“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor.”
Luke 21:25-27 (Common English Bible)
When Abraham Lincoln stood to deliver the Gettysburg Address, he added two words that were not in the address as originally written. Written on the pages before him were the words, “That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom…” However, when Lincoln actually delivered that line, what he spoke was, “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” Those two words have now become a rich part of our national vocabulary. However, when Lincoln added those two words, unplanned and freely, it was unusual. What Lincoln sought to do is declare his deep and abiding conviction that the destinies of all people and their governments, including this one, are not beyond the reach and activity of God. It is precisely this conviction that Luke’s Gospel declares. When the unusual appears in the sky and upon the earth it will not be a phenomenon apart from God. It will be an intentional act of God, God “coming on a cloud with power and great splendor.”
Occasionally, there emerges a fascination and speculation of when the end of the world is drawing near. Some will make observations that seem to suggest that the end is imminent. Luke’s Gospel is not critical of such contemplation of the end – Jesus himself engaging in such contemplation. However, Jesus’ contemplation is not for the sake of marking a date on the calendar. Its purpose is for sanctifying the present moment. Rather than concern for a specific date when the world will end, this teaching has to do with discipleship, what it means to follow Christ both in our behavior and in relationship with others. The “Human One” is returning to earth. Life will not go on forever, day after day, year after year, without some conclusion. All of history is moving toward an end. That knowledge is for positively influencing the decisions made today, decisions of the manner in which we live.
A significant shift of thought appears at the thirty-sixth verse, “Stay alert at all times.” What does that look like in the lives of disciples today? What spiritual practices or disciplines are available that will keep our eyes focused upon God’s presence and work today? This is a call to intentional activity, not a passive waiting for the end. Here is a summons that we live purposefully, deriving our strength for living faithfully from the exercise of prayer. Spiritual disciplines, such as worshipping regularly, praying daily, learning and applying God’s word, participating in a ministry, and giving financially to the work of the church are means by which we begin to imitate Jesus. They are the means by which we give ourselves over to the work of the Holy Spirit in such a manner that we see the image of God increase in our heart. Simply, such spiritual disciplines are how we take responsibility for our own growth, how we honor Christ’s call to “Stay alert.”
Richard Gribble tells a helpful story of a woman who made a discovery quite accidentally in her basement. One day she noticed some forgotten potatoes had sprouted in the darkest corner of the room. At first, she could not figure out how they had received any light to grow. Then she noticed that she had hung a copper kettle from a rafter near the cellar window. She kept the kettle so brightly polished that it reflected the rays of the sun from the small window onto the potatoes. She would later say to a friend that when she saw that reflection, and the growth that it nurtured, she realized that she can be a “copper kettle Christian” – she can catch the rays of the Son of God and reflect his light to some dark corner of life. This teaching of Jesus announces that in that last day, each of us will “stand before the Human One.” Perhaps there is no better preparation for that future day than learning to reflect his light in the present.