Sunday, December 1, 2019

Wars And Rumors Of Wars: A Sunday Rumination

     Do you know the word eschatology? It’s not one you’re likely to hear at a cocktail party. It refers to a particular variety of scriptural study: the study of “the end of things,” when Time will be stopped and the works of Man will no longer hold dominion. Significant parts of the Gospels, and the whole of the Book of Revelation of St. John the Divine, are eschatological in nature. Here’s a passage of that sort from The Gospel According to Matthew:

     And Jesus being come out of the temple, went away. And his disciples came to shew him the buildings of the temple. And he answering, said to them: Do you see all these things? Amen I say to you there shall not be left here a stone upon a stone that shall not be destroyed. And when he was sitting on mount Olivet, the disciples came to him privately, saying: Tell us when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the consummation of the world? And Jesus answering, said to them: Take heed that no man seduce you: For many will come in my name saying, I am Christ: and they will seduce many. And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places. [Matthew 24:1-7]

     Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? But Jesus had more to say: “Now all these are the beginnings of sorrows.” Worse – “great tribulation” – will follow:

     And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And he shall send his angels with a trumpet, and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them. [Matthew 24:29-31]

     That is the essence of Christian eschatology: the believer’s vision of “the end of things.” But when is it to arrive? We are not told. We are told only that we should be ready:

     For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark, And they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be. Then two shall be in the field: one shall be taken, and one shall be left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill: one shall be taken, and one shall be left. Watch ye therefore, because ye know not what hour your Lord will come. But know this ye, that if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come. [Matthew 24:38-44]

     Christian eschatology, though it appears to be about “the end of things,” is more concerned with living according to one’s knowledge that it can come at any moment – that “you know not the day nor the hour.”

     It would be natural for a child, exposed to this segment of the Gospels, to become very frightened. All those horrors! All that destruction! It’s not something one should anticipate with pleasure. Neither should we adults hope that the end is nigh; after all, we’ve got a lot of repenting to do.

     But note that Jesus tells us “See that ye be not troubled.” Why not? Because “the end of things” is also a beginning: the replacement of Time by the everlasting Kingdom of God. The end of Time is also the end of death and suffering. It marks our entry into one of two realms: that of eternal bliss, and that of eternal remorse. All we need do to be granted admission to the former is what He told the “rich young man:”

     And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? Who said to him: Why asketh thou me concerning good? One is good, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He said to him: Which? And Jesus said: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [Matthew 19:16-19]

     That’s a bargain price for an eternity of bliss in the nearness of God. By comparison to the reward for behaving thus, all temporal pains, losses, and sorrows amount to nothing. Life and death both appear trivial. And so the Redeemer tells us, “See that ye be not troubled.”

     Pretty good advice, especially since we couldn’t do a thing about all those “wars and rumors of wars” anyway.

     While the entire liturgical year is a thing of joy, its two special seasons, Lent and Advent, are particularly striking in their respective ways. Advent, which begins today, is the season in which Christians prepare for the Nativity of Christ, the beginning of the greatest story ever told. Yet the anticipation of the coming of the Redeemer wasn’t the original reason for the seasonal festivities. Rather, the Christmas celebration was placed at this time of year because of the descent into darkness and cold, and the fear of primitive peoples who could not be perfectly sure that light and warmth would return.

     Primitive Man believed that the retreat of the Sun could only be counteracted by the propitiation of the gods who control the movement of that celestial body. They staged great sacrificial feasts at “the dark of the year” in the hope of reminding the gods that Man desperately needs sunlight and warmth to continue to live and worship. One of the ancient pagan faiths, that of the Norse, incorporates in its eschatology the concept of Fimbulwinter, a thirty year period of darkness and cold that precedes the end of the world and the destruction of the gods themselves in the wars of Ragnarok.

     Other pre-Christian, pre-monotheism faiths speak of “the end of things,” but only Christianity couples it to a second life – a life eternal, that can be more joyous than any Earthly joy, if we will only hold ourselves ready to enter it.

     And it all begins with Christ and His message of redemption.

     Twenty-four days remain till we once again commemorate the Nativity: the Child born in a stable and laid in a manger who was destined to remake the world. He’s still doing it, you know. It’s not a job to be deemed complete while we’re still running around loose getting into all sorts of trouble. And there is trouble aplenty, doubt it not. While men are men, that will always be so. But where He is worshipped, there is hope for better. Better days to come on Earth, as His teachings gain an ever greater following, and ultimately the greatest of days, when we are joined to Him and His Father in the life to come.

     So be ye not troubled, for He draws near.

     Enjoy your Advent season, and may God bless and keep you all!

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