Faith Forum with Father Charles Bober
As we approach Christmas, the Sunday Scripture readings get rather dark and even frightening. Is that meant to tell us that the end is near? Why would the beautiful feast of Christmas be introduced by such readings?
The final Sundays in Ordinary Time make use of a type of Biblical writing known as “apocalyptic.” This style was very popular in the century before Christ’s birth, consisting of imagery about a future rooted in interpretations of the past and present. It involves visions, communication with angels, foreboding signs and complex symbolism.
A principal focus of this type of literature is to anticipate the final period of world history. In such descriptions there usually is found some form of ultimate struggle between good and evil leading to victory for the forces of good. In the New Testament, the victor is Christ, the Lamb of God. These writings were very important to first century Christians who were living in a time of great upheaval and persecution. The message was clear: despite the present struggle, there is eventual victory for those who walk with the Lamb of God.
As we hear this Scripture today, does it mean that the end of the world is near? The Church’s vision of the end of the world always rests with the words of Jesus: “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it.” (Matt. 24:36) In addition, Matthew 24: 37-38 likens the end of the world to the days of Noah when there was both salvation and destruction. Thus, we look to the end not with a sense of dread but rather with confidence and hope. The Church lives awaiting the return of Jesus as the return of one who will bring us to victory.
The cycle of Biblical readings uses this apocalyptic literature at the end of the liturgical year and at the beginning of Advent for a number of reasons. First, we are being reminded that the end of life here on earth will come for each of us in death. This most likely will not coincide with the end of the world, but it will mean the end of our lives in this world. Therefore, end of the world images are used to challenge us to fidelity.
Secondly, the Church celebrates Advent as a special time of waiting for the Messiah. That period of waiting is offered as a life pattern for how we are to expect the Messiah in our own lives. Again, the Church reminds us that such a day may arrive unexpectedly. We should therefore be prepared, not for terrible occurrences but to join the victory feast of those who have been faithful to the Lamb of God.
As we prepare for Christmas, the annual commemoration of the first coming of Jesus, it will not let us forget that the Lord Jesus will come again as our judge at the end of our lives and for all creation, at the end of time. This coming should not be a moment of dread for those who live uprightly.