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. 26People 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. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven 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 catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.”
What I am Learning
The season of Advent is a time of expectant and hopeful waiting - longing for the world to be completely made whole and for human beings to become fully human. So it is appropriate that Advent starts with a "Great Change" text - the world as we know it is about to be dramatically altered.
We read Mark's version of this text two weeks ago. Mark, of course, was written first. Matthew and Luke wrote their gospels based on Mark. That is why the three are called the "synoptic" gospels - they each tell the story of Jesus in a similar way.
For many ancient people, the sun and moon were divine, or at least manifestations of divine powers. The sea and the waves were symbols of primordial chaos. Jesus tells us that people's sense of the divine will be shaken and chaos will threaten to overwhelm human beings. The very powers of the heavens, that is the forces and gods that form human existence will themselves be made vulnerable.
Why? Because the Son of Man coming in a cloud.
A cloud is not the Son of Man's preferred form of transportation:)
It is a quote from Daniel chapter 7. It is worth reading the whole chapter. This part of Daniel was written (and perhaps compiled with previous stories) when Antiochus Epiphanies, a Greek King, had conquered Jerusalem and taken over the temple and used it for his own sadistic purposes. Chapter 7 tells a story of a "Fully Human One" being presented to God. The Fully Human One would overcome the domination cultures that had suppressed and oppressed the children of God and would bring a rule of peace to all the earth. The children of God would rule with the Fully Human One for ever and ever.
But such cosmic and cosmological change is overwhelming to human beings. It is easy for us to become weighed down with fear, to seek relief from this fear in addictions and distractions. Jesus says to stay awake, to be vigilant for these changes are not for the destruction of the world but for its recreation. The Son of Man, the Truly Human One, will come and set things to right.
Luke is telling his community that they are among the children of God, and that when such changes take place, to respond with hope - to lift up their heads- instead of fear.
We live in fearful times. We live in a culture a that judges our prosperity in second-by-second updates of the stock market. We have lived in a decade in which we have waited for another 9/11 and checked our smart phones to see if it has happened. We look a the skies and wonder if the weather is really changing. We hear the ocean waves and dread the seas rising due to global climate change.
He hide our fear in denial or succumb to it in despair.
Jesus' words are not only for Luke's community, a community suffering from persecution and living in the memory of Jerusalem's fall. Jesus' words are for us too. He says to lift up our heads and act in hope for a world that is healed and human beings becoming Fully Human through the Fully Human One.