Jagged and dark. These are the kind of images you will find in the main readings for Sunday. They are called “apocalyptic literature” (see footnote).*
“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.”
Why such horrible imagery, especially now with beautiful Advent just two weeks away?
One reason, of course, is so that there might build within us a specific need for relief, for the coming of the simple Christ baby. Recall that in our 21st century we find just the opposite, competing ideologies striving to take over. Look at the selfish advertising world: shampooing your hair will make you ecstatic (with a corn-cob-eating grin on your face as you use their product). A car that can “save your soul”! Casual sex without commitment, taken for granted and very often illustrated. Free cable movie channels freely practice the blasphemous use of God’s and Jesus’ name, for no real reason, even while they censor out words referring to bodily functions.
Of course, on top of such dehumanizing media forces, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Wars without any specified goal, economic crises that more than wrecks people’s lives, heads chopped off, toxic wastes, holes in the ozone layer, Tsunami and hurricanes, major climate changes, just to start the list.
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.
This passage brings us peace
and a problem. Should we be nourished by such lovely words when the greatest tribulations in history are staring us in the face?
Maybe we should get hyper-active instead. We should reform television, recordings, movies, video games, and so on. Stop spending the money of the poor on luxuries that 50 years ago no one could have even thought up. Reinstate honesty and fairness instead of greed as our goal in life. Care for individuals and families who otherwise have no chance.
Shine brightly by helping rightly.
The problem with this reasoning is that it is not wrong. It is right. But how can you or I have any effect on the enormity of our situation?
First, get smart. Examine carefully what you are able to do and with what effect. You are not helpless, no matter how you 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 your courage rest in divine help. Remember the famous passage from Jeremiah:
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
That is what Advent will aim towards. Use Sunday to get ready for Advent waiting.
*Apocalyptic writings are thought to be a distinctive branch of literature. Some think that this kind of writing took place in times of persecution when straightforward writing would be penalized. They usually feature visions or dreams revealed to the writer, predictions of the future, using fantastic imagery, mystical symbols, and predictions of the end of the age. The First Reading, from the Book of Daniel, and the Gospel passage from Mark for this week are two of the most important examples of apocalyptical writings in the bible. For more on this topic, see the “Scripture in Depth” section of this web site.
** From the Serenity Prayer.
***I was fortunate to set these words to music and I did it mainly because of the hope they produced in me. To download “Song of Hope,” press here.
John Foley, SJ
Write me an email! I'd like to have a discussion with you about this.