On the First Sunday of Advent we hear, as we did two weeks ago from the Gospel of Mark, about “end times.”
There has always been much discussion and speculation about the Second Coming; when it will be and what it will be like. However, as we’ve heard from Jesus himself, that time is not ours to know.
But the one great truth we do know is that history is going somewhere. We are not on a treadmill through time rather, our life has a goal, and that goal is Jesus Christ. He spoke clearly about the Second Coming (also known as the Parousia), and other New Testament writings emphasize it as well.
And so, it follows that we must never think that we are living in a settled situation. We are called to live in a state of expectation, not drowsiness. We must live in the shadow of eternity with the certainty that we will, fittingly or unfittingly, stand before the Son of man.
The Gospel passage for Sunday has its beginning earlier in the Chapter when Jesus predicts that the Temple will be destroyed (21:6), and with the disciples’ question, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to happen?” (v. 7). Jesus responds by telling of wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, and plagues (vv. 9-11), the arrest of his followers and resultant opportunities for witnessing (vv. 12-19), and the destruction of Jerusalem (vv. 20-24). Then come the cosmic signs of verses 25-28, our Gospel for Sunday.
Jesus does not say these things to frighten us, but to prepare us. Our proper response is not to be terrified (v. 9), but to avoid being led astray by false teachers (v. 8) and to take advantage of opportunities for witnessing created by the turmoil (v. 13). We are not to be concerned about preparing our defense, “for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (v. 15).
This is a very different view from that which is too often proclaimed from apocalyptic pulpits today. There is no car suddenly left driverless at a “Rapture”. Jesus does not lift us above turmoil and suffering but drops us into the middle of it.
Jesus’ purpose is not to insulate us from discomfort, but to prepare us for redemption.
Be prepared – read the instructions!