And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
In today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus and his disciples have left the temple area, crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the Mount of Olives. Here Jesus will teach his closest disciples with the Temple Mount as a backdrop; a very impressive venue.
Jesus warns his disciples to “beware that no one leads you astray.” Many, Jesus tells us, many will come in his name and claim to be the Messiah. Don’t be fooled, Jesus tells us. For you will hear of wars and rumors of wars “for nation will rise against nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”
Sound familiar? I don’t know about you, but as I sit here and pray, Matthew’s Gospel comes very close to describing our lives together in the 21st Century. In my 71 years of life there has been little peace, but much war. There is war and rumors of war, but peace is elusive. Matthew says that in such a world many false prophets mislead the many and “the love of many will grow cold.”
In an essay entitled Advent: Hope or Delusion? Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk from Kentucky, writes that “The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore too we must remember the Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.”
Jesus bids us to actively wait for his return — Advent is the time for active waiting. We wait and look for Jesus, not in the world as it should be, but in the world as it is. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it.