Television news reports people scrambling into big box stores on “Black Friday” to purchase television sets, game consoles, high definition earphones, and expensive toys. Many had spent the night waiting for electronics retailers to open, discount and department stores required their employees to work on Thanksgiving Day, and people clogged the internet to buy bargains of all sorts. Before all that, however, we have been inundated with advertisements encourage to buy, and to buy, and then buy some more, and then buy even more. We certainly do not want to disappoint our family and friends by not getting the right and expensive gift for them at this time of the year, do we? It is the Christmas spirit. No, it is not; it is a distraction from the reality the world faces.
As the towers of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, people asked, “Why do they hate us so much?” It was a valid question. The indications were that the West could find a way to live in peace with Middle Eastern terrorists. Recall, however, we were not focused on the Middle East or any part of the world other than our own. Congress spent much of its time leading up to 2001 investigating the peccadillos of the President. A salacious report was released, impeachment proceedings captured the headlines, and the Senate held the trial, failing to convict the president. An Intelligence Advisory, mostly ignored by the new President, who was busy cutting brush at his ranch, led us to believe all was well—or so we thought.
Jesus warns the people of the first century in Jerusalem not to be distracted. He cautions there will be signs or indicators. “Signs, what signs,” they may have asked. They may have believed they were not vulnerable. After all, there was nothing to worry about; God of Abraham was with them. They probably believed they would overcome the power of Rome a religious rebellion, live in peace and be separated from the gentile and heathen world. They would rise as Yahweh’s mighty people and be successful. Jesus saw it differently. The world of the religious powers in Jerusalem was near its end.
When Jesus spoke the words of warning reported in the Gospel according to Luke, it was spring. There was no time for sadness, no time for worry, it was spring. Trees were in bud, fruit would soon be on their limbs, and all was well. Further, the celebration of the Passover was about to occur. Happy holidays, with good food, good drink, and people expressing religious joy closed off any discussion of trying times to come. Nonetheless, Jesus warns, pay attention to the signs.
His warning concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem fell on deaf ears. Jerusalem was the city of Yahweh, the city of the temple, the center of the world. However, Jesus knew it would not happen the next day, the month, or even the next year, but it was imminent. In fact, about thirty years later the Romans tired of the revolutionary and subversive behavior of the Jews clamped down, destroyed the city, and forced the Jews into an exile that lasted nearly two millennia. However, they had fair warning.
Jesus knew there was no immediate political or military solution to Rome’s exercise of power. Rome, up to that time in history, had the most powerful military force ever assembled led by men who knew how to use that power, and its military knew how to control the world it had conquered. Rome had built vast highways connecting all its outposts. If trouble arose in one place, reinforcements could swiftly come to the aid of a beleaguered army unit or post.
Jesus taught that there was a new future, a better kingdom, a new way of life not requiring political domination or tyrannical military force. It was a kingdom founded on the principle of love for humanity; that is, those who wished to enter into the kingdom Jesus preached needed only to love without fear—love unconditionally—all of God’s creation.
The warning or caution Jesus gave to the people of Jerusalem that spring now two thousand years ago is a warning for us today. Jesus said, “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.” He could have said, “There will be signs in the skies, the weather, the storms, the droughts, floods, and blizzards will increase. The poles and glaciers will melt, and the oceans will rise.” If he were speaking to us today as he did to the people of Jerusalem, most would be like Alfred E. Newman in the old Mad Magazine, and say, “What, me worry?”
While scientists are all but shouting that trouble in our climate is imminent if not already here, some politicians call it a hoax. In fact, they are happy to distract us with the so-called Christmas Season, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and then tell us to have a Happy New Year so their benefactors can continue polluting the planet. They, the politicians and their benefactors, are the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and temple priests of the twenty first century.
Jesus asks us today, where will we be when we have to stand before the Son of Man? That is, where will we be when we have to stand in judgment for indifference, misuse of creation, and abuse of each other in wars and terror? Where will we stand?
If at no other time in human history, this is a time to simplify life. This is a time to listen to the planet groan, to hear the words of Jesus, to open our hearts to the suffering of others, and most of all to seek the coming of the Kingdom of God, the amity of all humankind, to stand on the side of holiness. We may not be facing an apocalypse, but instead a readjustment of human existence. Nonetheless, Jesus did say that all who live on the face of the earth will experience the dramatic changes in the heavens and the seas. By being alert, we will make a future place for our progeny to live safely and serenely. That is what we actually want, isn’t it? We want a world without war, terror, without devastating storms, and world upheaval. Jesus only requires his followers to be alert. The Apostle Paul said we are simply to love, to abound in love, for each other.
There will be challenges of all sorts. If we live long enough, as I have often said, “We will experience everything.” We may not be able to overcome the changes that loom in the future, and the future may not be as gloomy as some predict. Nonetheless, all of us face a future of unknown challenges. Some challenges may be global; all will be personal. Humanity may have to adjust to different conditions than those we know now. As Jesus said, keep “praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.” We can escape the ravages of nature, of anger, and self-deceit, as we stand on the side of the Son of Man.
Like John of Patmos joyfully declared, “Look, he is coming with the clouds.” Christians live in joyful hope. Hope for the future, hope for our off-spring, hope in the resurrection. Despite the signs, we know that God is love and in that love the Kingdom of God will eventually reign.
 This is how I recall and understand the events of September 11, 2001. I could, but have not, cite sources.
 Luke 21:25-36.
 The reference to the buddy fig tree provides the time of year. Cf., Luke 21:29ff.
 Luke 21:20.
 Luke 21:25ff.
 1 Thessalonians 3:12.
 Luke 21:36.
 Revelation 1:7.