When you are reading Luke 21, and especially when you are reading it with a small Bible study group over lunch, it's hard to avoid the subject of the "second coming." And it's even harder to avoid the question, "Is this it? Is this the time?" There are people (again) who are noticing the weather calamities, the political turmoils, all the signs that make us wonder whether it's time to quit your job and sit on your rooftop, or at least, get in the habit of praying more and going to worship more.
"Is this the time? And if it is, what is the appropriate response?"
Those are the sorts of questions we dealt with yesterday at our lunch Bible study. Or at least, those are the questions we started with. And we came up with all of the usual discussion points too: the points that there have been many times, in the last two millennia, that people have been sure that This Was It. And so far, they have been wrong. The points that Jesus also wants people to know, at other junctures in the Scripture, that no one really knows when he is coming back, so let's not start the count-down too early.
Then there is that verse that sticks out like a sore thumb: "Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place." What could Jesus possibly mean by this? One person offered the possibility that perhaps the word "generation" meant something different in those days. Unfortunately, the word "generation" meant then what it means now. And several generations have come and gone, and "the second coming" has not happened.
So, what does this mean?
I offered the opinion that this scripture was written about the end of the world, but not just about the "end of the world". This scripture was written about 'the second coming', but not just about the second coming. It was written both for the end time and for the 'meantime', which is where we are all now. And the exhortations are for us, whether we are living in the end times, or not.
I couldn't help noticing the juxtaposition of the big and cosmic signs in the sun and the moon and the stars, with the small and ordinary signs of the blossoming of the fig trees. Jesus is warning his disciples to 'stay alert' to the small things, in the midst of all of the big things that are happening. It's easy to focus on the big blasts of history and miss the signs of God's grace and unending love that are around us.
Who are these warnings written for? someone asked at the Bible study on Wednesday. I thought it was a very good question. We might think that the warnings are for the doubters and the unbelievers, but they aren't. The warnings and the exhortations are for us. They are to remind us that to hold fast to God's promises even when the signs of the times are against us, even (and especially) when the darkness descends. These verses from Luke aren't all that different from Paul's in Romans 8: "Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." not life or death. Not sun or moon or stars. Not wars or rumors of wars.
Hold fast to God's promises. Hold fast to the cross. Hold fast to the love of God in Christ. And live a life worthy of those promises: a life that values the vulnerable and honors the poor. Hold fast to God's promises.
Perhaps this is a message as much for the 'meantime' as it is for the end times, because the meantime can be pretty mean sometimes.