“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
“He was in the beginning with God.”
“the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:1–2, 5, 14)
This wasn’t the Gospel reading for last Sunday. We’ll be getting to John’s “In the beginning…” on December 27, 2018.
This year’s First Sunday Gospel starts at Luke 21:25. It opens with “‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…” and ends with some good advice.
I’m pretty sure a key part of that advice is to “be vigilant at all times.” Looking at what we’ve been learning over the last couple millennia, and a nearly-constant background prattle of false alarms — I don’t see the verse as part of an ‘End Times Bible Prophecy.’
I’m also pretty sure that I should be vigilant by keeping an eye on what I’m doing. I’ll get back to that. Also Luke 21:36 and taking the long view.
I’m starting my ‘Advent’ post with John’s quote from Genesis 1:1 because I like it. Besides, it talks about “the beginning” and we’re beginning Advent.
Advent is the season when we get ready for Christmas.
Moral Outrage and “the True Spirit of Cyber Monday?”
Some holiday preparations are cultural: like picking out a Christmas tree, untangling string lights and — for some — listening to classics like “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas.”
“I Yust Go Nuts…” disappeared from my home town radio’s Christmas playlists a few decades back. I was living in another part of the Upper Midwest then. Maybe it’s still verboten. I haven’t checked, and don’t listen to radio as often as I once did.
Moral outrage over the evils of alcohol was popular around that time, not just in my part of the country. Maybe radio stations decided to play it safe. Maybe they had some other motive. Or incentive. I realize that DUI is a bad idea, and that’s another topic.
I didn’t, and don’t, see protecting Americans from novelty songs as a vital issue. And I sure don’t miss the days when “banned in Boston” mattered.
I also don’t see a problem with enjoying my culture’s year-end celebrations, including the Christmas-themed ones.
Provided that they don’t become obsessions. There’s more to life than fruitcake and holiday glitz.
Maybe I’ll talk about “the true spirit of cyber Monday,” problems with being a spendthrift or miser, and Canto VII of Dante’s “Inferno” later this year. Or maybe not.
Traditions and Me
Some Christmas preparations are shared by all Christians, one way or another.
Ours are arguably similar to those of all folks who see theological or metaphysical significance in the northern hemisphere’s winter solstice.
I’m a Catholic, so I’m used to seeing folks wearing albs near the altar.
It’s part of a uniform that started as what many folks wore when the Roman Empire was a big deal. I gather that it was a bit like today’s ‘business casual.’
Our worship celebrations are colorful, literally. Depending on what part of the calendar we’re at, we’ll see white, red, green, purple, black, rose, and gold or silver.1
Our traditions, lower case “t,” didn’t start with that color scheme. I’ve heard that our cycle’s colors changed slightly around 1969. Maybe some folks are still upset about that.
I’m not. I’m living in 21st century central North America, not 1st century Rome or 11th century Munster. Customs change, and that’s okay. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 814, 864–865, 1200–1206)
Our Tradition, upper case “T,” is very important. Our local and regional traditions are too, in their own way. And that’s yet another topic. (June 18, 2017; June 2, 2017)
I’m enjoying some of my culture’s customs: looking at colored lights, listening to holiday-themed music, being very glad one of my daughters picked out the Christmas gift I’m giving my wife.
That last is more of a personal and family tradition, not quite so much cultural. On the other hand, “I Yust Go Nuts…” mentions a vaguely-similar scenario.
Advent is also — and more importantly — a time for getting my heart and mind prepped for Christmas. That’s the idea. Experience tells me there’ll be a disconnect between what could be done and what I actually do. I try, anyway.
I’ve got what could be an overwhelming range of options for my Advent preparations. They include, but aren’t limited to, Lectio Divina for Advent, “O Antiphons” and customs involving my culture’s traditions involving wreaths and trees.2
I could try following each of my culture’s seasonal customs. Or get even more discouraged by trying to adopt every Advent-related habit we’ve accumulated over the last two millennia.
And failing. I don’t think there are enough hours in each day to do it all. (June 4, 2017)
Instead of re-enacting the ‘glass mountain’ folktale, I’ll do what’s worked for me in previous years. I’ll look back at our Lord’s birth and ahead to Christ’s second coming — taking opportunities for reflection as they come. I don’t think I’m being lazy. Just aware of how my mind works and dealing with my realities.
I’ve read that the ‘glass mountain’ story started in Poland, Sweden and Ireland. Each claim is probably true, for that particular variation. My guess is that the basic story is part of northern Europe’s shared heritage, with roots going back long before the glaciers melted. And that’s yet again another topic.
This year’s first Advent Gospel, in Luke 21, includes some of what our Lord said about “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.”
Taking the Bible seriously is part of being Catholic. An important part. So is believing that it’s true, and that it includes figurative language. (Catechism, 101–133, 390)
Happily, I’m not expected to decide exactly what each verse ‘really means.’ (Catechism, 74–95)
That, and having a moderately good memory, would keep me from jumping on the latest Rapture bandwagon. Even if I felt drawn toward that sort of enthusiasm.
I don’t, but a remarkable number of folks apparently do. They’re not all like Non Sequitur’s Eddie.
I haven’t noticed any high-profile ‘End Times Bible Prophecies’ lately.
Certainly not on the scale of Harold Camping’s remarkably successful 2011 effort. I’m impressed by his success in keeping the ball rolling with a second prognostication.
October 21, Camping’s second predicted Rapture, wasn’t entirely without incident. Slovenian poet and author Tone Pavček died. NATO commander James G. Stavridis made an important statement.
But divine fire and brimstone remained conspicuously absent. (August 7, 2016)
I talked about a couple more fizzled End Times predictions, the Bible, a “blood moon prophecy” and Nibiru last year. (September 29, 2017; August 23, 2017)
I might see my culture’s perennial ‘End Times’ fads as nothing more than a sort of cottage industry and fodder for humorists. I figure that’s part of the picture.
But I also realize that some folks believe the nonsense. Others assume that all Christians are either con artists, deluded leaders or their equally-deluded followers. I can’t reasonably see any of that as harmless fun. And that’s still another topic.
“Last things” is what some folks in my culture say when they’re talking about Christian eschatology. So do I, sometimes.
Judgment Day is in my list, which isn’t even close to thinking I can second-guess its timetable. (Catechism, 1021–1050)
The way I see it, scheduling this creation’s closing ceremony is a top-level command decision. What I’ve read in Matthew 24:36–44, 25:13 and Mark 13:32–33 strongly suggests that its details are available on a need-to-know basis.
The Son of God didn’t need to know, so I sure don’t. Trying to second-guess the Almighty, or pretend that I’ve decoded celestial secrets seems imprudent, at best.
We’ll be reading Luke 1:26–38 this Saturday. It records one of several important interviews. I talked about them in 2016. (December 18, 2016)
The way I see it, Mary asked a reasonable question. And was remarkably unperturbed. The initial response of some prophets, in similar circumstances, was to try talking their way out of the assignment.
“But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?'”
“And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Zachariah’s question probably seemed reasonable to him, and Joseph handled a potentially-awkward situation very well.
Anyone who’s listened to the Gospels during Advent and Christmas seasons knows what happened later. Mary said ‘yes,’ Zachariah didn’t say anything for a while, and Joseph accepted his role as Mary’s husband and foster-father to Jesus, the Son of God.
Jesus grew up, said things that made sense and rubbed some folks the wrong way. Then he was executed and buried.
That wasn’t unusual. Folks throughout history have gotten themselves killed by annoying uptight authorities. Or being seen as a threat to the status quo.
What makes that execution triple-header stand out is what happened a few days later.
Jesus stopped being dead. (Catechism, 571–655)
Jesus gave the surviving Apostles standing orders that haven’t changed. Then he told them that he’d be back, and left. That’s why we’re still passing along what we were told and waiting for our Lord’s return.
Jesus is human and the Son of God: human and divine, a person in the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate Word. (John 1:1, 14; Catechism, 241–422, 258, 436–445, 456–478, 484–507)
And no, I don’t understand the Holy Trinity’s relational processes. I don’t know how the Resurrection worked either. I’m curious, as I am about pretty much everything. But God’s God, I’m not, and I’m okay with that.
I have more to say, but it will wait. This post took longer to write than I expected. Then WordPress software, this blog’s content management system, wanted updating. That’s an example of anthropomorphism, and that’s — you guessed it — another topic.
Two millennia have gone by since Jesus stopped being dead. We’re still passing along what we’ve been told, and getting ready for our Lord’s return.
It’s taking a great deal longer than many folks expected. Maybe that’s why some claim that Judgment Day is nigh, or believe the latest wannabe prophet.
Or maybe not. I expect that our Lord’s return will happen — when it happens.
Meanwhile, I’ve got plenty on my to-do list.
I’d better wrap this up with good advice from last Sunday’s Gospel:
“‘Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise
“like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.
“Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.'”
Being vigilant at all times and praying makes sense to me. So does remembering that troubles, big and small, keep happening.
And that Christ’s second coming has been “imminent” for two millennia so far:
- “Advent: Our Long Watch”
(December 3, 2017)
- “Still Rejoicing”
(July 2, 2017)
- “The Eighth Day: Two Millennia and Counting”
(April 16, 2017)
- “Gabriel, Joseph, and Mary”
(December 18, 2016)
- “Jesus and Expectations”
(December 11, 2016)
How others see holiday shopping frenzies, Advent, and all that:
- “Why this Catholic convert says ‘Bah, humbug’ to Christmas celebrations”
Robert Kurland, Aleteia (December 3, 2017)
- “Contemporary Violence”
Pauca Verba (November 28, 2017)
- “Greccio and the First Crib – A Christmas Reflection”
David Torkington (December 30, 2016)
tiberjudy (November 27, 2016)
- USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops)
- USCCB (United States Council of Catholic Bishops)
- General Audience, 05.12.2018
Pope Francis (December 5, 2018)
Pastoral Visit to the Roman Parish of St María Josefa of the Heart of Jesus, Pope St. John Paul II (December 16, 2001)34, 139, 158)
- General Audience, 05.12.2018