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Endings are new beginnings

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With nowhere else to go last Thursday during my day off, I headed north to the Christmas capital of the Philippines to check on the colorful lanterns or parol sold along the highway in San Fernando, Pampanga.

What a sight to behold, a refreshing break from two years of quarantine and a better alternative to the malls! Like the stars above they represent, these colorful lanterns are best seen at night, when darkness is all around us like when Jesus was born on first Christmas – the darkest night of the year – to be our light in the world. And that is his message on this penultimate Sunday in our Church calendar when we hear him teaching us about the end of time.

Jesus said to his disciples: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

Mark 13:24-27

With or without God, the “end of the world” has always been one of mankind’s preoccupation. We Christians are the most eager, having put on so much thoughts and efforts and concerns about the end of the world because it was spoken by Jesus Christ himself. However, it is not just an end of the world as portrayed in many Hollywood films that evoke fear with all the deaths and destructions happening.

When Jesus spoke of the tribulations and the darkening of the sun and the moon with stars falling, he was speaking in symbolic languages common at that time. It is a part of theology called escathology that deals with everything about the last things but, it is not all destruction. The end that Jesus spoke of to his disciples follows a certain direction towards the final end which is the eternal glory of God.

Hence, our faith about the end of the world at the Second Coming of Christ should not evoke fear in us because it will be the final fulfillment God’s plan that we shall all be with him in all eternity. On the contrary, Jesus speaking of the end of time should bring us hope and joy for better tomorrow. If it were so bad that everything would be destroyed and gone, how could he “come in the clouds with great power and glory”? Jesus was clearly speaking of good things than bad things here, of the passing of old to be replaced with new and better ones.

Photo by author, view of Jerusalem Temple from the Mount of Olives, 2019.

In fact, Jesus was encouraging the Twelve in this scene when they were by themselves on the Mount of Olives across the Temple. It was a very private moment when Jesus spoke of these things to the Twelve after Peter had inquired about the coming destruction of the Temple the Lord had told them after a disciple marveled at its magnificent stones.

Of course, we know nothing is permanent in this world, no matter how beautiful and sound it may be.

One thing we notice at the very start of Mark’s gospel is the presence of tribulations both in the time of Jesus and early Christians. Remember that in Mark’s account, the beginning of the “good news” of Jesus Christ is the story of the arrest of John the Baptist, a very bad news at that time (Mk.1:14). It was the “ending” of the preaching by John the Baptist but the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

When Mark wrote his gospel, the early Christians have already experienced persecutions and many sufferings like when Nero blamed them for the great fire that burned Rome in year 68. Although the Temple was still intact when Mark wrote his gospel account, there were already persistent rumors of the coming attack in Jerusalem by the Roman army which took place in year 70.

These teachings of the end of the world and Second Coming were meant by Jesus to strengthen and assure his disciples that include us in this time not to panic nor be shaken by trials and tribulations. So often in life, it is when we are sick or defeated, when we are down when we actually see the light clearer, when God begins to work his wonders in us and for us.

This Sunday, our first reading and gospel both tell us to never lose heart in the face of darkness and sufferings, encouraging us to remain faithful to God because he is coming, he has come and he is come inaugurating his kingdom right here in our hearts, among us (Lk.17:21).

Endings are new beginnings. Welcome every ending or closing in life. Most of all, be ready for no one knows the exact day nor time when it would come and happen.

“Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heave, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Mark 13:28-32

Photo by author, Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 2018.

It is useless and impractical to know the date and time when all these things will happen because salvation and any other change will never be realized when they are determined. Instead of waiting for the date, do everything in every here and now so that we become more prepared how to act properly when faced with the Lord’s Second Coming and whatever emergencies in life. This is the meaning of the parable of the fig tree when we learn to read the signs of the times and other events in our lives in the spiritual sense and not just in human terms like this pandemic.

It is our task as a believer and as a community to decipher and discern their spiritual meanings because these are grace-filled moments for growth and maturity in the Lord. Jesus assures us that he is definitely coming. He is the God of history. This is the gist of the first reading where Daniel had seen in a vision mankind’s moving forward in history with all the ups and downs with just one assurance: “the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever” (Dan.12:3). This was eventually fulfilled in Jesus.

Every time we see and hear or even experience disasters and famines, pandemics and wars, coming of false prophets and despots, elections and other upheavals, they are harbingers of the coming of Jesus Christ. The more darkness and sufferings come, the more everything seemed to be ending or even lost, that is when surely the Lord is coming.

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us how Jesus seated at the right hand of God in heaven awaits until all things on earth come to completion as planned while we stand vigilant, faithfully awaiting also that day when we shall be with him in all his glory. Let us do our part specially in this time of the pandemic which is a wake up call than a punishment for our sins because God does not punish at all.

This darkness above us calls us to deepen our faith, hope and love in God through one another that we become Christ’s loving presence. Jesus is definitely coming. Are we ready?

Have a blessed week ahead! Amen.

Photo by author, lantern store in San Fernando, Pampanga that shows us how in the darkness of this pandemic, slowly we can now see the beauty and light of God’s love and mercy (11 November 2021).
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