Gospel: Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
What do you look forward to this Christmas? What do you dread this holiday season? Why?
"Christmas is coming!" What is your reaction when those words come from the mouths of children? Do you see the joy of the season? Or do you see the red of mounting debt? (Honestly, most of us see both!)
Anticipation and anxiety over the holiday season go hand in hand. Sometimes we want to savor the season. Sometimes we just want the season to get over. Sometimes we anticipate. Sometimes we're anxious.
When Jesus pointed to his coming, he realized there would be anxiety. But he wanted anticipation. He wanted his people to stand tall and raise their heads. He wanted them to have hope.
Jesus said to his followers:
25 "There will be signs of God's will across the sky. The roaring of the oceans and the crashing of the waves will frustrate the nations on earth. 26 In the mean time, people will grow weak in the face of what will happen to the world. For God will shake up everything in the heavens. 27 Then, everyone will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with a lot of power and flash. 28 When these things happen, stand up tall and raise your heads proudly because, then, God will free you!"
34 Watch yourselves so your minds may not be fogged by fooling around, parties, or daily worries. Watch yourselves so the day when the Son of Man comes might not suddenly catch you, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone, everywhere, in the same way. 36 Be constantly alert! Always ask God to give you the strength to live through those bad times and, in the end, to stand as a true follower before the Son of Man."
Anxiety and anticipation go hand in hand. Two weeks ago, we studied the anxiety people have for the end times. With the beginning of Advent, our focus shifts to anticipation. Unlike the terse prophetic statement in Mark 13:24-32, Luke injected a note of hope in his view of the end times. Hope that can only come from faith.
Jesus said to his disciples:
25 There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars; on earth (there will be) anguish of nations, being at a loss over (to explain) the roaring of the sea and the (rolling of the) waves, 26 while men faint from fear from fear and expectation of the (events) coming upon the (known) world. For the powers of heaven will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 28 When these (events) begin to occur, straighten up and raise up your heads, because your liberation is at hand.
21:25-26 In these two verses, Jesus described the end times in symmetrical fashion. He began with the numerous signs in the entire sky, reflected events and reactions on earth, then returned to the shaking of the sky. In the time of Jesus, most people believed events in the night sky reflected coming events on earth (the night sky revealed the will of the gods). If there was trouble in an arena where people had no control (the sky), certainly trouble would follow on earth.
These two verses form three phrases in two sentences. "There will be . . . " covers both phrases in the first sentence (the phrase about the signs in the sky and the anguish of the nations). The second phrase was made independent for the sake intelligibility in English.
"on earth (there will be) anguish of nations, being at a loss over (to explain) the roaring of the sea and the (rolling of the) waves, while men faint from fear from fear and expectation of the (events) coming upon the (known) world." Violent storms at sea and on the coast would leave people disturbed about divine will and guessing about the future.
21:27 The subtle meaning of this sentence was explained in depth on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (two weeks ago). Luke's verse paralleled Mark 13: 26. Both are based upon Daniel 7:13.
21:28 "straighten up and raise up your heads" The attitude of the Christian is the exact opposite of those in 21:26. The Christian is to stand proud and full of expectation, instead of "fainting from fear."
"because your liberation is at hand" The liberation or redemption mentioned referred to the end of the world.
In these short verses, Jesus described the beginning of God's final initiative. He would give signs of warning across the sky, cause anxiety on earth with violent sea storms, and shake up the heavens. What we would explain scientifically as eclipses, meteor showers, and the result of storm systems on earth, the ancients attributed to God's intervention in the order of the cosmos. God would shake things up.
People would grow anxious because their faith systems and rituals failed. They could no longer control malevolent spirits that drove the sun, the moon, the stars, or the seas. Without the security their idols gave them, they would faint at the coming events. For these events would be unknown, chaotic, and devastating.
But, Christians were to rejoice. Their Savior was at hand! Now, their world view and lifestyle would be vindicated. For, Christians saw the world and lived in the world differently. Notice Luke implied the division between the believers and nonbelievers. Further, he implied, Christians had something to be delivered from: persecution. Finally, Luke presented a time of hope. Through great power and glory (i.e., reputation or "flash" in the popular translation above), the Son of Man would come and free his followers. Unlike the anxious people of the world, the Christians were to anticipate the end in hope.
34 But guard against yourselves lest your minds might not be burdened by carousing, drunkenness, and the worries of daily living, (lest) that day suddenly catch you, 35 like a trap. For (that day) will come upon all (those) sitting on the face of the entire earth. 36 Stay awake every moment, (constantly) pleading that to have the strength to pass safely through all these (events) about to happen, and to stand (with conviction) before the Son of Man."
21:35 "all (those) sitting on the face of the entire earth" "Sitting" in this sense is a Hebraism, meaning "living."
21:34c-35 Since "that day" is understood as the subject of the last clause in 21:34 and the sentence in 21:35, "like a trap" is understood for both ("catch you" in 34c and "come upon all sitting on the entire earth" in 35).
21:36 "Stay awake every moment, (constantly) pleading" The phrase "every moment" is literally "in every moment." The phrase can refer to "staying awake" or to "pleading." By adding the word "constantly" to pleading, the translation recognizes both references ("stay awake every moment" and "every moment pleading").
"(constantly) pleading that to have the strength to pass safely through all these (events) about to happen, and to stand (with conviction) before the Son of Man" The verb "to plead" or "to pray" controlled two petitions: strength to endure the end times and the strength to take a stand as a Christian before the Son of Man. Both petitions depend upon strength of faith.
How was the Christian to anticipate the end? A simple profession of faith was not enough. For one could be Christian in name, but his or her heart could belong to the world, its deceptive delights, and its anxieties, Obviously, self-control was essential.
In Luke, Jesus added another condition: unceasing prayer. Unlike first century contemporaries, early Christians focused their prayer, not necessarily on present need, but upon future deliverance. They would pray for the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus encouraged them to pray for a strength of faith that would enable them to weather the final days and stand before the judgement seat.
So, the Christian was to anticipate the end in two ways: a life of moral self control and prayer for future spiritual strength. Shouldn't we approach the holidays in the same way?
Catechism Theme: The Coming of Christ (CCC 668-677)
Christ Jesus rules now in heaven. He reveals his power and glory through us, his Church. He is present when we live with high moral standards and when we pray. He is present when we get out of the way and allow him to reveal his power, with us, through us.
But Jesus will come again. His appearance will be sudden and sure. Until that time, Christians will suffer from misunderstanding, hatred, and violence. The evil the world unleashes on the Church will not extinguish the flame of faith. The Church will be strengthened. And her influence will grow. For Christ is truly present with his Church in adversity.
How does prayer and self-control help you anticipate the coming of Christ?
Anxiety and anticipation do go together. They are two reactions to a life under pressure. But one sees only darkness and despair. The other sees light and hope.
We can never fully predict disastrous events, but we can prepare for them. We can live a high moral life, as if tomorrow does matter. And we can pray for the strength to live through the darker days. Ultimately we can live as if Jesus is fully present. We can live with hope fully present.
Choose one area in your life that makes you anxious. How can faith turn your anxiety in this area into anticipation? How can God give you hope?