Today’s lectionary passage from Luke 21:25-36 highlights the end of history. Jesus is wrapping-up his earthly ministry by warning his friends to be ready. The discussion begins with bleak reminders but it will end with light and life.
First the bad. Jesus’ description creates a horrifying mental image. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” Luke 21:26. Calamities and disasters are not pleasant. Think of hurricane Katrina that broke New Orleans in 2005. And that’s just one among many such earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, and natural disasters always occurring somewhere. A lesson is that nature isn’t kind and we can’t control continental plates or weather-related convulsions. And then there’s the human-made catastrophes such as wars, genocide, terrorism and pollution. One of the lessons here is that people can be as destructive as environmental forces. With both nature and humanity, people die and things get destroyed.
Bad stuff has always happened. The way Jesus describes it, world events will get worse before his return. When people first heard Jesus’ warnings they could think about the Romans occupying Israel and how such cruelty erupted into the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s great Temple in the year 70 (scarcely forty-years after Jesus’ departure). This would certainly seem like the end of history to those alive in Jesus’ generation. But the world didn’t end. Then over the centuries there were Vandals, Goths and Huns amid the fall of the Roman Empire, the threat of spreading Islam, the barbarous Dark Ages, ravaging plagues depopulating Europe, religious atrocities of the Reformation with Protestants and Catholics killing each other, Napoleon’s menacing empire, World War I (the war to end all wars), communism and the Great Depression, Hitler’s Holocaust and World War II, nuclear annihilation & the Cold War, 9/11 murder suicides, and the latest beheadings and Paris killings via Islamist ISIS. Whew! It’s exhausting because the cycle of bad news seems never to end.
Sure, each generation of people since Jesus can make a convincing case that their struggles meant the end of the world, that they would be the last and Jesus would return in their lifetime. Again, the world didn’t end. This proves the folly of those who enjoy chasing demons through the Bible’s Book of Revelation. The end may not be near, but the end is dear. Notice the fashionable sport of people preoccupied with matching news events with Jesus’ supposed traveling plans. It’s more popular than ever to anticipate destruction with a voyeuristic excitement. It’s as if enjoying box seats at the Apocalypse arena is something to look forward to. Death and destruction make a tempting fantasy world which can distract us from our end, our journey, our relationship with God.
There’s not much value in dwelling on the negative, so what is the greater point of Jesus’ warnings? Be aware that the universe is a dangerous place and we need a spiritual awakening. “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). On one level, Jesus is describing how terrible events will precede the end times, the era of final judgement and all the nightmarish fireworks. On a better level—and this is where we should focus—Jesus tells us to be ready because even if history doesn’t end, our life will. Apocalypses will come and go, prophecy will be popular or not, yet we have only one life. Therefore, we must emphasize spiritual wakefulness, rising from our soul slumber and being alert and mindful as we embrace God.
The stakes are high. We can never experience true satisfaction or have all the joy God wants for us until and unless we embrace God’s life-giving Spirit. This means cultivating an open heart and mind to receive God’s love and truth—now. The greatest trauma for any individual human is their end, their struggles and sufferings. So it is that our end deserves attention more than trying to figure out when the world will go to hell.
The question before each of us is this: Are you ready? God asks us if we are prepared, if we are able to withstand the trials and tribulations. Do you have a plan? God’s plan of salvation is also called the Gospel message, the good news of the forgiveness and blessings God provides today. Got God’s peace and joy? If you do, then that’s a wonderful disaster recovery plan. It won’t matter if or when the world ends because if you’re ready then it’s all good—at least as far as you’re concerned.
Have a wonderful Advent season. Welcome the Holy Spirit as your sure guide. I join with you in all the heavenly cheer as together we thank God for Thanksgiving and all the other divine reasons for the blessed seasons.