Advent Possible: Reflections on Luke 21:25-36
December 2, 2012
Recently I've caught a couple of episodes of the reality show Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes to failing restaurants and helps them turn around. Here is a description from the show's website:
Turning around a failing restaurant is a daunting challenge under the best of circumstances. Attempting to do it in just two days with only $10,000 may be impossible. But Chef Robert Irvine is ready to take on the challenge. He'll channel MacGyver and use a lot of muscle to rescue these desperate places from complete collapse. Can one man, in two days, with just $10,000, turn the tide of a failing restaurant and pave the road to a successful future? Find out as Robert Irvine takes on Restaurant: Impossible.
What I like about the show is pretty much everything. From outdated décor to hip, from canned food to fresh, from surly to service-oriented staff, Chef Irvine overhauls the whole shebang with straight talk, great cooking skills, and a top team of contractors and designers.
I like the part where they show Chef Irvine driving to the town where the restaurant is located—Memphis, TN; Aptos, CA; or Kansas City, MO—talking about what he's going to try to find out and accomplish once he gets there. He only goes to restaurants that invite him. And when he arrives, he expects them to be ready with their own litany of what is going well and what needs to change.
Robert Irvine is no Christ figure, but there is an analogy here between our text and this human example of a dramatic overhaul driven by someone who knows what he's doing. The overhaul is only possible, though, if we'll allow our premises to be placed under new management.
That brings us to the person who's coming to town in the Lukan apocalyptic text for this week.
Luke's apocalyptic scenario in 21:25ff draws on the prophets (Is. 13:10, 34:4; Ezek. 32:7; Amos 8:9) and Old Testament apocalyptic literature (Dan. 7:13). It is indebted to Mark 13, as well (Ellis, 244). It points to the coming of the Son of Man, listing various signs of natural distress involving sun, moon, stars, and waves that portend his arrival.
The Son of Man is a saving figure that represents Israel in Daniel 7:13. Among the varieties of titles for saving figures in the gospels (Son of God, Messiah, Son of David), it may well be the only one Jesus used to refer to himself. It conveys the notions both of representative human and messianic judge. Jesus in his teachings and ministries seems to have combined the suffering servant figure in Isaiah with the Son of Man figure in Daniel.
Luke 21:25-36 can be read with a double referent to the already and the not yet, to the in-breaking of the kingdom already happening in Jesus' ministry and imminent death, and to the apocalyptic events that are to come at an unspecified future date. In Luke 12:54-56, Jesus has berated the crowds for knowing how to interpret the weather, but not the present time. In 17:20-27 he has taught that the coming of the Kingdom will be dramatic, but that there will be little advance warning. "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed . . . for the kingdom of God is among you" (17:21). Readiness requires discernment and alertness to signs of Jesus' presence now as well as what is to come.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.