Advent Possible: Reflections on Luke 21:25-36

Lectionary Reflections
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 From outdated décor to hip, from canned food to fresh, from surly to service-oriented staff, Chef Irvine overhauls the whole shebang with straight talk, great cooking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.

To prepare for Jesus' future Advent, we need to notice and respond to his current presence. We are pretty good at selective noticing. There are lots of situations that are already present and developing in our lives that we manage to ignore. We are pretty good at noticing what we want and ignoring what we don't. There are things happening right now as I write and as you read that we aren't noticing but that, eventually, will demand our total attention and immediate response.  

Our children or grandchildren are growing up while we are preoccupied with adult responsibilities and anxieties. Soon they will stand nearly grown before us, and we'll wonder where the time went.

Conditions are occurring within our bodies with symptoms we may be ignoring that, one day, will demand our attention. 

A relationship may be fading due to lack of attention. One day we may face its loss with surprise, because we didn't see it coming.

Climate change, economic crises, the rise of religious intolerance—things are happening, and it shouldn't just be the professional futurists who are taking note. There will come a time, if there hasn't already, when these developments demand our immediate and full attention.

On the positive side, there are relationships that beckon us and opportunities that are open to us that we may not be noticing.

Someone who can save us is coming—is already here, actually. But we must do our part. We must be alert and be at prayer (21:26), so that we are sprouting leaves and bearing figs as good fig trees should do at the end of summer. Noticing the presence of the one who is coming is a key skill that replaces other habits, like fainting from fear and foreboding or being caught in a trap of dissipation or anxiety (21:34-35). We are to stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption is drawing near (21:28).

Jesus did not give in to fear and foreboding. He sought strength for what lay ahead in prayer. At the end of this apocalyptic passage in Luke, we are told that, "Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives." We would do well to follow his example in the weeks ahead.

Sources Consulted

Howard Marshall, The New International Greek Testament Commentary on Luke (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978).

Edward Earle Ellis, The New Century Bible Commentary: The Gospel of Luke (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981).