Each year as Ordinary Time draws to a close and Advent approaches, our readings become increasingly eschatological. Eschatology is one of those words that theologians love to throw around, but it is a good word none the less. Many folks who have studied some theology will associate eschatology with “end times.” The word does contain that meaning, but it is far more than that. More properly, the word captures the full spectrum of the Christian hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises both in the here and now and in the age to come.
Clearly there are warnings here about endings. Daniel warns Nebuchadnezzar about the approaching demise of his kingdom and the approaching kingdom of God. Likewise, Jesus warns his disciples about the end of ancient Israel, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and the advent of a time of affliction. The message of both: the world we inhabit is contingent and passing.
Some Christians waste a lot of time and energy trying to decode readings like this. They might, for example, try to link the Kingdoms described by Daniel to, say, different political entities existing in our own time and, by so linking them, get a sense of the date and time of the second coming of Christ. Such interpreters should know that efforts to predict the end have been going on for nearly two millennia, and all have failed. These eschatological texts are not predictions of the future in that sense: they tell us that the kingdom will one day come, but they do not tell us when, and they do not say how.
If we fixate on trying to decode, we can miss a more subtle point. I mentioned above that eschatology is about hope both present and future. We hope for a transformed word in the kingdom of God, but while we live we hope for a transformed life here and now. How can predictions of disaster be about that? Here the spirit of today’s memorial can give a clue. St. Cecilia is listed in the Roman Calendar as a “virgin and martyr.” Without going into detail about the history of these categories, I can say that both point to the contingency of our present reality. We live in anticipation of the approaching kingdom. At times in Christian history some have died witnessing to that truth. They remind us that the Christian life can be difficult as we attempt be faithful to Christ against the various powers of our world that do not lead to life. We are fortunate that for us the battles are for the most part spiritual, and we not had to face death as a test of our conviction. Yet, at times, we may still need a martyr’s courage.
This is a good message, but I’m looking forward to Advent.
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