“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh.”
“Look up!” A homeless man wandered the streets shouting this at passersby. “Look up!” he cried to the youth who walked with heads hung down, punching buttons on smart devices. “Look up!” he called to the professionals who lost their humanity in business. “Look up!” he urged each man and woman wrapped up in their unique endeavors. “Look up!” God speaks through his prophets day and night, if we have ears to hear.
“Look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Advent commences with an apocalyptic warning. Today marks the start of the New Year in the Church calendar. We begin all things by looking to the end. Everything ahead of you this year, everything you accomplish, and most everything you get excited about will fall apart and come to nothing. Then Christ will come. He will come to take up his own, all those whose eyes are strained upwards. So we start Advent with this invitation: “Look up!”
“Jesus said unto his disciples: There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea, and the waves roaring: men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken” (Luke 21:25-33).
The apocalypse will usher in environmental and civil cataclysm.
The Scriptures explain these signs in heaven, “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light” (Matthew 24:29). Socrates believed everything we see in this natural world to be a shadowy glimpse of another, truer world. When we see the world to come, we will see for the first time true trees, true birds, and true people. The Apocalypse is the bridge between these worlds. The Church Fathers explain, “As swiftly as the moon and stars fade before the rising sun, so before the glorious appearance of Christ, the sun will be darkened…the stars will fall from heaven” (St. John Chrysostom). “[Then] Christ Himself will shine as the Sun and King of the new creation” (Eusebius).
The sun worshipers were nearly right to adore the sun. They erred because they took it for the real thing. The sun we see now is no more than an icon of the true sun, our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:14).
Everything beautiful today is a taste of the beauty prepared for tomorrow. But the transition will be horrible. Everything has to die first. The way a log crumbles when burnt to ashes, our world will deteriorate.
“Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.”
The Greek uses the word ἀποψυχόντων —Men will faint and gasp from fear and apprehension at the destruction in the world. One Church Father puts it, “terror will come upon all the people of the earth…a common dread and anxiety, and they will be silent in fear and expectation of the evils rushing upon the world” (Theophylactus).
So where do we stand in all this?
How should we brace ourselves in hard times?
Advent arrives precisely to condition our hearts for this. There is only one answer.
“When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh.”
Christ is coming! He has prepared a new heaven and a new earth.
Advent is a season for letting go and looking up. We cannot afford to waist any more time or energy. Our careers and dreams, the works of man, none of it matters any longer. Christ is coming. Will he find us looking up?
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).
Why do we have to fast? We have forgotten to hunger for God. A hungry stomach creates a hungry soul. We need this time now to listen to our hunger pains once again, to embrace and enter that hunger and get to the bottom of it. We are hungry for God and only he can fill us.
Alexander Schmemann urged the faithful to turn off their televisions and radios, to put away our games, from start to end of these seasons. We cannot hear God any more with the static in our ears, nor feel him for all the stimulus. Homosapiens have become homoconnecticus in our era of smart technology. It is time to disconnect from it, so we can connect to something different, something just beyond us.
Advent sets us apart from the world. We do not belong at the parties in the weeks ahead. What are they feasting about? The four candles on the Advent Wreathe are still bare. The Nativity Creche is empty. We are waiting, preparing, and in this quiet, in the stillness in our heart, a flame is free to burn: hope.
Advent calls us out of the cities and suburbs into the meadows with the shepherds, eyes strained upwards, listening, hoping.
“In a cloud with power and great glory…”
Christ is coming! Look up!