Prevailing hope, not despair

28 November, 2021 1st Sunday Advent Year C

Over the centuries there have been terrible disasters that to the people of the time would have seemed like signs of the apocalypse. There was the Black Death in the 14th century that killed 50 million people in Europe or some 60 percent of the population; the First World War followed by the influenza epidemic; and the destruction wrought by the Second World War.

When we hear Our Lord in Luke’s Gospel warning of “signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony … people dying of fear as they await what menaces the world,” we may think of the threat of nuclear war, followed by a long nuclear winter destroying most life on earth.

Or perhaps we recall the warnings of scientists, echoed by Pope Francis in his document Laudato Si’, about the imminent catastrophe from global warming and climate change. This is no longer science fiction. As many farmers know, we are facing longer droughts, more severe flooding, more extreme weather events and fiercer storms. Rising sea levels will displace hundreds of millions of people from low-lying areas, including the major river deltas which produce much of the world’s food.

Jesus knew nothing about these frightening new threats to life on earth. But he knew a lot about the trauma and tragedy that had occurred in Jewish history over hundreds of years, and he knew what his followers would encounter.

Despite all this anguish, curiously Jesus’ message is one of incredible hope, not of despair. Jesus says to stand tall and be confident when the Son of Man comes “with power and great majesty”, since our “liberation is near at hand.”  We can barely imagine what this mysterious “liberation” implies as the Reign of God transforms the universe.

Neither Jesus nor Luke are claiming to be futurologists, forecasting the future. Rather, they are affirming hope in the promises of God to guide our lives. We have here no lasting home; our lives are preparing us to be welcomed into our home in heaven, delighting in the intimacy of God’s presence.

Jesus urges his disciples to stay awake and pray “for the strength to survive all that is going to happen.” Jesus is not handing out free tickets for an easy ride to heaven. He is warning of the need for courage when his followers face threats of death and persecution, as do Christians in parts of the world today. While warning the disciples against backsliding, Jesus is not telling them to withdraw from the challenges of life. He urges them not to let “your hearts be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life.”

As St Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, may the Lord increase “your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you.” Today the words “the whole human race” take on new meaning as we face great and new challenges such as the current pandemic.

Bruce Duncan CSsR

© Majellan Media 2021