Today is the last day of the liturgical year. With Vespers tonight, we will begin the Season of Advent, a season of anticipation and expectation. The readings for the day, indeed for the entire past week, have been from the apocalyptic genre. While they seem to portray events in the future, they speak of the present reality as it is experienced by the sacred writer and his community. Last Sunday, we read two short verses from the seventh chapter of the Book of Daniel. In my blog I provided a little background information to help us understand that the dream that Daniel experienced detailed the political history of his time. During this past week, we have heard some more of the seventh chapter.
In his dream Daniel experienced visions of horrible and fantastic beasts. A lion with wings, a bear with tusks, a leopard with wings and a non-descript beast with iron teeth and ten horns. Each of these beasts represents one of the kingdoms from that period of time. The first had two kings (thus two wings), the second had three kings (thus three tusks), the fourth had four kings (thus four wings), and the last had ten kings followed by one last despotic ruler. Each of these kings had engaged in warfare and destruction, visiting horrible tortures upon the victims of their conquering armies. The last of these kings, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was regarded as the most horrible of them all. As our reading for today says: The ten horns shall be ten kings rising out of that kingdom; another shall rise up after them, Different from those before him, who shall lay low three kings. He shall speak against the Most High and oppress the holy ones of the Most High, thinking to change the feast days and the law. They shall be handed over to him for a year, two years, and a half-year (Daniel 7:23-25).
There are, of course, those who will read these passages and who will use them to try to convince people that they are signs that “the end is near.” I have even had one individual tell me that this horrible beast at the end of Daniel’s dream is ISIS or ISIL, and that the battle between the allied nations and this murderous state or caliphate is the fulfillment of Daniel’s “prediction.” It is, therefore, important that we remember that apocalyptic literature is not about the future. It records what the people of that time were experiencing.
Far more important is the warning that comes to us from the Gospels, especially from the apocalyptic literature from within the Gospels. That message is consistent. We are not to worry about the hour or the day of the Lord’s return. We are not to listen to those who say that “it is here” or “it is there.” Rather, the Gospels counsel us to be ready, to be awake, to be prepared, for we know not the hour or the day. Shakespeare’s Hamlet knew this lesson very well when he exclaimed “The readiness is all.”
As we begin yet another Season of Advent in which we will begin by recalling the need to be ready for Jesus’ return and will conclude by considering his first visit to the human world, let us not give way to fear and anxiety about the future but work to create a world that will readily accept Jesus when he does return. Those of us who believe are charged with the responsibility to proclaim the message of the Gospel until all have heard it; namely, “Repent and believe. The Kingdom of God is among us.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator