1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Happy New Year! Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of a new liturgical year. What an extraordinary commencement we have with the readings for today. We are starting afresh, getting back to spiritual basics, and the readings really help us with this.
The Gospel is taken from Luke. We are slapped in the face by Luke's version of Jesus' apocalyptic message that speaks about the end of the world. “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” (Lk 21.25-26). What an abrasive language it is! From the beginning of the Church, people interpret this text as literal descriptions of the end of the world. I do not deny that there is something very important to this interpretation, and the Church does believe the second coming of Jesus. However, as a biblical scholar N.T. Wright says, “If that is all which the texts mean just literally about the end of the world, then they have significance only for that generation who will experience the literal end of the world” (The Millennium Myth, pp20-45). If this is the case, none of these texts really have an effect on the many generations to come as they are only applicable to the particular moment when the world, in the cosmic sense, comes to an end. The Church has never felt that it is right, because it clearly holds that the texts address every generation. So how do we make sense of this?
In fact, it is the heart of the apocalyptic literature. The arrival of Jesus indeed entails the breakdown of an old world, and the ushering in of a new one! “The world” is used not so much in a cosmological sense, but more metaphorically that refers to the whole set of assumptions, convictions, values and orientations, by which we order our lives, and the world that we live in and operate. We may think of the references in the context of the heavenly body, the sun, the moon, and the planet, that they will fall into obscurity. In ancient times, these were the “fixed points” by which people navigated either on land or at sea, guided them by these fixed objects of sun, moon, stars, and planets. Therefore, symbolically speaking, the shaking, obscuring, and falling of these "fixed stars" to the ground is to proceed, to orient, and to yield ways of ourselves with something new!
Let us elaborate a bit further. For most people, the acquisition of wealth, the procurement of power, the accumulation of adulation or success in business, might be our navigational "fixed stars" which tend to guide our lives. As our lives unfold and circumstances come and go with all the vicissitudes and vagaries of life, what keeps us focused would be these stars. We may think of what kind of person we are, such as a business person, politician, or someone who treasures friendships. These are our fixed points. For others, it may be family, country, or personal honor. Nothing is bad among all these things, but here is the point: When Jesus comes into one's life, everything else has to change! When Jesus comes into our life, He is the star, the sun, the moon, and all the planets. He is the fixed point by which we steer our life. Therefore, pleasing Him, doing what He wants, and following Him is all that finally matters. Everything else, even though all that may be good in themselves, have to find their place in relation to Him. Once we get this basic principle, much of the Gospel will open up in a fresh way.
For example, if money and wealth are your fixed stars, “go, sell what you have, and come follow me” (Mt 19.21). If prestige, honor, and worldly success are your fixed Stars, “whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23.12). If popularity and esteem are your fixed stars by which you navigate your life, “Blessed are you when people hate you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man” (Lk 6.22). We will see how radical it becomes when we press it further. If your family is your sun and moon, which is your fixed star, “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10.37). Even if religion itself and its institutions are your fixed stars, “there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down” (Mt 24.2). The great Saint Paul, once Jesus came, he says, “I even consider everything as a loss” (Pp 3.8). What Paul declares is extraordinary: All his previous fixed stars fall on the ground upon Jesus’ arrival! Therefore, to prepare for the coming of Christ, which is what Advent is about, is to prepare ourselves for the “invasion” of Christ which will upset our whole lives. We have to be ready ourselves for this “apocalypse”, a breakdown, and a revolution. It is no fun to be turned upside down, but this is the real challenge of Advent. Therefore, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21.36). We are praying that we have the strength to escape the tribulations, that we can withstand the upset which is going to come into our life as we rearrange our life around Jesus, and to stand before the Son of Man. He is the Sun, the Moon, and the Planet. He is the fixed star and the Light, and we have to look to Him, watch for Him, and wait for Him. God's justice is arriving, and the new world is breaking in!
This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron's homilies, including “A New Fixed Star”, “Look To The Son Of Man”, and “The Second Coming”. For more information, please visit WordOnFire.org.