First Week of Advent, Dec. 2nd.
Luke uses startling, poetic language to tell us what the coming of the Kingdom of God is like. This is known as Apocalyptic language, which reveals things previously hidden, in highly symbolic expressions. What we need to know is that the coming of God’s Kingdom makes all the difference in the world, to this world. That’s what we can glean from what we’re told of signs in the heavens and on earth. The coming of Gods’ kingdom is the advent of justice and righteousness, clearing away the rubble of dubious motives, greedy desires, selfishness, hatred, intolerance, and violence.
We understand from this passage in Luke that when God’s Kingdom comes, the powers of the world will be profoundly shaken. That which is corrupt, discriminatory and dictatorial will be completely undermined. Justice will take its place. That which is violent, oppressive, and terrifying will be shown for the evil it is. Peace will be born. That which is greedy, acquisitive, all-controlling, and which subjugates people in near slavery will be brought to an end. Harmony and equality will become realities. Where the earth has been plundered and laid to ruin, God will bring restoration to creation.
Should we wonder at it that Luke says that “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” What has seemed to be the way of things “for ever” will be changed so that peace, justice, harmony, equality, plenty and right-living, in short “Shalom”, will come into being. A new heaven and new earth are being born. The old powers are brought down, and righteousness and justice will prevail.
We could get quite hung-up on the saying that “..this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” We could say to ourselves “Well, that just shows how very figurative the whole thing is, and we can just let that one sit and forget all about it.” Actually, I don’t think so. Each passage in the bible has to be considered in its’ context, and we need to get a grasp of the whole, not just the individual parts. Otherwise we miss the true impact of what is being said.Taking scripture passages in their wider context is very important. The destruction of Jerusalem, with it’s temple, is spoken of just before the section we have read. Many were taken off as captives, or killed, during this war. This came to pass in 70 AD. This language is not only figurative, it points to real events.
Immediately after the part we have read comes the story of the Last Supper, the betrayal of Jesus, and his crucifixion. Our faith tells us that with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, something totally basic, something absolutely pivotal, changed in the “balance of power” in the universe. All the powers of evil, in all their strength and fury, were directed at Jesus on the cross. Political, religious, social and economic power were combined in all their intensity to destroy him, because he was a threat to the usual ordering of society. But scripture says to us that there was more even than this: there was some basic force of evil behind all this, giving terrible strength to what was occurring. And this was because Jesus was recognised as the Anointed One of God. When Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives with his disciples after the Last Supper, he said to them “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial”. The word used for “trial” means something much more serious than “a difficult time”. It means that the forces of evil were gathered in such power as has not been seen before on the earth. These powers were directed at Jesus in his crucifixion and death.
Scripture tells us that Jesus defeated all those forces of evil. We cannot claim to understand it perfectly. Is it that Gods’ Spirit was then set free to inspire, energise and direct those who were willing to follow? Is it that the truth that Jesus lived that life, died that death, and rose again for us is so moving, has such a powerful attraction for us, that we want to give ourselves to him? We are told that on the cross, Jesus defeated even the last enemy- death. Whatever happened, his life, death and resurrection were utterly central to God’s plan to bring us, and all creation, back to God. And God has continued the work of redeeming creation ever since.
All around us the world is preparing for Christmas in the usual ways: food, presents, cards, and visits to family and friends. But what are we doing to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Kingdom of God? That’s what matters, the rest is just enjoyable, if sometimes tiring, icing on the cake. The point is, are we hungry for the presence of Christ in our lives? Christ can come to us at any time, in many and various ways, but of course Advent is a very particular time for concentrating on God’s coming.
We are told in chapter 21 of Luke to be on our guard, to be alert at all times. It’s ironic that Christmas time is so crowded with busyness, preparations and activities that it’s one of the hardest times of the year to take time out to really drink in the significance of the Season. We need to make a conscious decision to spend time quietly in the presence of God; praying, reading, reflecting, listening to music, enjoying nature- whatever brings us most awareness of the nearness of God. There is more significance in the birth of Jesus than we human beings can really grasp. We can begin to understand God’s intention to bring peace, justice and love to the earth, but we cannot plumb the depths of it. The truths of our faith- the birth of Jesus as a helpless infant, his innocent suffering on the cross, and his resurrection- are more than we can ever get to the depths of. But they do show us God’s utter faithfulness to human beings, and all creation- and God’s intention that all things will be put to rights when God’s kingdom comes fully into being.
And the astonishing thing is that God is not only interested in the big picture. God is also interested in us as individual people. We are not simply pieces in the mosaic of God’s larger plan. We are precious in God’s sight, each one of us. We are valued by God, not simply for the service we can render in the cause of God’s kingdom, but for who we are in ourselves. This is bigger than any of us can grasp. Our minds can’t contain God, who at one and the same time is holding creation in divine hands, and caring about us- we who are so miniscule in comparison. As we read in Ps. 8 “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Evidently, we are enough for God to send his only Son for our sake. Thanks be to God. Amen.