"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." (Luke 21:25-36)
This first Sunday in Advent, we don't yet get to the story of John the Baptist. We don't get to Mary or Joseph. That comes later. This Sunday is a reminder that we are in Advent. We are in the middle of the second Advent, at the end of which Jesus will come a second time. We are going to hear some amazing stories in the upcoming weeks, and over the next church year, and this first Sunday is a reminder not to get too distracted by the beauty. Jesus still is coming.
But look at those verses about the signs that Jesus is coming soon. We don't know exactly when this is going to happen, but this passage tells us that we will know when it is close. Of course we are living in a time where we are constantly hearing fellow Christians say, "this is it!" Times can't seem any worse. Did you read the news today? Jesus will probably be here later tonight!
But we have to remember that every generation thinks this. Oh no! Rome has fallen! It's time! World War II: this must be it! But it never seems to happen. What is God thinking? We've talked about this before: God is the only one who can see the big picture. There is a vast, beautiful mural that only God can see in its entirety. Ours are covered with ugly wallpaper, and God peels up a corner for us. And the more we study scripture and live our lives in God's word, the more of the mural we see, but its always a corner--just a piece--of the big picture. God is the only one who can see the whole mural.
As St. Peter writes, to God, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. Remember those science shows that told us that if we laid out the history of the world as if it were a calendar year, mankind would only take up the last seven seconds? Well, God takes all that in and can see those seven seconds all at once. God created everything, and he sustains everything, each moment, and he also keeps in mind each moment coming before this moment and each moment after. He sees the whole mural. He sees the beginning of creation. He sees Noah's ark. He sees Christ on the cross. He sees your face. He sees the end of everything--all of this at one time. He holds everything in perfect context. He wants to think of each one of us in context with all of creation and the sacrifice of his son.
When Charles Dickens finished David Copperfield, he was sad to have to end the book, he loved the characters so much. He said that he had written everything there was to say about them, so he was done, but he missed them. The book is over 900 pages. Now, imagine God writing a 900 page book about everyone who ever lived or will live, all combined in one book. Except this isn't an entire novel. This is only the preface to the actual novel. The actual novel begins after this second Advent is over. Some of the characters won't make it to chapter one, even though they were important in the lives of the characters who WILL make it to chapter one. The characters who will make it seem to be getting fewer and fewer all the time. Of course, Jesus Christ is the protagonist. The story is all about him.
Jesus is the gravitational center of the universe. We all orbit around him like planets orbiting the sun. Let's say we start in Earth's orbit. Every decision we make, every thought we think, every action we take brings us into a closer orbit to the sun or a further orbit away from it. There are no neutral decisions in life. Some of us are nearing the orbit of Venus. The saints of history were around Mercury. A wrong decision could take us out beyond Jupiter. Some people are like Halley's comet, coming in very close to the sun and then heading out beyond Pluto. Scientists say that when our sun eventually dies, it will become a red giant, and its edge will then encompass the orbit of Earth. As a metaphor for our walk with God, we want to be inside the edge of that red giant when the star dies--when the second Advent ends. Let us find ourselves inside that crucial orbit, where the edge of the sun lay, so that we may find ourselves in chapter one of the great novel.