2nd Sunday in Advent, 2013
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
December 8, 2013
Luke 21:25-27 “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
On the surface, it seems that we have an anomaly with this Sunday’s Gospel selection from St. Luke. Doesn’t it seem strange to have a Gospel reading that presages the end of time, with all its horrific events, at the beginning of the Church Year? At first glance, we think it does.
Please note, this particular passage is known as the “small apocalypse” of St. Luke. It echoes, in many details, the Apocalypse of St. John in the book of Revelations. Some commentators see it as a preview, if you will, of that book. Others, usually of a more modern interpretative persuasion, see this passage as foretelling the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.[i] Honestly said, both interpretations have their value, and as if often the case with Biblical prophecy, it may very well be a case of “both and”, rather than merely “either-or.”
Still, at any rate, it may seem vaguely out-of-place. Certainly for this priest, prior to some heavy Biblical study, and some blessed enlightenment by the Holy Ghost, it certainly seemed that way for a long time.
Let’s briefly examine this passage and see why it actually has great significance for this Advent Season today and now, as well as for all Christians until the world’s end.
If one backs up a few verses in Ch. 21 of Luke, it begins with the disciples admiring the magnificence of the Temple, to which Christ replies that not one stone will be left upon another. To many students of the Bible, this reference clearly refers to the desolation of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and rightly so. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans, when they brought their leveling bars and turned Jerusalem into a pile of rubble after the revolt of 70 A.D.
What is amazing is that Temple, although magnificent, was only a faint reflection of the truly amazing Temple of Solomon, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and, as we know from our Biblical history, was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. At any rate, the disciples had to be amazed that Christ would make so amazing and dispiriting a prediction. They asked the obvious question, when will thing happen?
Jesus then gives a truly fearsome answer that many have thought to be about the end times, including a discussion of the Anti-Christ, wars and rumors of wars, nations against nations, and terrifying natural disasters. He also speaks of signs in the heavens, and persecution of Christians. Interesting, many of these things happen almost routinely in this fallen world. We have been experiencing some truly terrible natural disasters latterly, both abroad and in this country, with the recent tornadic activity, for example.
What sets Christ’s account of the end times apart from the routine effect of the curse under which the world labors, dating back to Adam and Eve, is the end result. After Christ describes the signs in the heavens, and the powers of heaven being shaken, he caps it with the announcement (Luke 21:27-28) ” And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”
This is where this passage begins to make a great deal of sense for our Advent journey.
The message for Christians is very plain: persevere to the end with faith, and your salvation will be secured. In short, “look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”
This is the point: one cannot celebrate the first coming of Christ without recognizing the reality of the Second Coming as well. That is, if one is blessed with faith, one knows that beginning at Nazareth ends with the cataclysmic ending at the end of time, when Jesus Christ finally reclaims what is rightfully His. He came the first time in great humility, and this is the Jesus, the world, especially the secular world, loves to admire. Virtually everyone has a soft spot for the Christ child, somewhere in their being.
Yet, it is the Second Christ that the secularists and non-believers reject. They can handle, maybe, the baby Jesus. However, they cannot abide, they cannot stomach, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He is portrayed in His glorious and divine Self. As Matthew 24:30 tells us “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Imagine the scene, with the skies literally splitting apart and Our Lord and Savior Christ coming to earth on a cloud with great glory. It will be terrifying enough for us Christians; imagine what those without any faith will feel….
As a theological aside, the cloud on which Christ will arrive will not be just any ordinary cloud. Most theologians believe that this is the Shikinah Cloud, the cloud that led Israel through Sinai, the cloud of glory that enveloped the temple in the Book of Ezekiel, and possibly the “Cloud of Winesses” that the writer of the Book of Hebrews spoke of. It was also the same cloud that overshadowed Christ and his three chosen disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. In short, it will not be ordinary.
One might be tempted, to say “So what?” Who cares what cloud Christ accompanies Christ? What is the big deal?
Beloved in the Lord, nothing that the Lord does is without significance. The point is, that when our Lord returns in power and great glory, He will not be alone. He will be accompanied with the host of heaven, and he will come in unspeakable power and great glory.
This is truly what we are celebrating today. We are not just celebrating the coming of our Lord and Savior, although that is incredibly and eternally significant. We are also celebrating the prediction of the completion of God’s Plan for His world. As we said, one simply cannot celebrate the First Advent of Christ without recognizing the reality and inevitability of the Second. What God the Father began through Christ, he will complete through Christ. Someday, the Great Cycle of Creation, Sacrifice, Resurrection and ultimate Redemption will be accomplished.
For this, we must offer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost eternal praise, honor, and glory, forever and ever.
The time is now. May we make the most of this Advent Season, as Our Lord and Savior draweth nigh. AMEN
Luke 21:27-28 “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”