If there is one season of the churches year that no woman could ever have dreamed up it is Advent. Not that a woman could not have thought about keeping a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ-Child but the topics chosen to be considered by the faithful in this time of preparation? No. sorry, couldn’t happen. By tradition, these four Sundays before Christmas are dedicated to the consideration of death judgement, heaven and hell which are not healthy topics for a woman in the later stages of pregnancy to be thinking about, nor are they where people want to go who are preparing for a joyous birth.
This year in the Anglican Calendar the gospel readings are taken from Luke, so that is where my thinking is tending.
The reading set for Advent Sunday was Luke 21: 25-38, one of those texts of which it is seemingly impossible for us to make any sense; a long teaching about the tribulations that will be visited upon the earth before the imminent End Time. It is with such texts that we are most confronted with the questions of interpretation, of the evolution of the message and of the context for which each gospel account was written. Luke wrote a good 50 years after the Jesus events, after the death of Paul and after the fall of Jerusalem. Symbolically Paul’s death signified that the mission to the gentiles, i.e., to the world, was accomplished, therefore the work of salvation was done in the sense that ‘the world’ had now been admitted into the Kingdom. It is impossible for us, so far removed from their world view, to imagine how they understood the Resurrection and its cosmological significance.
We cannot ‘shrink’ our universe to theirs, we cannot see planet Earth as the centre of a universe designed entirely for the benefit of that one planet; sun, moon and stars there for our light. In such a universe heaven and earth are more nearly entwined, God is much closer and more intimately involved with His people. Until this time His people had been one seemingly insignificant race, now His care had been extended to encompass the whole world. We can barely imagine what that meant either to Jews or to Gentiles; the changes in our understanding and acceptance of different races and cultures are the best clues we have.
Our understanding is further removed from the ancient world because we are more inclined to hold a strict view of truthful reporting, (well we believe in it even if we don’t always get it). To state that someone said this that or the other we expect it to be verifiable that they did say it. It is a different statement from “This is what they meant” or “This is what they would have said if they’d been around at the time”. To believe you knew the mind of the original speaker well enough to speak for them was not an exceptional or peculiar thing to do in that world. We do not accept such an approach as valid but it made sense in the archaic world view, where there were different kinds of truth, symbolic, poetic etc. We tend to be hooked on the (questionable) notion of verifiable historic truth. Taking an alternative view of truth into account we can see these End Time saying of Jesus contextually, and interpret them symbolically – or leave them alone in the too hard basket!
Here is one commentator’s exposition that could apply even up to the present:
This is interpretation allows us to skirt around the very uncomfortable question of whether Jesus got it wrong, which leads into another, far reaching enquiry. In ordinary, mundane matters did Jesus of Nazareth have the consciousness, world view and understanding consistent with a man of His time or was He in everything transcendent in His point of view? This is an important question for today. In matters spiritual, advanced souls in every age have shown a wider, transcendent understanding of spirituality while their language and their earthly comprehension is still bounded by the consciousness of their time. If this were not true of Jesus, can He still be considered truly human – this takes us back to the Monophysite heresy, which claimed Jesus only had one nature, not two. Orthodoxy claims “He was like us in everything save only in sin”. This in turn brings us once again to the subject of sin, what it is and how does our understanding differ from that of the ancient or Medieval world?
Can a human being grow and develop to full maturity if they never make a mistake? If someone never makes a mistake, can they be considered fully human? My blog on Jesus cursing the fig tree goes into this problem at greater depth, but now the consideration leads us into the topic for Advent II.
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