. Pray for your friends, family, fellow Christians, those who do not yet know Jesus. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
Do spend time and thought on Christmas cards & Christmas letters – to friends, to family. Maybe to some with whom you have lost touch recently. The words from Paul’s letter could be most appropriate:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (NRSV))
And that is my prayer for all who read this! Lucy Austin