Luke 21:25-28, 34-36, First Sunday of Advent
I have a personal beef with end-of-the-world scenarios, or what we call in theology, apocalypses. When I was growing up in Davao, our elders terrorized us at one time or another with end-of-the-world scenarios – mainly to cow us into submission to their do’s and don’t’s, for us to behave. Like I said in my homily two Sundays ago, I was in fourth grade when an uncle brought home a document entitled Three Days of Darkness which prophesied how the world would end, and very soon. For many nights, it kept me up, praying to a fearsome, cruel, vengeful God. I found out only two weeks ago (thank you, Wikipedia) that Three Days of Darkness had been around since 1802! So, 174 years thereafter, in 1976, when I was in fourth grade, some priest or nun or ex-priest or ex-nun or self-styled armchair prophet/prophetess must have decided to, well, raise it from the dead. Well, the Three Days of Darkness didn’t happen. Yet, it was hardly a year after that when another “zombie” awoke. This time, the prophecies at Garabandal, Mexico, very different but equally sordid scenarios of the end. One detail I kept seeing in my nightmares was what the visionary said would signal the end: an enormous luminous cross in the night sky which all peoples of the earth would see at the same time. Didn’t the visionary know there is a thing we call “time zones”? So if that cross appeared one dreary Davao night, it would be morning and pancakes in New Jersey? So how was everyone on earth supposed to see it in the night sky at the same time ?”
Apocalypses, dear sisters and brothers, was a style of writing that ostensibly forecast the “end of the world”. In the Bible, apocalypses blared from the trumpets of prophets thousands of years ago. Today, we’re up against two major difficulties in interpreting apocalypses because 1) biblical scholars emphasize that prophets were not clairvoyants who saw the future like we think they were, and 2) apocalypses were not predictions of the world’s end. Apocalypses were written during specific periods in history when foreign powers body-slammed Israel and pinned her down to desert dust. As she squirmed loose, the prophets, especially Daniel, they penned grandiose visions out of Israel’s gasping hopes for vengeance and victory – but in coded language, and symbolic preternatural beasts, and sword-bearing angels, and cosmic anomalies like the roaring of the sea, the shaking of the heavens, the darkening of sunlight, moonlight and starlight! Alas, we mistake all these today as predictions of the world’s end. Worse, many priests, nuns, ex-priests, ex-nuns and traditional Catholics with control issues – they resurrect apocalypses like a Frankenstein sewn from the organs and limbs of pious imagination…and they command their monster: “Go! Go and tell the world of God’s punishment,” rather than “Go! Go and tell the world that God is our hope and the he is busy setting aright what men fracture, busy writing straight out of men’s crooked lines, busy refreshing the soil that men mercilessly irrigated with enemy’s blood, and tying ends that men leave loose and hanging.” That, dear sisters and brothers, was the raison d’etre of true prophecy, the nuclear core of apocalypses: to awaken people’s hope in God by using lightning bolts of symbols, cosmic and grandiose; the only way to shock our flagging spirits.
The apocalyptic imagination, my dear sisters and brothers, is here to stay. In fact, apocalyptic imagination is deeply human. God hard-wired all of us to envision future glory, even if he risked its misuse by pious control freaks. The motherboard on which our apocalyptic hard-wiring connects is what you and I call today as hope, a divine gift. For how many times in our lifetime have formidable powers body-slammed us and pinned us down? Yet, even when all seemed grim and permanent, we were able to squirm loose. That’s because of hope, a gift God sewed out of the same fibers and nerves of his own beating heart. Maybe we don’t notice, but we become apocalyptic whenever we say “May awa ang Diyos” and when we say “Makapangyarihan ang Diyos.” Unpack those apocalypses and we’re actually saying God’s goodness will body-slam evil. Life will pin down death. The killings will stop. Their engineers will get a does of their own medicine. Their volley of insults may keep flying may keep flying, yes, but balang araw, the insulted will outlive and outnumber the blasphemous who will turn to dust, because “May awa ang Diyos. Makapangyarihan ang Diyos.”
On a more personal level, dear sisters and brothers, you and I will eventually come to that point where there won’t be much to look forward to, which this life in this world could still offer, won’t we? It usually comes when we’re getting on in years, when our homes are quiet, when we’re too weary to party or travel, and when we fall ill and spend the rest of our days staring at the ceiling or out the window. So, whether as a nation or as individuals, we atoll need the dramatic, overwhelming vision of a future. Fortunately, we have that apocalyptic in the form of a season. It comes every year of our lives. Advent. Twenty-four days of constant reassurance that the Lord has already come victorious in may, wondrous ways – for look where we’ve been, and look where we are now. At the same time, the Lord is still to come in even more surprisingly gracious ways. Advent reminds us that God’s son is born into the world because the world is being borne by God, and his Son makes all things new, and his Son is forever Savior; relentless and indomitable Savior. He is our roaring sea, our shaking heavens, our sunlight and moonlight and starlight, our apocalyptic-made-flesh. May awa ang Diyos, yes, because Jesus is that Mercy. Makapangyarihan ang Diyos, yes, Jesus is that Might. Amen.
*image from the Internet