Summary: When we see natural disasters and conflicts, we can be sure that Christ’s return is near. We must be ready, because he could return at any time. The promise of his return offers us hope.
At first glance the reading we just heard from Luke 21:25-36 seems to be out of place during Advent. After all, most of us think of Advent as a time to prepare for Christmas. That is only partially true. Advent is also a time to remember and prepare for Christ’s Second Coming, and that preparation includes watching for the signs of his return. On the Third and Fourth Sundays in Advent the readings will focus on Christ’s First Coming over 2,000 years ago.
Luke wrote his Gospel several years after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. At that time the church was undergoing suffering and injustice. Luke wrote his Gospel to encourage the church and remind the people that God is in control of events and has a time set for Christ’s return. Luke’s message applies to us today. Luke wants us, like the believers he wrote to, to be ready to meet Jesus when he returns and in the meantime we are to stand firm and witness to his name.
According to Luke, we live in the time between Christ’s triumph over death and his Second Coming. This “in-between” time is filled with both tension and hope. The hope can be found in the beginning and ending of the story of the church (and therefore our story), which has been secured by Christ.
We are also living in the time of the Gentiles, which began with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. This time will end when Christ returns. The end times will begin when armies surround Jerusalem. The end time disasters will be orchestrated by God for the sake of warning sinners and calling on them to repent. At this time the Messiah will return and defeat evil.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke Jesus gives us some of these signs. The signs mentioned in this passage are supernatural in nature. They are orchestrated by God. They will awaken humanity out of its spiritual slumber before Christ returns. Jesus will return at the end of the Tribulation period. He will defeat his enemies and begin his one thousand year reign of peace on a restored planet. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension were testimonies to God’s faithfulness through the signs of Christ’s return.
Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to explain to his followers how to interpret the signs of the end times. Just like a fig tree behaves in predictable ways, prophecy can reliably point to future events. We can understand prophecy if we take time to read it carefully. For example, just like the leaves of the fig tree come to life after winter, the kingdom of God should not come as a shock to us.
Some of you might look at world affairs and wonder if they are signs of Christ’s return. Your concern is certainly understandable considering the recent attacks in Paris and the war on ISIS. Only time will tell if these are early signs of the end times, but in any event we must keep our faith strong.
The world will see these signs and quake with fear. On the other hand, Christians will see these signs as a prelude to Christ’s return and their own redemption. Redemption refers to Christ’s return, and at that time mortality puts on immortality, and the redemption of the body takes place. For Christians, difficult times do not mean that God has deserted them but that God will fulfill all of his word-both the difficult parts as well as the delightful ones.
When Jesus referred to “this generation,” he was not referring to the disciples. He was referring to the people who would see the signs of the end times. These people won’t die until Christ the King returns in power and establishes his kingdom here on earth. These events will happen quickly.
Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God. He also called on his followers to put as much confidence in his teachings as they did any other portions of Scripture, and he calls on us to have the same confidence today. His words and teachings are for all time. They are permanent.
Jesus also called on his followers to watch and pray to do his will. When hard times come, praying for escape is not wrong. Even Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that he would escape the cross, but he surrendered himself completely to God’s will. We can and should pray for escape when times are tough, but ultimately we must surrender to God’s will for the particular situation we find ourselves in. God’s Word is our security in times of turmoil. In the words of the hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold”:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure as the billows roll