Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
That day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.
‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living person on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’
For those for who are, not just admirers, but disciples Jesus is the sadguru, the root teacher of the human quest. Faith is relationship. A unique companionship on life’s journey rescuing us from isolation while freeing us from suffocation by the crowd. Like any faithful relationship, discipleship evolves, taking many forms, becoming a deeper union, taking us through the worst that can befall us.
As our centre of gravity Jesus identifies us – to ourselves – as ‘disciples’. From the Latin discere, to learn. Often we see Jesus speaking directly and intimately to his disciples differently from his public voice. He longs to share with us everything he has learned as a disciple to the Father. His longing for us to understand brings a historic religious revolution to discipleship and our sense of God: ‘I call you servants no longer but friends, because I have shared with you everything I have learned for the Father.’ You cannot fear a friend.
We begin the quest of Advent by listening to what he says about the end of the world, our private world, the planetary world, every kind of world. It is apocalyptic. I have just watched the iconic film about the Vietnam war – Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, the film climaxes with the depiction of the remote upriver settlement in Cambodia where the renegade American Colonel Kurtz presides insanely over a deranged army governed by fear. He is in profound psychic pain, but his mind is frighteningly clear. The horror and atrocities of war pushed him over the edge. The horror then turned inwards against himself and outwards to the world. Marlon Brando says the famous words ‘the horror, the horror’ with chilling conviction worse than any horror film.
Jesus warns his disciples to be prepared for the horror. His language should evoke our fear of an ecological apocalypse, the first signs of which we see in the Californian fires, the floods, the deforestation, the plastic-polluted oceans, the change of seasons and melting ice caps. Denial is the first reaction to the fear of death. But the inescapable fear will build, disrupting all relationships. Behind every manifestation of fear is the horror of loss, the death aroused by every loss we undergo. Men die of fear, Jesus says. Because fear deprives us of the capacity for love.
To his disciples he imparts his liberating command. He doesn’t say you sinners have much to fear. He says ‘do not fear’. Be upright, dignified in your divine humanity. And ‘wait’. This is a core teaching of Advent: to learn to wait. Waiting is a learned practice, like meditation.
The best response to the ‘horror’ of fear is to wait as this releases the hidden resource of hope. Waiting is self-control, care for our mental health and equanimity, avoiding excess, addiction and anxiety: the conscious and hopeful waiting of the disciple not the frenetic impatience of the consumer. Stay conscious, he tells us, and pray at all times. This is the other core theme of Advent: to be in the state of continuous prayer. The daily times of meditation develop this state.
At the beginning of our preparation for Christmas, we have at least learned we are not waiting for Santa Claus.
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