As the church year ends we read apocalyptic writings, the Book of Daniel and apocalyptic sections from the gospels.They’re about the future, the day of the Lord, when the kingdom of God finally comes and humanity and creation itself attain the goal intended by God from the beginning.
We’re like the people Jesus describes in Luke’s gospel, however, those in the days of Noah and the days of Lot who were “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.” (Luke 17, 26-30) We like our normal lives.
For that reason, these writings make us uneasy, because they point to a future that’s far from normal: “wars and insurrections, nation rising against nation, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, awesome sights and mighty signs in the sky” (Luke 21, 7-28) And there’s persecution besides. We don’t want those things in our lives.
Jesus promises in these same readings that not a hair of our head will be harmed, that we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, that we’ll be able to give testimony, that we will have the wisdom to understand it all. But still, we’re unsettled by it all.
If faith helps us into the future and the life to come, what can these readings teach us?
The Book of Daniel, which we’re also reading at Mass this week, recalls King Nebuchadnezzar training Daniel and three other young Jewish exiles in Babylon to serve as his advisors. The king has a lot on his hands to deal with, and he needs a brain trust to help him see where he’s been and where he’s going. People in charge always need advice.
Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar a picture of the future that he wasn’t expecting. Other empires will follow him and his kingdom will come to an end, Daniel tells him. The great powers of his world have clay feet; they collapse and fall to the ground. The only kingdom that endures is God’s kingdom, a stone hewn from a mountain.
Daniel wasn’t afraid to present the king with reality. Is that what we learn from apocalyptic readings? God works through reality, they tell us, whether wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecutions. Yet, the kingdom of God will come, no matter what. So don’t fear the future, whether your own or that of the world.
“When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21, 28)