This week’s readings are here.
The first verses of this week’s gospel are full of foreboding:
“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.
How many Christians over the centuries have seen in the world around them signs of Jesus’ imminent return? How many times have Christians declared the day and hour of the Lord’s coming, only to be disappointed? The image in that first verse, the “roaring of the sea and the waves,” may sound particularly familiar and ominous to those who lived through Hurricane Sandy and are still suffering in its aftermath.
In this passage, Jesus calls us to be vigilant, to be alert, to look for signs of his coming. The problem is that signs are often open to interpretation. Some aren’t of course–a stop sign offers a pretty clear meaning; but when a traffic light turns to yellow? Is a massive hurricane like Sandy a sign of God’s judgment, Jesus’ Second Coming, perhaps evidence of Global Warming, or just a random event?
Interpreting signs requires careful attention, something that may be difficult in the month of December, during the season of Advent. We are busy with our preparations for the season. Academics, whether students or professors, are focused on the hard work of the end of semester. It’s often the case that our lives are so busy we can’t find time or energy to look around us and pay attention to the signs of Christ’s coming. Of course, on one level, it’s impossible to avoid those signs. Christmas decorations and holiday music have been around for a couple of weeks already. But what about signs of Christ’s coming in our lives? Signs of Christ’s coming in the lives of those we love? Signs of Christ’s coming in our daily life? Do we have time to pause and pay attention to that? To pay attention to Christ coming among us at work or school? To pay attention to the ways we might be a sign of Christ’s coming to those we encounter and those we love?