By Father Anthony F. Raso
It is hardly the biggest surprise in the world, but one that we forget so frequently that it would be funny if it were not so sad: Jesus is on our side. He is no one of whom to be afraid.
In Advent, when we confront the fact that the Second Coming is closer now than ever before, we start to think about the end of the world and do so with discomfort. Do we forget so easily the one with whom we are dealing? I’m afraid we do.
Ought Not to Tangle
When my mother gets mad at me – which is not infrequently, and on which occasions, Lord help me, she’s right – she’ll tell me, “The tall, dark Stranger is listening to you, and He’s not happy!” That “tall, dark Stranger” to whom she is referring, needless to say, is Jesus. In her childhood, and for that matter in my own, Jesus was often presented to us as someone with whom we ought not to tangle. At the end of time, we’d have to meet Him face-to-face and we’d be sorry then. However, it’s been a long time since her childhood – and mine – and so the whole idea of Jesus being someone of whom to be very careful is now a rather old-fashioned idea, for the most part.
More Than a Stunner
As is clear from our Gospel today, when the Last Day comes, it will be more than a little bit of a stunner: There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars; nations will be in anguish, the sea will roar and the waves will crash. The powers of heaven will be shaken and, by the way, men will die of fright! In other words, you sure will notice all of this when it happens.
Finally, the Son of Man will appear. It all sounds pretty frightening – but the Lord tells us, on that day “stand up straight and raise your heads, for your ransom is at hand.” All of a sudden, a very bad tomorrow will turn very good – if we’re smart today.
He is warning us to be smart: Don’t get all caught up in the stupidities of sin and worldly cares because the day will come upon you as suddenly as a trap.
Watching the Signs
Inasmuch as – and as much as we tend to forget it – He is most emphatically on our side. He is telling us precisely how to prepare for that awesome tomorrow, namely by spending today in watching the signs of the times, and by praying constantly for the wit to escape the bad things which that day can bring to those who are too foolish to prepare themselves today. What Jesus has in mind, as usual, is to get us into heaven, even in spite of our best efforts to forget about Him and His constant love of us.
Jeremiah, usually a rather gloomy sort of guy, is not so gloomy at all in today’s first reading as he reminds us that when the Lord comes, He will raise up the Son of David like the first green shoot of a new springtime. Then the Son of David will, in turn, do what is right and just and the people of God will be safe and sound under the wing of the one they will call not the “tall, dark Stranger,” but “the Lord of Justice.” This is what the Lord has in mind for us because He is always true to His promises, and what He’s promised us is salvation, joy and peace.
The Great Tomorrow
In our second reading, St. Paul complements this message by reminding us that, in preparation for that great tomorrow, we must spend today in letting the Lord increase in us, and in overflowing with love for one another “blameless and holy before our God and Father on the Day of the Lord.” Moreover, St. Paul is clearly telling us to keep up the good work, “which you are indeed doing … You know the instructions we gave you in the Lord Jesus.” So as long as you have found the Way, keep up in following it in truth and in life so that the Lord will find you easy to see on the Last Day.
So, should we be afraid of Jesus and afraid of that Last Day? The answer to that is as definite as it can be: yes and no.
It’s “yes” if we persist in forgetting all about His message of love and spend our lives ignoring it. If that is the way He finds us on the last Day, we will find in Him the tall, dark Stranger that we have painted Him to be. Even on that occasion, He will not be cruel because He has never been cruel. But He will be just: If we have used that doubled-edged sword called free will to cut our ties from Him, He will, with profound sadness, accept our decision. Those who have been as unwise as that will have much to regret when that day comes – not because Jesus ever stopped loving them, but because they stopped loving Him and each other.
‘A’ for Effort
It’s “no” if we try our best ever day to live as He wants us to live. When He reads our eternal report card on that day, He will notice that we might not have gotten “A’s” in everything with which life has presented us, but He will look first – and notice best – the “A” we got for effort. Then it is off to heaven with Him we will go. That’s where He wants us to be, and it is certainly where He is already dusting off a seat for us because He is, always has been and always will be, not anyone’s tall, dark Stranger, but forever our tall, bright Brother.
Readings for the First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 4:2
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Father Anthony F. Raso is the parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.