Apocalypse and Advent

What was most important to you 24 hours ago, or two months ago, will be or next Wednesday at 2:00pm or ten years from now? What or who will you love, hate, fear? What will hold your interest or bore you, what will change in the world around you or in the intimate connections that are crucial to you right now? And where is there an insight or vision that will speak to this swiftly passing world? 

The liturgical readings for Advent bring these concerns and questions into focus with a form of biblical writing called Apocalyptic Literature; visionary, poetic, image-laden language, prophecy, poetry and predictions that comes when the people go through tough times. When the temple is destroyed, when kidnappings occur, when terror reigns and the future seems so different from the past that it is almost beyond belief, when hope gets thin and you need a vision that makes room for beginning again. These Advent lessons bring visions of enforced endings and perhaps tentative beginnings. 

 In the middle of the 1980s several television shows in the US focussed on the probable effects of a nuclear holocaust. I remember their visions of the light and the wind and the fire that would follow the dropping of the big bombs. And even if some of us were to survive that end-time, it would be to reap a miserable harvest in a silent world, because bees would not be there to pollinate the flowers and birds and animals would have been  blinded by that false light. So the spring following the holocaust would have fewer colors and little song after that infernal gray blossom fell from the sky. 

I was taking classes in Berkeley, where there’s a great bell-tower in the centre of the campus, and whenever I would hear the bells striking the hour I’d try to stop what I was doing and look at the possibility that it all might end right then. Looking around while the bells were ringing, and people, animals, insects, trees and plants were moving together in the cool air and the soft light and think to myself: “It could all be over, finished, end now.” And I’d try to breath into, live and pray through, love that moment. And when the bells stopped ringing and the sounds of everyday came back I’d look around thinking; “There is a chance, we are not dead yet — And  perhaps somehow we are newborn, like children full of new possibilities, full of graceful innocence and promise, full of beginning.”

For to look for, to live out the possibilities and the message of love, forgiveness and renewal, the way of beginning rightly in the face of all the endings, is to assent and assist in the birth of God’s grace, God’s very face in our daily and real world. It is to allow mystery and forgiveness and renewal of God’s purpose, life and love, to begin once again. And it is to begin right where you are. No matter where you were yesterday, two years ago, wherever you may be three years from now, on the anniversary of your birthday or on the day you die. You are still right in the middle of your life. As the American baseball player Yogi Berra once said, “Wherever you go, there you are!” And that’s the only place where we can learn to love, to let our love grow and ripen, and make our life and ministry matter. 

I’ll admit it isn’t easy to live in a world lit up by death and birth. Most days we make our way between history and hope cobbling together an identity from need and custom, meeting the marketplace and minimizing the pain; and though there can be a fleeting feeling that we’ve missed the sign for some important turn, we generally go our own way.

But an apocalypse or an Advent, the time and place where beginning and ending flash into consciousness, can be both a kind of wakeup call, a lens enabling us to see both farther into what might be and closer into what is. It clears our sight for a moment to reveal the present time as a world bigger then we know, more full of intent and information than we’ve supposed, more intimate than we could have hoped for.

So “Wherever you go, there you are!”. It is one hope: of a world woven together by love: where we come to reach for Christ, and let Christ reach out to meet the world in our ministry. To get a grip on Christ so that we may learn to hand him to the world and hand the world back to him. As members of that body, proceeding into the world God loves, day after day, year after year, time after time, in our work, in our play, in our fear. In being present as we can with faithful hearts to family, friends and strangers; in tasks, hobbies, jobs and joys, in the times of frustrations and puzzlement and promise, in agreements that must be honored, in situations that must be met. All these are places where we act out, serve out, flesh out, and live out the reconciling life of Jesus – in serving love of every kind – in the ministry of acceptance, love, and forgiveness in the middle of our lives.

And this is our hope. That in all beginnings, middles and endings, the love of God in Christ recalls and remembers our lives so that our daily liturgies are transformed into that one great Eucharistic celebration. That we shall come to move like Christ in all these places with the grace of the God who comes to meet us this Advent. Right here and right now, in the sight of the end-times, we find our end, our goal. In sight of the last things, we have faith that this insight, this action, this liturgy, will last. 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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