5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”
8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name.18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.
Luke 21: 5-19 (CEB)
(For use with the MORNING Daily Prayer)
This reading for Advent is the opening of the third of Luke’s three major discourses that position disciples—and readers listening in—for the future that beckons. Jesus highlights challenges to faith that his followers will face and underscores the importance of persevering faithfulness that trusts the future to God. As time stretches on, people of faith who seek to bear witness to the truth they know will experience hardship, and they may come to wonder why the fulfillment of God’s purposes seems to delay so long. Where is God? Where is the evidence of God’s presence and faithfulness? When will help come? How long must we wait?
Right after Jesus has commented on an impoverished widow’s sacrificial donation to the temple treasury of “all she had to live on,” some of Jesus’s companions are impressed by the beauty and opulence of the temple buildings (v. 5). Jesus has a different perspective: sometime in the future, the temple will be a heap of rubble (v. 6)—as indeed happened a generation later, with the Roman armies’ destruction of the temple in the year 70. Where do we place our trust: in money, buildings (even sacred sanctuaries)? Or in God?
Jesus then responds to concerned questions about the when and how of this worrisome future. There will be a long period of turmoil, strife, and distress, but these do not mean the End is near. The disciples will have work to do in the meantime: in a world stressed and distressed, they have a calling, to bear witness to the truth they know. If they are faithful to that calling, they will meet opposition and peril, but God will be their guide and support, and through it all will never abandon them (vv. 12–19).
So this passage issues a summons to faithful service of God in the meantime. But it also offers a message of consolation and hope, as we read through to the end of the discourse (vv. 20–36), and through to the end of the story (the Easter narrative in Luke 24, and on into the book of Acts). The Acts narrative shows the fulfillment of the picture of discipleship challenge and hardship Jesus previews in 21:12–19. But the challenges to faithful discipleship extend into our own time.
We hear the eschatological tones in advent texts like this one with some bafflement and perhaps even discomfort if we inhabit spaces of privilege. But we need to attend to this aspect of life and experience, of our world, if we are truly to ready ourselves for the advent of a Savior who will disrupt comfortable patterns of life and relationship and society that are also oppressive and death-dealing.
So we pray, with the early church: Maranatha: “Come quickly, Lord!” Even into our space and time: come to deliver, to bring release, to bring life; come by your Holy Spirit to sustain us in faithful living and restore our hope, even and especially when the evidence of our eyes and ears tells us there is little reason to hope.
A Prayer for the Seventh Day of Advent
God of every season of life: in this season of waiting and longing, we are all too aware of world events and personal experiences that cry out for a word of healing, of hope. By your Spirit, kindle renewed hope within us. Help us to trust in your faithful working in our lives and in the world even now. And help us to face the future—with all its unknowns—as people of hope. May we find ways to foster that life-nurturing hope and faith in others among and around us. Maranatha: Lord, come. And in the meantime, guide us, encourage and strengthen us, give us courage to be your persistent voices of witness in a too-broken world. Amen.
Harriet Robertson Fitts Memorial Professor of New Testament