With two weeks to go to the first Sunday in Advent our readings take an apocalyptic turn today. Predictions of end times, looking for signs, and tribulations abound—it is enough to have us closing our bibles and running for the exits. Except there is no escape; our invitation is to sit with these verses to “pan for gold” and find peace in our times.
Jesus begins by predicting that “there will not be left a stone upon a stone” (v. 6), this Temple which was rebuilt (again) and completed in 64 A.D. was considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire Roman Empire. It truly seems inconceivable that this building could fall, yet, it happened and the people asked; is this the end?
Why do we look for signs? How does it help us to live in this day—this moment? God is found only in the present, we risk missing him if our eyes are fixed beyond the now. If we are honest, thoughts of “end times” (suffering) in our lives or the lives of our loved ones only feed our fears.
The first reading from Malachi, an anonymous prophet, who writes following the completion of the first rebuilding of the Temple is concerned with careless religious ritual matters among other things and warns of the coming destruction. In both readings, the text ends with hope and comfort. Malachi: “But for those who fear my name, there will arise, the sun of justice with its healing rays.” (V.20) and from Luke: …but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (V.19)
What comes through clearly to me is the sense of misplaced security. We simply put too much store in earthly things, whether it is a building, a ship named Titanic, or a human person(s) running for election. Luke’s whole theology suggests redemption mediated through Christ’s life as he writes to Christians facing persecution for their professed faith in Jesus. They experience danger from all sides. This is still true today for many of our Christian brothers and sisters.
Only Christ can truly save us. We follow where he went, not in fear and trembling but in the Old Testament sense of “fear of the Lord” awesomeness in His presence. We follow him not just to the cross but through the cross to new life. Our story doesn’t end on Calvary but sometimes our fears have us stuck there. We can name our fears and place them at the foot of the Cross for Grace to bless them. Who knows what the future holds but I am placing my trust in the Holy Spirit to renew us all, to give us hope and peace. Let us persevere in faith through those tribulations in our lives and look with confidence to the future whatever the signs predict.
“Rouse yourself to cheerfulness in the Lord. Every trial will pass. Enter into the heart of Jesus in spirit, into that great furnace of love, and trust him.” St. Paul of the Cross
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.