Today marks the beginning of Advent. The emphasis running throughout the Scriptures chosen for this season is watchfulness.
That watchfulness is now expressed in apocalyptic language loaded with emotion and expectation. Powerful and cosmic signs will accompany the coming Son of Man. Thus the Advent liturgy emphasizes constant vigilance rooted in prayer.
1) Signs of consternation. Luke’s Gospel makes it very clear what the great signs from heaven pointing to the final end mean. These signs will expand the cosmos: sun, moon, stars, and nations. All of this will cause great consternation. The result will be fear that could become fatal. This is not the first time the Scriptures have sounded such warnings. The Old Testament prophets forecasted such events centuries earlier (Is 13:10; Ez 32:7; Jl 2:30–31). In many ways, Luke is saying that what is coming upon the world can be understood as the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
2) The coming Son of Man. The result of this cosmic upheaval does not point primarily to the end of the world. It points to the monumental coming of the Son of Man. The language used comes directly from Daniel 7:13. He will come with power and great glory. This was the language the early Christians used to talk about the advent of Jesus. Therefore, Luke declares this event as the time when redemption is at hand. Because of this, the disciples are instructed to stand erect and raise their heads. This advent of the Son of Man means the end of persecution and terrors.
3) Be vigilant. Because no one knows the exact time when all of this will take place, many people might neglect the urgency to remain alert. The temptation is to slip back into the old familiar patterns of daily life. That will be a big mistake. Those who fail to remain watchful will be caught by surprise, and the result will be fatal. The instruction given to the disciples is twofold. First, be vigilant at all times. Second, pray for strength to avoid tribulations and to stand before the Son of Man. Luke knows just how difficult it is to keep people’s attention focused on events that appear far off. The issues of the day easily consume us. Remember: Be watchful!