Advent: Week 1C.
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.
Vs.25 Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves;
Vs.26 men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
Vs.27 And then they will see the son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
Vs.28 When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
Vs.34 Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly like a trap.
Vs.35 For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth.
Vs.36 Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”
The Season of Advent marks the beginning of a new church calendar year. This year 2018-2019 is Year C when on most Sundays we will read the Gospel according to Luke. According to tradition, Luke is unique among the evangelists -he is the only Gentile author of a New Testament book – all others were of Jewish descent. Paul hints at his Gentile identity when he numbers “Luke the beloved physician” among his uncircumcised companions (Col 4:14). In addition to his gospel he is the author of the Acts of the Apostles which picks up where the gospel narrative ends.
Broader Historical Context
Although scholars are divided over when the gospel was written, it was probably some 50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, about (85AD). The Christian movement had spread rapidly after the death and resurrection of Jesus, with Christian communities becoming established in many places including Antioch, Asia Minor, Greece and Italy. During the reign of the emperor Nero (54-68 AD), there began a bloody and brutal persecution of Christians, with some of them even been thrown to lions in arenas as public entertainment. A short-lived uprising in Israel in (66AD) against Roman rule resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) and the Temple. In (67AD) Peter and Paul were killed. Against this background of major loss, suffering and persecution Luke wrote his Gospel.
So Luke is writing in some of these passages to help the early Christian communities make sense and find meaning in difficult times and to engender hope –reminding his listeners that no matter what the darkness, no matter what the terror they are experiencing, that although it doesn’t seem like it or feel like it, God is with them, at work for their liberation, and his love will ultimately be victorious! He exhorts his listeners not to lose heart and to wait in trust and confidence for the emerging victory of that love. In the words of Jeremiah in the first reading: “In those days Judah will be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence. And this is the name the city shall be called:” The Lord -our-integrity.”
Where did Jesus speak these words? Jesus was in Jerusalem, in the Temple. He had just spoken about the widow’s offering and then foretold the destruction of the Temple.
When? It is Passover time and his own death is imminent. This is at a critical moment in the life of Jesus. No doubt his heart was troubled and distressed and his own security threatened. “The sun, moon and stars “in his own life were shaken up and he knew something of the fear of the “clamour of the ocean and its waves“. Yet in the midst of upheaval and distress he was convinced that he would not be destroyed by it. Trusting that God would be present even in the midst of darkness, and that he would be able to -“stand erect …knowing liberation is near at hand”.
Who was there? Jesus and his disciples. The disciples were impressed by the magnificent structure of the Temple and how it was adorned with precious stones and offerings. In foretelling the destruction of this same Temple Jesus broadened the conversation to include “end of the world experiences” in general and challenged them to stand firm in trust and hope – to “stay awake” for the victory of God’s love. As the psalmist today reminds us “he guides the humble in the right path, he teaches his way to the poor.” Ps 24:9
What did he say? This discourse is Jesus’ reply to a question put to him by his disciples – “when will this happen and what will be the signs? (21:7). Jesus enumerates in apocalyptic language the inevitability of future disasters, upheaval, and destruction. This language and imagery would have been familiar to his listeners.
V25-28 depicts turmoil, distress and terror, men dying of fear. The sun, moon and stars are normally constant, certain, reliable but in times of crises these will be shaken up. The Jews lived in fear that someday the waters above and the waters below would engulf them “bewildered by the clamour of the ocean.” But in the midst of it “the Son of Man” already coming with power and glory. There is a power and presence of God even greater than darkness and turmoil – the ‘Son of Man” coming to save, rescue and liberate, enabling them “to stand erect and hold their heads high.”
V29-33 –These verses are omitted. They speak of the parable of the fig tree with its buds heralding the dawn of a new time of liberation.
V34-36 –This section goes on a slightly different track. Jesus exhorts his disciples to “stay awake” with a courageous trust. And to be wary of seeking solace or becoming lost in “debauchery and drunkenness” or “the cares of life” less these experiences of darkness and crises will ensnare us “like a trap”…where we lose heart and lose hope. Fidelity to prayer will ensure that we are awake when the “Son of man” comes. In the words of the second reading “May he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all the saints.” 1Thess 3:1
Guidelines for meditation.
Can you remember a time of crises in your own life, or in the life of someone close to you, in the life of your community, church or society: – “There were signs in the sun, moon and stars … and you were bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves” A frightening time when your whole world, with all its old securities, began to crumble and it felt like the end of everything. And in the midst of it all you saw “the Son of Man coming in all his power and glory to save you.” Who or what was the “Son of Man” for you? Giving you new hope and filling you with new courage and confidence that enabled you to “stand up and to hold your head high…knowing that your liberation was near at hand.
Can you remember an experience that brought home to you just how utterly fragile and vulnerable everything and everybody really is, and there is nothing we can do to escape this?
Can you remember during the time of crises, as an individual or as community, the terrible struggle to “stay awake” to be attentive and alert to the little signs of His presence – when the great temptation was to “fall asleep” to lose heart and to give up?
Can you remember a time when the heart was “coarsened” by “debauchery and drunkenness” -hardened by selfishness, smugness, complacency; or by “the cares of this world” – busyness, hyper-activity, distraction; so that when “the day” of crises was sprung on you suddenly, you experienced it as a “trap”, seeing no way out and were left to languish in hopelessness and despair?