Today’s lessons are getting us in the mood for Advent. We still have Christ the King Sunday to celebrate next week, but today we get a foretaste of the four Sundays after next. Advent is all about preparing the way of Christ, so I guess you could say today’s lessons are all about preparing us to prepare.
This week’s Gospel lesson isn’t very cheery about the future: destruction, wars, revolutions, hatred, betrayals, arrests, executions, famine, earthquakes, plagues … Why, you’d think it was CNN.
In fact it sounds so contemporary that people think they can start predicting how tomorrow will unfold. They even claim to be able to use passages like these to tell our country how to conduct its foreign policy. There’s a whole industry aimed at scaring us into thinking Jesus will return any day to wipe out the godless, including, I suspect, eccentric Christians like me and perhaps you too. The Left Behind books are still making millions.
So do notice and take some comfort from Jesus’ words about similar hucksters in his own day: “Don’t go after them,” he warns. “Don’t let them scare you.” Just because you hear about wars on the news, don’t start forecasting the end of the world. I’ve always wondered why the Left Behind crowd never pays attention here. Of course it wouldn’t help their sales figures.
Jesus is talking about the events of his time: “Look, don’t think that my coming is going to snatch you out of a world of conflicts and disasters. You’ll find yourself right in the middle of them. You might see the destruction of everything you hold sacred. But none of these is the End of the world. They’re signs of the End, but not the End itself with a capital ‘E’. So don’t be misled, don’t despair, don’t plan too far ahead for what can’t yet be seen, trust yourself with me to live in the moment, let your life go and you’ll find it—by your endurance you’ll gain your soul, you’ll recover who you are.”
We’re summoned to let even our most assured certainties go into a future we can’t forecast. What we can forecast is that even then Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) will be with us. It won’t be the End.