A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
And then they will see the Son of Man
coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
But when these signs begin to happen,
stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”
We begin at the end.
We begin Advent, and the Latin Catholic liturgical year, at the end of time.
The Holy Gospel for the first Sunday of Advent is Christ’s prediction of the last days.
We begin anticipating the birth of that beautiful Holy Child, by anticipating His terrible Second Coming. Christ came the first time, helpless and hidden; He will come again with power and great glory, and all flesh will see Him together. You and I will see Him together.
What do we know about that day?
We know that it is coming and we don’t know when. We know that it will be preceded by signs in the sky, the powers in the heavens being shaken, and the roaring of the sea; and people will die of fright in anticipation. We know that, when we see these signs, we are to lift up our heads, for our redemption is at hand.
It seems to me that people are often inordinately fascinated with the beginning of this passage: those terrible signs in the sky and sea. What will we look like? Are we seeing them now? So much energy has been wasted, in every generation, speculating about whether this is the end of the world. And I’m not aware of a single generation that didn’t think their times were the end time. They all saw signs in the sky; they all heard the roaring of the sea. The sky is always producing signs for us and the sea always roars. People are always frightening themselves into fits about these signs and the fear that it’s the End Times. You can be certain that, in every generation, there have been people who died of that fright.
This generation is the same. For all I know, we’re right and these are the End Times. They feel like it. But in thinking it’s a good bet that they might be, we’re no different from any other people in history.
I don’t usually hear so much excitement about the rest of the passage, though. The end of that first paragraph: your redemption is at hand. That gets lost in the frenzy. We are not supposed to fear. We’re not supposed to hunker down and brace ourselves. We’re supposed to be happy, because when Christ returns it will be a good thing. He’s coming to redeem us.
And then the next paragraph: Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life.
Carousing and drunkenness will make anybody drowsy. But what’s all that about the anxieties of everyday life? What are the anxieties of everyday life, and how do they make me drowsy? Could He really be talking about my everyday anxieties– the things I, personally, am scared of, every day?
I want to stress that I’m not talking about the illness known as anxiety here– a person suffering from that type of anxiety is a person who is afflicted through no fault of their own and sometimes can’t help their fears running away with them. That’s not a spiritual failing but an invisible illness, a very heavy cross; a cross Christ bore with us in Gethsemane before He bore the visible, physical cross. I am talking about the anxieties, the worries and preoccupations, we all suffer in everyday life, even if we’re perfectly healthy.
It’s easy to get frustrated with Christ when He corrects us for being preoccupied with our worries. What does He know?