Reading: Luke 21.20-28
Jesus said to the disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
I am sure that we all know a whole string of Old Wives’ Tales. The sort of saying and story that suggests an ‘obvious’ consequence of some natural phenomenon or action that we have observed or undertaken in our everyday lives. The reality of science has no place in the reasoning behind our acceptance of such ‘signs and portents’. I am sure you can all think of a few such ‘tales’: the misfortune that is supposed to be associated with Friday the 13th, eating carrots will improve your eyesight, spilling salt brings bad luck. The list goes on and on. All of these Old Wives’ Tales are, as we really know, nonsense. Whilst there may in some circumstance or environment have been some sort of coincidence that gave rise to them in the first place, does not make them true for evermore. But, of course, there are some signs and portents that do tell us of what could well happen in the coming days. In today’s reading Jesus warns us of such signs.
As Jesus’ earthly life draws towards its close, his message becomes increasingly uncompromising. Jesus does not wrap up the message of his second coming and the time of final judgement in fancy words or oblique stories. Jesus tells it the way it is. He begins by pointing out the obvious. If we are surrounded by vast hostile forces we recognize the fact that destruction is close at hand. He reminds us that such moments of human crisis and devastation know no boundaries, even the most vulnerable will be victims of the cruelty of their fellow human beings. But … Jesus goes on to speak of other signs and portents.
Throughout scripture we read of the time when this world will come to an end, and the time of God’s kingdom will be ushered in. As with the birth of babies, this will be accompanied, we are told, by a period of great pain. However, as with the coming of a new life into this world, the pain will be comparatively short lived, and it will be followed by great joy. Whatever devastation and pain humanity may inflict upon itself, whether it recognizes the signs of this world’s end or not, the Son of Man will come in glory. Jesus will return and God’s redemption will become manifest to all.
But … scripture also warns us that this coming of God’s kingdom will also be a time of judgement. There will be, for all of us, a time when we will be required to account for our words and deeds. We will face our God and account for how we have use the gifts and talents that he has bestowed upon us. Have we been compassionate and loving, as Jesus was? Have we been generous and accepting, as Jesus was? Have we set self to one side in order that we might serve those in greater need than ourselves, as Jesus did?
Jesus is warning us that the time of judgement will come for us all. He is also asking us what we are doing to prepare for it?