For Holiness of Life. This is the first Sunday of Advent 2015. Advent is special in the church, like other seasons, but this is super special. We’re waiting, alongside Mary and Joseph, for the birth of a child. Not just any child either but one who brings with him new hope for the whole world. Hope is important for everyone. Especially in a world where dark and terrible events surround us, Hope is the light keeping us from being engulfed. So as we go through Advent here at the Coop, we’re going to focus on that Hope. This week with Luke and keeping our lives holy.
Text: Luke 21:25-31
25 “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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “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. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “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, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 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.”
Background on the Text:
- This seems a strange reading for the first Sunday of Advent, but this is what the Revised Common Lectionary suggests! It comes toward the end of Jesus’ ministry but is connected to Advent because it calls us to remember the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ life: to usher in the new age of the Kingdom of God.
- Jesus has entered Jerusalem for his final act of life. He is openly critical of the way that the Jewish faith has been co-opted by the religious elite. He wants to proclaim the end of the Temple Cult, where the faith is centered on practices like sacrifice to God, rather than on living lives of righteousness and holiness. His criticism is directed at the leadership of the faith, and not all Jewish people.
- He has already disrupted the money changers tables in the Temple (Luke 19:45-48), and then continues to show up in the temple every day, preaching to people about the wickedness and wrong-headedness of the leaders.
Exegesis (close reading) of the Text:
- This whole section is a type of apocalyptic writing. It focuses on God’s coming triumph over evil, and what the world will look like in that time. This text uses many current (for the day) motifs to describe the coming “end of the world.” Jesus’ focus is on the end of Jerusalem, but he extends his remarks to “all who live on the face of the earth.”
- People were and are always interested in when these changes will take place. Jesus tells people there will be signs that are common to apocalyptic writing: things in nature will go haywire first.
- The difference in Jesus’ vision of the end times is that the Son of Man will make an appearance at the end of the troubles. But even this is a reference to the Book of Daniel, where the Son of Man is first mentioned.
- So when does this happen? Jesus again refers to nature, saying that just as leaves sprout to give a sign of the coming summer, so there will be signs for us of the coming Kingdom of God.
- The final exhortation from Jesus is to be ready, always for the coming Kingdom. We are supposed to pray for strength so that we might “stand before the Son of Man.”
Questions the Text Asks of Us:
- Apocalyptic stories are old hat for us. Every age has had someone or some group predicting the end of the world. Remember Y2K? How do we find what is meaningful in such texts?
- The Seventh Day Adventists have a way of reading these texts that may be helpful. They have moved away from predicting specific dates of the end times, to instead focusing on living now, as if this could be the last day of existence in this age. What would change in your life if, for some reason, you knew this was your last day to live?
- What do you hope for in the coming Kingdom of God?