Year C: First Sunday of Advent

The Coming of the Son of Man

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens* will be shake. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are you waiting for and hoping to receive this Advent?
  2. In what ways are you more awake and aware during Advent? What brings this about for you?
  3. When have you felt a call from God that if accepted, would change your life? How did you know it was God’s call?
  4. Beyond the practice of your faith, how do you live a life of faithfulness in the day-to-day of your experience?
  5. What are some events you might interpret as “signs” of Jesus coming into your life?

Biblical Context

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

Our Gospel on the first Sunday of Advent is the middle of a conversation. Therefore, in order to understand what Jesus is saying, we have to put today’s passage in the context in which it appears in Luke’s Gospel.

“Some people” have commented on “how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings” (Luke 21:5). Jesus tells them, ‘All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). Jesus is warning the people of coming persecution. (In fact, the Romans did persecute Christians and destroy the temple in AD 70, some fifteen years before Luke’s Gospel took its present form, around AD 85.

On hearing of the coming persecution, the people ask, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” (Luke 21:7). While today’s Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ response to this question, it is not his first response. Before saying what we read in the Lectionary reading, Jesus gives further detail about their coming persecution: “… they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name” (Luke 21:12).

In today’s Lectionary passage, however, Jesus is describing not only the coming persecution but a final, culminating event, the coming of the Son of Man. It is much easier to understand what Jesus is saying if we know a little about what is called apocalyptic writing and apocalyptic imagery.

Apocalyptic writing is a kind of writing that was very popular in Israel for a period of four hundred years, from 200 BC to AD 200. It was always addressed to people facing persecution, and it always offered them hope. Here the hope Jesus offers is the coming of the “Son of Man” who will save the people. Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

Apocalyptic writing often uses apocalyptic images, that is, cosmic persecution will be. Jesus uses this kind of imagery when he says, ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

When Jesus describes the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” he is quoting another apocalyptic passage from the Book of Daniel. In that book Daniel has a vision in which God sends someone to save the people from persecution:

“As the visions during the night continued, I saw

One like a son of man coming,

on the clouds of heaven;

When he reached the Ancient One

and was presented before him,

He received dominion, glory, and kingship;

nations and peoples of every language serve him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

that shall not be taken away,

his kingship shall not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13-14)

In its initial setting the author of the Book of Daniel was assuring his fellow Jews, who were suffering persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BC-164 BC), that God would send a “son of man” to save them. The phrase son of man became a messianic title, the only messianic title that Jesus uses in reference to himself in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke). Here Jesus is promising his followers that he himself will come to save them from persecution. When Jesus comes the people’s redemption will be at hand.

After assuring the people that he will save them, Jesus cautions the people to be constantly vigilant for the coming of the Son of Man: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

The Lectionary omits the verses that seem to say that Jesus’ second coming will also be imminent: “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Luke 21:32). By the time Luke is writing, the second coming is already overdue. Since no one knows when exactly it will occur, the message for Luke’s audience, and for us, is that we must always be ready.  This message, always relevant, is particularly relevant during Advent when we not only recall Jesus’ first coming, but also prepare for his daily coming into our lives.

Faithfulness Not Forecasting

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

We are living in the Season of Advent, and I do not simply mean the four Sundays before Christmas. Advent is much more than that. Advent is that in-between time of waiting, not knowing, and darkness. We stand on the threshold, in liminal space, neither here nor there, betwixt and between, stuck in the middle. Advent is that season in which life as we knew it is no longer and the new life to come is not yet. It means we live in transition, knowing that everything has changed and is changing but not yet able to clearly see the way forward. So, we wait and we watch.

I suspect each of you could tell an advent story of your life: waiting and watching at the bedside in the hospital, a time when your marriage was not what it used to be, and you were not sure what it would be or if it even would be. Maybe it was the death of a loved one or watching your child struggle to grow up. Advent comes in the midst of a job loss, a business failure, and financial uncertainties. One day we realize that life as we planned it did not happen and we now have no idea who we are or where we are going in life – it is the Season of Advent. The uncertainty of the diagnosis but not the prognosis takes that us into Advent time. The national economy, the war in Afghanistan, the division within the Church and within our communities all reside within the Season of Advent – it is not like it used to be and we are left to wonder what it will be.

Today’s gospel reminds us that Advent is not just a season of the church year; it is a reality of life. Jesus has taken the disciples into the Advent of their lives. The disciples are admiring the temple and the large stones. Jesus tells them that change is coming and it will feel like your world is falling apart – “the temple of your life will fall” you will hear news of wars, insurrections, earthquakes, famines, plagues; some will be arrested and persecuted; there will be signs in the sun, moon, stars and on earth distress among nations; you will be scared to death over what is happening. That all sounds pretty familiar to me. It sounds like real life, and it is a pretty good description of what it is like to live in midst of significant change, in the times of uncertainly, in those threshold moments of life.

Usually, Advent brings us more questions than answers. Will everything be, ok? Will I be, ok? Will those I love be, ok? When will all this happen and what will it be like? Show me a sign that everything will be ok. And mostly we want to go back to what it used to be like. But we cannot do that. God does not take us back to the past. God does not undo what has happened in our lives. Instead, God redeems what has happened. Advent is not so much about the loss of what was; it is rather about the coming redemption, about what will be. Every time we tell the story of Advent in our lives, we also proclaim that our redemption is drawing near. The season of waiting, of unknowing, and darkness is also the season in which redemption is drawing near. And there will be signs Jesus says.

The signs will be as ordinary as a fig tree putting on leaves, as common as the sun, moon, and stars that we see every day. Jesus seems to be saying that we will know them when we see them. They will be signs of light, new life, and growth. When or how this happens, we cannot say. But if we are not careful our time will be spent looking for and trying to read signs. We will be so focused on the signs we will miss the reality of standing before the Son of Man.

Jesus does not call us to forecasting about our lives. He calls us to lives of faithfulness – here, now, in this place, in this moment – in this Season of Advent. We are not prognosticators of the faith but practitioners of the faith. The way through this Season of Advent and into the future, into the ever-coming redemption, ends up being a life of simple faithfulness in the present.

These are the practices of an Advent faith. This is the faithfulness to which Jesus calls us. They are simple practices and yet some of the most difficult work we ever do.

We do not get to determine or control the timing, circumstances, or conditions of our Advent. We do, however, choose how we respond to our Season of Advent. We choose whether or not we will stand up, raise our heads, be on guard, be alert, and pray. It is not a one-time choice. We must choose our Advent practices day after day and sometimes even moment to moment. As we live into those practices, we discover that we are no longer looking for signs. Our own life has become the sign of redemption drawing near.

Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.


Reflection Excerpt from Interrupting the Silence: Fr. Michael K. Marsh