a biblical reflection, based on Luke 21.25-36, for the 1st Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2015
To whom did Jesus’ terrifying words matter, make sense? His people. Those who, believing in a divine and dynamic arc of history, awaited the coming Day of the Lord.
Why wouldn’t they? Oppressed by the occupying Roman Empire – and previously by the Persians, then the Greeks – their national life was the experience of the Book of Job writ large. A prophecy of the end of history and the inauguration of God’s righteous reign would be glad tidings, a sign, in the words of Jesus, that their “redemption is drawing near.”
Perhaps, then, it is those at any time whose daily existence is heavy laden with a sense of suppression’s strife and suffering for whom apocalyptic words are not strange, but the longed-for song of a promised new age. Perchance this explains why subjugated peoples of any era respond to cries of revolution and calls for action, whatever the theme or tone, whether the voice is that of a César Chávez, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malcolm X, or Malala Yousafzai, and whatever the cause and however distinct and divergent, inclusive or divisive, whether Black Lives Matter, ISIS, or Occupy Wall Street.
But can this be the only truth? Is it only those who bear the burden of oppression of the worldly-powers-that-be for whom the language of cosmic upheaval bears meaning? What about anyone who, for the most part, lives largely above the middle – knowing more joy than sorrow, triumph more than defeat, or, perhaps at worst, in nearly equal measures? Even for those of us whose lot in life is such as this, blessedly falling far short of the boundaries of oppression, still have our share of worries and woes. Thus I hear the voice of Jesus urging all of us to “stand up…raise our heads…look…be on guard…be alert at all times.”