LUKE 21; 25-36

The liturgy today marks the first day of a new liturgical year, and so represents for each of us participating at this Eucharist the offer of a new dimension of our life in God.  Rather than speak about a fresh beginning, however, the texts we have just heard follow the urgent advice of the wise man known as Ecclesiasticus: "In all your doing remember your last end and you will not act amiss." (7:36 LXX)  The Lord Jesus was attentive to this advice so that on a variety of occasions he made a point to instruct his apostles to be prepared for the end of his presence among them. His departure, he warned, was to take place violently, in the form of suffering and a shameful manner of death.  He was careful to add, however, that after the painful crucifixion he would rise to eternal life.  They must be prepared to undergo the consequences of following a master with such a future.

Today we are presented by the Evangelist Luke with an additional occasion when our Lord also sought to prepare his disciples for another and different kind of trial, one that will affect all persons both those alive on earth at the end of time and the diseased as well.  It is evident that the final cataclysm includes more than our planet earth.  Jesus foretells a great catastrophe: the whole universe will be included in that great and final end of the world of matter and time.  His words are addressed to us for the same purposes they served when he first uttered them in these terms: "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. . . . for the forces of heaven will be shaken loose."  As disastrous as this event is to be, yet it has a bright hope-filled purpose, the Lord adds: "raise your heads for your redemption is at hand and your deliverance is near."  With these words the Savior makes his rather grim warning a message of HOPE.  Advent then is a time of preparation energized by a sure hope that God is to come and redeem us.

Jesus was familiar with the writings of Isaiah and his own prophecy here echoes the message of the ancient prophet as recorded in the Septuagint where we read: that a time is to come when the earth will be greatly troubled, and perplexity will overpower men's minds." (Isaiah 24:19)  The Hebrew text adds that "the Lord in that day will visit vengeance on the armies of heaven."  The stars were thought to be armies of demons in Isaiah's day.  In any case, even centuries before our Lord's ministry, such views were familiar to the people.  As regards the future of our earth modern physics agrees that our planet earth will become a place of destruction for all forms of life, human included.  For as the sun burns its constitutive elements it will expand greatly and shed its heat will such high temperatures as to render it inhabitable.

Our Lord, of course, is concerned in his preaching primarily with the moral and spiritual implications of the fact that our material world is certain to meet with a violent end at some indefinite future date.  His message to his followers is intended as a warning and a stimulus to prepare ourselves for the world to come after this great change that will affect the entire universe.  Each of us, of course, has a limited span of time in which we are offered the opportunity to prepare for life in what the Hebrews called Ha Olam HaBa (the world to come).  We are being invited at this beginning of Advent to make a firm commitment under the empowering grace of firm hope in God's mercy to confront the end, and to make of this Valley of death "an opening of hope" in the words of the prophet Osee (2:15).  Jeremiah gave as a name of God "Mikveh Yisrael" (the Hope of Israel).

Advent is, the, an opportunity offered to us to rededicate our energies in the service of this Savior, given us in this liturgy, as firm assurance that hope based on his promise, will find fulfillment when all else comes to an end.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger