Luke 21, 25-28.34-36
At that time Jesus said to his disciples: 'Signs will be seen in the sun, moon and stars, and on earth the nations will be dismayed and perplexed at the raging and thundering of the sea. Men will perish with fear in anticipation of the things that are coming upon the earth; for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the Son of Man will be seen coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When all these things begin, straighten up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand. Take heed lest intoxication and drunkenness and the cares of everyday life confuse you, and lest that day surprise you suddenly, as one falls into a trap; for it will fall upon all the inhabitants of the whole earth. Watch and pray always, so that you may escape all that will happen and come before the Son of Man.
"In those days Jesus said to his disciples, 'Signs will be seen in the sun, moon and stars, and on earth the nations will be dismayed and perplexed at the roaring and thundering of the sea.' Men will perish with fear in anticipation of the things that are coming upon the earth; for the powers of heaven will be shaken." (cf. verse 25-26)
As at the end of the old church year, so also at the beginning of the new one, the goal of our lives is before our eyes: the coming of the Lord. All generations should be prepared for the Lord to come at any time. Our lives are determined by the goal. But because so many people live aimlessly without carrying the return of the Lord in their hearts, their lives are often so empty, random and meaningless. The coming of the Lord means the beginning of the great and eternal wedding, the eternal climax of our lives. From there, our lives take on meaning, even all that is sometimes incomprehensible and difficult in our lives. For it is precisely the adversities that should and can help us to prepare for the coming of the Lord, for the highest goal of our life.
Today's Gospel sounds very distressing to us at first, but the final sentence shows us the attitude in which we are to approach the Lord in all this collapse as it is described here: "When all this begins, straighten up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand". (cf. verse 28) But it is preceded by a nameless fear that will fill the whole human world. The Secret Revelation also knows such thoughts and statements.
The Lord, thus, announces a heavy nightmare of dark forebodings that precede his return. We are given signs, i.e., the Lord does not simply leave us to chance. The believer knows these signs and when the elements rage, he suspects that this is a sign and he must consider: Am I ready? In this sense, even the "smaller" natural disasters that do not affect and encompass the whole human world are indications of the coming of the Lord and we should therefore let ourselves be shaken by them again and again: Am I now, at this time, really ready for the coming of the Lord? Above all, Jesus mentions fear and perplexity that fill the world of the nations, i.e., two terms that should sound very familiar to us in our time. Fear and perplexity we find everywhere today. It fills the world of the nations. That alone would be a sign that should constantly remind us today of the coming of the Lord. The raging of the sea is a reminder of terrible things to come upon the earth. Just think of the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia with over 230,000 deaths. That was a terrible catastrophe and a powerful premonition. But unfortunately, a large part of humanity did not perceive it as a sign at all and therefore nothing has changed in this world.
The shaking of the celestial forces shows the dissolution of the previous course of the world, but also the dawn of a new world order. Saint Hildegard once said: "The elements defend themselves against man. Man destroys the elements through his sin. This statement is of course not scientific and therefore per se uninteresting for today. But we also find this reality in the Secret Revelation. The four living beings around the throne that send the angels of mischief to strike the world are the four elements earth, water, air and fire. So, the elements defend themselves against man, but at the same time they are a sign that Jesus is coming near.”
That people will perish from fear means, on the one hand, that everything will shake and fall apart. At the same time, however, people will also pass away, i.e., die of fear, because at the coming of the Lord they will see their whole life in his light. It will, as it were, run before them once more like a film, some will perhaps even die of it in the sense of dying forever, in the sense of missed opportunities.
"Then shall the Son of man be seen coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When this begins, straighten up and lift up your heads, for your redemption is at hand." (cf. verse 27-28)
But in the midst of the chaos, the Son of Man will appear. And he will come again in the same way as he ascended into heaven, namely on a cloud: " When he had said this, he was lifted up before their eyes, and a cloud received him and withdrew him from their sight. While they looked steadfastly up into heaven after him, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, saying, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1, 9-11)
But Jesus also speaks to the disciples in today's Gospel about the expectation and joy of his approach. When they see all these signs, they are not to be afraid or frightened, but full of expectation and joy. So, we too have no reason for despair or fear if we are people of faith and take this Word of God seriously. This is the decisive difference: through the same signs, some will experience fear, even mortal fear, while others will experience joy. Perhaps this passage also means a twofold coming of the Lord. But there is no ecclesiastical decision on how this passage is to be understood: whether the coming of Jesus in glory and the coming of Jesus for judgement are the same. But when Jesus comes in the power of his divinity, this can really cause a fright, a fear, from which some will die.
"Take heed that intoxication and drunkenness and the cares of everyday life do not weigh down your hearts, and that that day does not suddenly surprise you like a trap; for it will fall upon all the inhabitants of the whole earth." (cf. verse 34-35)
Jesus speaks these words only a few days before his suffering and his own death. Therefore, he warns his disciples to beware lest their hearts become dulled or burdened by superficiality or hedonism. This can easily happen, for example, through gluttony, drunkenness, or other addictions, or through an excessive concern for making a living. All this robs the clarity and sobriety of the spirit and people forget the most important thing, namely the coming of the Lord. Then they will also overlook the signs that precede his return: They no longer really reckon with the coming of the Lord, because they are totally caught up in this world, with superficial things, e.g., also with pleasure-seeking. It is then only a matter of surviving here to some extent. But all this robs us of clarity and sobriety of spirit.
Jesus makes it very clear here that in the expectation of the Lord we should not only avoid the unlawful, but - in view of the worries of everyday life – also, deal wisely with the lawful and not take it more important than the coming of the Lord. Of course, we are allowed to worry about our lives in a good sense, about what is necessary for life.
In spite of all the signs given, the Day of the Lord will ultimately come as a surprise to believers. The signs are only meant to keep us in readiness, but the great day itself will nevertheless be unexpected even for the believer. For those who live carelessly in earthly security, it comes as a snare. This image denotes the unexpected and the perishable. And the literal translation "those who dwell or sit upon the face of the whole earth" suggests a quiet, comfortable sitting, so that they are caught at the very first rope that is thrown over them. They can no longer get up and escape.
"Watch and pray always, that ye may escape all things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of man." (cf. verse 36)
Because that day will suddenly overtake all those who live in earthly security, a constant vigilance is necessary. We should only be prepared and consciously walk towards the goal. We should always have Jesus in mind and really expect this climax of our life, which lasts an eternity. Then we will always act and behave in the right way. How quickly and unexpectedly our personal life can come to an end. That is why constant vigilance is necessary, regardless of what we are doing at the moment.
But this call of Jesus is about both: prayer and watchfulness. Many people pray, but they do not watch. They are not prepared for the coming of the Lord. They live in sin and think they can sort everything out before he comes. But this is a deception, and such people do not really expect the Lord. In the end, they do not live with expectation, but in constant fear that he might come after all, if they are not prepared for it.
These last words of Jesus about his return show us the epitome of supreme bliss. And that is the wonderful thing. That is the ultimately joyful message of these words, which at first seem so frightening and oppressive. Let us allow ourselves to be addressed by this message of joy and begin the new church year with this determination, with the outlook and the expectation of the goal. ∎