Jagged and dark.
These are the kind of images we find in the main readings for Sunday.
“A time unsurpassed in distress”
“Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.”
“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
They are called “apocalyptic literature.”* Why such horrible imagery, especially now with beautiful Advent just a few weeks away?
One reason is so that we might find within us a need for relief from all the turmoil. In other words, for the coming of the simple Christ child. Recall that in our 21st century we find just the opposite of this: competing ideologies striving to take over.
Look at the advertising world:
Shampooing your hair will make you ecstatic (with a corn-cob-eating grin on your face as you use the product). A car can “save your soul”! Casual sex without commitment is taken for granted. Free cable movie channels practicing the blasphemous use of God’s and Jesus’ name, censoring out only—sometimes—words referring to bodily functions.
Of course, in addition to such dehumanizing media forces, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as what apocalyptic literature might suggest. The pandemic, to begin with. Economic crises that more than wrecks people’s lives, toxic wastes, holes in the ozone layer, tsunami and hurricanes, major climate changes. You can certainly add more.
Our readings do contain a few grains of hope.
At the end of the First Reading we find a beautiful promise of rescue:
... the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
shall be like the stars forever.
Such a passage can give us peace ...
... and a problem. Should we be nourished by such lovely words, at a time when the greatest tribulations in human history are staring us in the face?
An awareness of our tribulations is not wrong. It is right. But how can you or I have any effect on the enormity of our situation?
Maybe we should get hyper-active instead, reforming television, recordings, movies, video games, and so on.
First, Get smart. Examine carefully what we are able to do and with what effect. We are not helpless, no matter what we feel.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.**
Second, let our courage rest in divine help.
I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you and bring you back. (Jer 29:11)***
That is what Advent will aim towards. Use Sunday to wait for Advent waiting.