“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:25-36
The lectionary gospel text for the first Sunday of Advent, Luke 21:25-36, is Jesus foretelling the end of the world. As I listened to the passage read at a contemplative Eucharist service, it wasn’t the descriptions of terrifying events that got my attention. It wasn’t the warnings to be on guard, to not have a heart weighed down with worries of this life. It was a simple word, a small word, easily overlooked yet full of meaning. The word was “near.”
Jesus says that when all these events take place, “you know that the kingdom of God is near.” To think of the nearness of God turns this apocalyptic passage into one of promise for me because the God who is near at the end of the world is also near now, regardless of the circumstances in the world around us.
Advent is that season when we prepare for God’s nearness, God’s in-breaking into the world. God is not some distant deity but a God who came to us wearing skin, as a helpless baby. We romanticize this event, but the notion that God chose to come among us not with might and power but in the most powerless form of all, should be as alarming as Jesus’ description of the end of time.
The paradox of God is that God comes near both in power and in weakness. We do not have to fear the in-breaking of God into the world, either as a baby or as the one who shakes the world. Advent urges us to make space within our hearts for this God who comes near. We can sweep out the worries of this life out of our hearts and instead invite the Prince of Peace to dwell therein.