In a Dangerous World
The events of the past two weeks have touched me to the core. Thinking about the vicious attacks in Paris still makes me shudder. The posturing of the extremists linked to the television images of violence, injury, death, and destruction can’t help but stir up apocalyptic concerns. As visions of the endtime swirl around me, I find myself feeling not a little frightened.
I feel a great solidarity with the people of Paris. I also feel solidarity with those refugees fleeing the terrors of the extremists. It seems to me that those radicals and extremists are trying to bring on an apocalypse and, without a shred of humanity or moral courage, are willing to discard innocent people in the most violent and cruel ways.
It is in this current atmosphere of fear and dread that the Church celebrates the First Sunday of Advent, and the Gospel serves up a vision that quite pointedly reflects much of what we have just experienced:
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.”
The place of this Gospel in the liturgy of Advent, however, isn’t designed to scare me to death. It is designed, as are all apocalyptic warnings, to give me hope and to let me know that God is in charge. I am not. The Gospel sets up an expectation, a longing, and a future dimension. My Advent is anchored in the realization that just as Christ came once in the flesh, he will come again.
Beyond a doubt we all do live in a dangerous world. Nations are in dismay over all sorts of the violence and terror mongering–not just that of ISIS extremists. There is a roaring of the sea and waves and a shaking of the heavens caused by the abuse of all creation–an abuse that threatens the very life of our earthly home. [Ironically or perhaps providentially, Paris is the place where action on the climate will be discussed this coming month.]
However, it is not the time for me to look for Jesus to arrive on a cloud. Rather it is the time for me to examine my attitudes toward the events of the day. It is time for me to review how I am called to act in the face of the dangers crafted by human hands! How can I be formed by the Gospel and the family of Faith?
To move me in the right direction, the liturgy for this Sunday also serves up a portion of hope:
The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah.
In those days, in that time,
I will raise up for David a just shoot ;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The LORD our justice.”
So what should my reactions be to terrifying events? My reactions are already complex to be sure, but I am not allowing myself thoughts of retribution, hate, or revenge (although I know that these barbaric people must be stopped). Neither am I entertaining fearful and cowering thoughts or engaging in the xenophobia that would make me turn my back on suffering immigrants for fear that they just may harbor an extremist in their midst.
I want to situate my reactions in the context and the spirit of Advent and in the call of the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy–that begins in just one week.
I want to make my heart ready for Christmas with these sentiments from the First Letter of John:
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.
In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the
day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:16-21