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The Way Ahead Is By Unceasing Prayer

Advent I

Introduction

Our first Gospel reading in Advent seems to begin at the end! That has got to start anyone thinking. Many sincere readers after reading or hearing the text are somewhat perplexed. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and we don’t really want to have to front up to this kind of material. We would rather just think of the nice happy ideas associated with Christmas.

However Advent as a season, the first in the Church’s year, helps us to face and understand very fundamental issues in the Faith. Yes, there is an element of fear and apprehension but that is exactly what our Lord, in this intensive instruction, helps us to deal with and leave behind forever.

Remember, this is the Lord’s final teaching before he is betrayed by his close friend, Judas; only a short time before, seemingly, the world would come to an end for Jesus and crush him to death.

What He teaches here, He is about to put into practice Himself. Let’s now walk slowly through this daunting passage, and hear what He is saying to those who are prepared to listen.

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Reflections on our Text

Verses 25 and 26

“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 shaken.”

This is the apocalyptic imagery of the Old Testament.

Notice only two or three sentences are given to describing the extent of the turbulence. Clearly the whole of creation is part of his vision. Not one of his listeners will not be surrounded by the turbulence, and there will be nowhere to go in the hope of escaping. There will be dreadful anguish and perplexity, but our Lord does not yet indicate who will experience these: only that all will be surrounded by the disturbance and only some will be able to withstand.

Verse 27

And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

Then in one short sentence He contrasts the horror of the apocalypse with an event that will far surpass all else beyond any human knowledge: the Son of Man will come in a cloud “with great power and majesty”. This emphasis is critical in understanding the meaning of our Lord’s teaching.

Read Daniel 7: 13 and 14, and note how Jesus identifies Himself as the subject of Daniel’s prophecy. The words “with the clouds” are an intended reference to this vision.

“I beheld therefore in the vision of the night, and lo one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and he came even to the Ancient of Days: and they presented him before him.

And he gave him power and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7: 13 and 14

Despite the extent of the cosmic upheaval, the advent of the Son of Man suppresses all disorder and disharmony before Him.

Verse 28

“But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” When these things begin to take place — stand by!

Before the Lord explains how we are to escape the furies, somewhat surprisingly He says: Stand up and lift up your head. His followers are not to be distraught but are to be confident and are to demonstrate this. They are not to cower in the corner but to hold up their heads and behold the coming of Lord! For the promised delivery and glory is at hand.

Verses 29 to 33

He taught them a lesson. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.

When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;

in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.

Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

These words of our Lord have always been difficult for the ordinary reader to understand. We present here a rather solid explanation which we need to read carefully and ponder. It helps us to realise that our Lord is trying to give His disciples a means of interpreting events in a way which will help them not lose faith despite the ever-increasing turmoil around us.

Luke brings out more clearly than the other Evangelists that it is a parable which our Lord is here speaking. What He wants to do is give them an example how to act forming their judgment of the times. This applies to everything, as much to one event as to another. Our Lord had described the fall of Jerusalem so clearly that the disciples, as soon as they saw the armies on the spot, could realise that the time had arrived. So the parable can be applied to Jerusalem; as soon as the trees show their leaves, the summer comes.

As soon as one of Our Lord’s sayings is realised, the other will, follow quickly upon it. Once more at the end of the world the same will happen, but somewhat differently. When the signs in the sun and the moon occur, and when the mighty terror falls upon the nations, then they must recognise — “this is the time which Our Lord meant”. When the fig tree puts forth its leaves, the summer is near; all the same, some time, short though it may be, has still to elapse. The period of these final signs, therefore, will not last just one day any more than the others. On the contrary, in this time, short as it may be, men will find it very necessary indeed to remind themselves that all these are the signs which must immediately precede the Second Coming of Our Lord and the beginning of the final redemption.

[From: The Gospel of Saint Luke, by Joseph Dillersburger. Published in English by Newman, Maryland, 1958.]

Verses 34 and 35

“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.

You may wish to read 1 Thessalonians 5: 1—3; 7, 8—10, and v. 18.

“Be careful! Be warned!” As Jesus explains, “You are just as prone to get side-tracked into seeking instant pleasure and self-gratification as anyone else. If you follow that path you can expect to get trapped. Don’t be surprised; just wake up to the fact”. This is the Lord’s sobering warning about:

  • dissipation: treating the gift of life frivolously;
  • drunkenness: living for excessive pleasure;
  • anxieties: over pre-occupation with even very important and necessary things in life.

Take care, He says.

Verse 36

“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.”

Only now does he “declare his hand”. What is the way through all of this — what is the “escape clause”? The answer lies in a commandment for those who consider themselves disciples of the Messiah: as He said it literally —

“Watch then, praying at all times.” For what purpose?

“That you may be accounted worthy…. ” In other words: That you will have spent your time and energy developing what it takes to stand before me and beside me. Only then will you escape the confusion, the contamination and the conflict that surround you.”

Our Lord is pointing out to his faithful disciples down through the ages that the anxiety and tragedy he is warning about need only afflict those who choose to live a way of life based on worldly, unspiritual values. He is saying, “Never give up keeping watch and praying, and you will be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

This is not scare tactics.
This is a message of hope.
Unceasing prayer is the way.

Conclusion

Yet again we hear the Lord declare with uncompromising clarity, what at first hearing, we do not wish to be concerned about. Only as we ponder what He said do we realise His stark warning contains within it a beautiful message of hope, a promise of loving care and attention from Him.

At first He seems to ask the impossible. But on reflection He offers a way through. The Christians of the first two centuries took his words very much to heart: “Watch then, praying at all times.” They (and their fellow disciples down through the ages) devised a number of ways to keep watch and retain a spirit of prayer, yet to live responsibly as productive members of society.

You may like to read: Unceasing Prayer: What Is It?