11.28.2021 First Sunday of Advent
“The Saviour of the World”
Domenikos Theotokopoulos -El Greco
(1541 - 1614)
The half-length figure of Christ looking directly out at us with his right hand raised in blessing, is a traditional form of composition.
The artist includes a crystal-like sphere or globe representing the world; more usually such pictures include a book of Scripture.
The extensive use of white, convey the idea of divine light.
El Greco made this work during the latter years of his career, when he moved from Crete to Toledo after spending some years in Venice and Rome. Nevertheless, both the iconography and the composition of “The Saviour of the World” recall his youthful style, inspired by Byzantine-type paintings.
Christ is depicted both as the Saviour of the World and the Light of the World.
The blessing gesture of his right hand – common in traditional Christian
iconography – combined with his calm direct gaze, emphasize the symbol of
Christ as Ruler of all.
The way his face is lit by a divine light which surrounds his head references
verses in the Holy Bible in which Jesus is symbolized as the light who will lead
people out of the darkness.
Luke 21: 25-36
25“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near’.
[29Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’.]
34 ‘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, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 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 takes up the idea of ‘signs’ and cosmic from upheavals from v.11. By now Luke has made it clear that these eschatological details are not to be associated with the fall of Jerusalem nor with any contemporary or near future moment: but faith in the eschatological final victory offers strong support to suffering, persecuted Christians of every age. The language here is very prophetic.
The psychological observations are proper to Luke. However, he borrows the term coming upon a cloud from the symbolical language from Prophet Daniel.
Your redemption is near
The last part of v. 28 is found only in the Gospel of Luke.
Only after the cosmic upheavals will the final achievement of the mission of Jesus (world redemption) be near. The Greek word for redemption, occurs only here in the Gospels.
In these four verses Jesus speaks of his return at the end of the world, and tells us of the signs which will indicate that his return is near.
The Bible is clear that the exact time of the return of Christ is not known, and cannot be known, yet Jesus gives us here some description of events in the world which will indicate that his return is near.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
This short parable is included here to unite VV. 29 and 31. The inclusion unites verse 28 affirming that ‘redemption is near’ and verse 31 which ends with similar expression, ‘the kingdom of God is near’.
The parable of the fig tree clarifies the meaning of the closeness of the Kingdom of God: No tree of Palestine seems so dead during winter as the fig tree; however, with the annual return of sap through the bare spiky twigs, the tree bursts with new life out of death.
The figure fits neatly into the teachings of Luke: Only after Christianity has weathered the storms of winter and experienced the agony of apparent death will ‘the kingdom be near’.
Luke drops the word ‘these’ in the phrase “till all things have been accomplished”. Therefore, he gives this saying attributed to Jesus a much more extensive meaning than the Gospel of Mark.
In the Gospel of Luke the description refers to the entire history of salvation. Prophet Jeremiah uses the image of the fig tree’s blossoming to signify divine blessing.
The budding of a fig tree is an image of the ‘coming of the end’, without signifying of course, that every time that a fig tree blooms, catastrophes are going to wreck creation.
Exhortation to Watch
“Praying at all times” is a recurrent idea in the Gospel of Luke. These verses conclude the discourse with an exhortation to vigilance. They are written in Greek style: Sudden trials will strike everyone, and so there is need of continual vigilance.
The meaning seems to suggest that a person living his/her present life determines how s/he will “stand before the Son of God”.
Jesus does not say these things to frighten us, but to prepare us for our final encounter with God. Our proper response is not to be terrified.
Luke wrote this Gospel three decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, when the people who knew Jesus in the flesh were already dying.
It seems unlikely that Luke would include this verse if he understood it to be applicable only to the contemporaries of Jesus.
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark conclude the parable of the fig tree saying: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”. This means that Jesus, in the Incarnation, accepted the limitations proper to his human state. Jesus admits having no knowledge of that day or hour, being this lack of knowledge one of those limitations as well.
“But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads”. Luke 21:28
“We shudder at signs we see.
Anxieties bombard us.
Our hearts are
Let us be vigilant, hold our heads high.
Make us an Advent people
with hope as our
You once came into our world with all its sorrows.
Keep us awake and alert to your presence
in the midst of our struggles now.
Tell us again that your love
Jesus is using traditional Jewish symbolism to describe what will happen when God's final judgment occurs. He says that people "will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud".
The cloud is a symbol for God's presence.
Jesus' message bursts with hope and confidence because, unlike those who have reason to fear his coming, Jesus' followers will be able to hold their heads high because their liberation is at hand.
Jesus urges us to be on guard so that our heart is not weighed down by the worries of life.
What are the worries and cares of life that weigh us down today?
As we prepare for a conversation with Jesus, can we bring our worries and cares to him in prayer?
Advent is a time that calls us to be alert to the signs of the hidden presence of God in our world.
What reminds us of this presence of God?
Have there been occasions when something woke us up in an unexpected way to the presence of God in the world, (through love, beauty, nature)?
Lord, may your coming be a glorious and redemptive event.
May we so live that, in the words of the hymn, “When you come, with shout of acclamation/And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!”
Jesus himself is the Model in this Gospel story as He taught his Disciples the spirituality of ‘waiting in joyful hope'.
What difference has watchfulness (in the sense of being watchful in prayer) made to us in facing difficult situations?
What should we pray for in the advent season?
Pray for joy and a sense of humour;
Pray for confidence in God's love for us and trust in His power to work things out for the best in our life;
Pray for a clear mind, and the ability to clearly communicate what we value to others;
Pray for purity, so we can grow as a person and encounter God more fully.
 Luke 21: 11: “There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven”.  Jeremiah 4: 23-26: “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger”. Amos 8:9: “On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight”. Micah 1:3: “For lo, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth”. Isiah 13:9: “See, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it”. Isaiah 34:4: “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall wither like a leaf withering on a vine, or fruit withering on a fig tree”.  Daniel 7:13: “As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him”.  “Apolyrosis”  Jeremiah 8:13: “When I wanted to gather them, says the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them”.  Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36  Philippians 2: 6-7: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself”.