OK, I admit I watch professional wrestling sometimes. And yes, I know it’s scripted and that the action is about as real as a choreographed movie fight. So what? Sometimes those are fun, too.
Two wrestlers in a popular (for the moment) tag team often begin their in-ring spiel with the question, “Are you ready?” When they ask this, the crowd responds affirmatively. But alas, their affirmation is unconvincing, so the wrestler must repeat himself: “No! I said, ‘Are! You! Ready!’” This time, the agreement hits the proper decibel level and he can continue with the rest of his promo, which is pretty much not appropriate for sermons.
Although I greatly doubt Jesus would have been a professional wrestler if that business had existed in his time, the promo parallels the way that Jesus talks to his disciples about the end times and his return here in Luke. He tells them that there will be signs that point to his coming, and those signs will be so overwhelming they will make people afraid of what’s happening.
Then they will “see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.” And he tells them when they see these things, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The question is unspoken, but it’s obviously there. When Jesus tells his listeners about the hard things they will see before he is fully revealed as the Messiah, and how they should act when it happens, what else would we think but that he’s asking them if they’ll be ready to do that when it does?
Perhaps, when he said this, he looked at the crowd to see what kind of response they had to his message. And whether through not understanding or misunderstanding what he said or some other response, he felt that he needed to ask the question again. Only instead of yelling it louder like the wrestler does, he used a parable.
Look, he said, when you see the fig tree sprout leaves, you know summer is near because you know that’s what fig trees do just before summer gets here. So when you see the kinds of things I’m talking about, then you’ll know what I’m talking about is going to happen. Even if you don’t really know what’s going to happen, you’ll still know it’s me doing what I said. So look out and don’t get so wound up in the cares of this world you forget I’m going to be building a new world.
Now, when we look at how the disciples responded when things started happening that fulfilled Jesus’ true mission, we can see they were not ready. There may not have been great turmoil in the world, but there was plenty within their own circle. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, the rest deserted him, and he was arrested and put on trial before Herod and Pilate. Falsely convicted, Jesus was sentenced to death and executed. Did the disciples “stand up and raise their heads?” No, they ran away. They – most of them, anyway – were not ready. And when he was revealed in his power and glory in the Resurrection, where they there to see it? No. Remember, they ran away.
Because he came to them later and revealed himself to them, they finally understood and began the work to which he’d called them, but that had a lot more to do with God’s mercy than with the disciples’ readiness.
And then the question of readiness expands even more, out to reach us living in our time.
As you’ve no doubt heard before, the signs of trouble that are supposed to point to Jesus’ coming are not unique to what we sometimes call “the end times.” They are parts of human history that are always with us. And so Jesus is always asking us, “Are you ready?” Are we ready to receive him, to stand up and raise our heads as our redemption draws closer? Or are we also weighed down with concerns than anchor us to things that don’t last and never will?
He’s come. As Christians, we believe that. We may never be able to prove it like we can prove George Washington was born or that Marie Curie helped discover radium, but we believe it and we base our lives on that, with God’s help.
Every Advent seems to sneak up on us, doesn’t it, hiding behind those Pilgrims and Indians like someone ducking down in the back row of the picture. For me, that’s a reminder than I’m not really ready for him, any more than the world was ready for him back then.
But I’m getting there.