As I looked outside this morning, it was well past time for the sun to be up, but a lower, lingering gray continued to hold court in the sky. Snow flurries were dancing along the tops of the leaves that are begging me to rake them toward their final resting place. The trees, through which I’d normally see the sun coming over the horizon, are mostly bare, with only the last few holdouts just barely hanging on. Looking outside, it wasn’t hard to tell that today was going to be a cold, wet, and dreary kind of day. No matter how much I might wish for a sunny day in the mid-50s, it isn’t going to happen, and this morning’s snapshot out my front window betrays that reality.
As a new Church Year begins, we move the focus of our Sunday Gospel lessons from Mark’s brevity to Luke’s more expansive theological story-telling style. On this First Sunday of Advent, we jump deep into Holy Week for another foray into apocalyptic literature. Unlike in Mark, where Jesus offered his eschatological reflections from the Mount of Olives to only a select few hearers, here, Jesus is in the Temple, talking to whomever will listen about what is to come.
“When you see the fig tree come into bloom, you know summer is at hand,” Jesus tells the crowded Temple court, “so pay attention, for you will see the signs of the times for the coming of the Kingdom of God.” As with most visions of the End Times, Jesus’ imagery is full of war, famine, fear, are foreboding. He tells the audience that in those moments, they shouldn’t cower in fear, but rather, “raise up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”
In the 2,000 or so years since Jesus said these words, there hasn’t been a time without war, famine, fear, and foreboding. If one were watching out the window for the signs of the times, it might always look like Jesus is getting ready to hop on that cloud and enter with power and might. Many a charlatan, of the sort that Jesus warned the crowds about earlier in Luke (a version of which we heard from Mark two weeks ago), have made themselves rich and powerful by a false reading of these signs. Many have been made to shrink in fear that the end is nigh, but that’s not what Jesus calls us to. In a world that constantly looks like it is coming to an end, and most often so due to the sinfulness of humanity, are we able to read the signs and raise up our heads? Will we be willing to stand up and invite others to join in the work of restoration to which we are invited? Are we able to see that the great revealing that will take place isn’t meant to harm and destroy, but rather, to build and restore?
Let’s be honest, the times don’t look that good these days. Signs of the end are as prevalent as they’ve ever been. Will we cower in fear? Will we resign ourselves to anger and sadness? Or, will we raise up our head, roll up our sleeves, and join with God’s redeeming work?