A reflection by Fr. Dave Warren, S.F.M., on Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14; Mark 13.24-32
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Christmas lights are appearing. Christmas advertising is now seen in our newspapers.
The merchants know that we are always looking ahead to something. They know that our lives are oriented towards the future. We are restless by nature and the merchants know how to capitalize on it. Immediately after Christmas, they offer us a Boxing Day Sale. The snow is still on the ground when they begin to advertise spring merchandise. The leaves have barely appeared on the trees when advertising for summer merchandise begins. In early August we are introduced to back-to-school merchandise. Then it’s fall clothing. And then back to Christmas.
The merchants know that we are always looking ahead to something.
Plans for the future
We all have hopes and dreams. We all have plans. Our plans may be short-term or long-term. But we all have plans.
Our plans may coincide with where we actually go. Or not. We don’t always go where we plan to go. Life is full of the unexpected. (Someone has said that life is what happens to us when we are making other plans.) Life has its twists and turns. Still, we have the faith to believe that we are going somewhere. We have the faith to believe that God is leading us somewhere.
Just as we are going somewhere as individuals, so we are going somewhere as a species. But where is the human race going?
My favourite novel is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I love the opening words:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Where are we going, anyway? Some say that we are going around in circles. In the wisdom of the Orient, history is a wheel. “What was will be again; what has been done will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Jesus says that we are going somewhere new. The human race is not trapped in an unending cycle of birth and death, of growth and decline, of good times and bad times. History has a direction. The human journey has a once-and-for-all destination.
In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about our once-and-for-all destination. Our destination is a new heaven and a new earth.
“In those days, after the time of suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mark 13:24-25). Jesus describes the new world in dramatic, powerful images—and scary ones, too. But Jesus is not saying that the universe will be destroyed. God creates what He loves and loves what He creates. God does not create only to destroy. Jesus is not saying that the universe will be destroyed; He is saying that the universe will be totally transformed. The world will finally become a human—and humane—dwelling place.
Jesus also describes the day of His return in the gentle image of summer: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near” (Mark 13:28). Skiers and snowmobilers might not look forward to summer, but the rest of us do.
The end is not yet
There are times in history when things get so bad that we can wish for this new and transformed world now. But Jesus says, “…the end is not yet” (Mark 13:28).
When Mark wrote his gospel, many people thought that history couldn’t go on much longer. The Romans had brutally crushed a revolt by the Jews and they had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish people believed that things couldn’t get any worse and that God had to intervene soon.
The human race continues to suffer. There are wars and rumors of war. There are hurricanes and earthquakes, and the advance of climate change. There is an epidemic of cancer. There are outbreaks of new diseases. Faith is not a guarantee that nothing bad will happen to us; faith is the belief that God is with us no matter what happens.
My cell phone service provider assures me that “the future is friendly.” It is friendly… in the long term.