The Bible is in many ways an alien document. One of the ways in which it appears most alien to many contemporary people is its sense of time. The New Testament in particular can seem bizarre with its apocalyptic and eschatological sense of time. Time is short in the Bible. The world of the supernatural is about to break in upon the natural. The Lord is about to return in power and glory with his angels. At any moment shall come the final cataclysm and the final separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. The whole message of Jesus and the New Testament is “repent, the Kingdom is at hand. Turn to God and accept his mercy and grace while there is yet time, while he delays the final judgment. Act now before it is too late.” Paul urges the members of the church in Corinth, a place notorious for immorality, to hold fast so they shall be found without blame on the day of His coming, which must be nigh.
But it has been many years and God has not shown His hand with power and great might. It becomes hard to hold the faith that God is indeed in control of history and that even now the curtain is opening on the last act of His great drama of salvation. To many contemporary people the hope that the final vindication of justice and holiness and the final defeat of evil is about to unfold seems a quaint, naive and perhaps dangerous superstition.
Yet many people do live with a sense that time is short and that the human history is about to play itself out. There is the feeling of the Bible that time is short but without the feeling, that in these last days, God is doing something new, something great. Many people feel that it is too late and there is nothing to do but make the best of the time that is left. The message of the Bible is that time is short so it is important to take decisive action now to be included in God’s blessing and bounty. The feeling of contemporary people is that the time is short and that the time for action has past. An indication of this pervasive feeling is that genre of post-apocalyptic films(ex. The Matrix or The Day After Tomorrow.) The big disaster has come, whether war or environmental disaster, and the few survivors try to find a little love, a little pleasure, a little dignity, a little friendship. The message is clear: to hope for more than survival and small consolations is foolish. Many younger people have reined in emotional and spiritual expectations along with their economic expectations.
St. Thomas says somewhere,”Deprive a man of spiritual joys and he will seek to compensate with sensual pleasures. Only, no amount of sensual pleasure will ever compensate for the lack of spiritual joy.” Hope is a spiritual joy and so many people are starved for the spiritual joy of hope. So many people are seeking to compensate for this lack of hope by chasing whatever pleasure they think can be wrested from the moment and so are moving deeper into hopelessness and spiritual emptiness. The epidemics of substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and violence will not ever give way to yet more vigorous attempts at education and reform. These things are diseases of hopelessness. They are the signs of systemic hopelessness in a society and only the renewal of hope will help.
The message of Advent is a message of hope. The time of the Messiah has come. These are the last days, the time between the first and the second coming. The savior is here. The power of the new age has begun to appear in this old age that is passing away. There is healing for us, the power of a new life for us in the meeting with the One who has been crucified and raised and who sends His spirit. The evidence is everywhere. See how lives are being changed. See how people are being healed, even from things they thought it was too late to do anything about. See how enemies are being reconciled. See how the poor are being lifted up by charity and by participating in the dignity and joy of the celebration of the goodness and power of the savior. Surely God will soon show his hand and show clearly to all what he has already in his mercy revealed to us who have had the eyes to see and the ears to hear the Christ. We must be ready. We must help our neighbors get ready. Though it be yet years away there is barely time. Though our personal end be yet years away there is barely time. Hold fast. Don’t give in to the contagious hopelessness of this age. Remember what God has done for you. It is just a preview. Don’t be caught napping.