And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
The season of Advent begins with tales of the end: the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent is from Jesus’ discourse on the apocalypse from Matthew 24; the readings for the second lesson at Evening prayer throughout Advent are from the Revelation of St. John; and in the Second week of Advent we read from the so-called “little apocalypse” of Isaiah (Isaiah 24-27). Such readings assist the Church as she sets her attention on one of the great themes of Advent, the second coming of Christ. As the familiar words are read the people of God are reminded to set their hopes and their hears on the sure and certain fact that “he will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
In their natural human curiosity, the apostles asked Jesus about the signs of the close of the age. He told them tales of temples being overturned, of false messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, of earthquakes and famines. These would be, ‘but the beginning of the birth-pangs.’ Jesus spoke to them plainly, informing them that they would be betrayed and handed over to the authorities and so would many of those who would follow Christ after them. He spoke to them familiarly, in parables about the end of this present world. Winters would prove difficult for those in distress. The moon and sun would refuse to shine and the the stars would be removed from their courses. The words of Isaiah perhaps flashed through their mind, “The earth staggers like a drunken man and sways like a hut” (Is. 24.20). Finally, Jesus told them that after all these portents, they would see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24.30). He then encouraged them to keep watch and be ready for that day.
In the many generations since, as the Church has been watching and preparing, Jesus’ followers have been wondering at these words. Many have tried to discern ‘the signs of the times’ and apocalyptic fervor flares up at least once a century. (And much more so near each new millennium.) G.K. Chesterton, commenting about the many interpretations of the book of revelation once joked, “though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” As we sit and ponder such apocalyptic visions, it is easy to get caught up in the fantastical: the wars and persecutions, the blood moons and falling stars, strange beasts and numbers. The human imagination can take these images and run with them in wild and frightening (and heretical!) ways. Yet it seems to me that the most terrifying of all the warnings that Jesus gave to his disciples about the end was the fact that lawlessness would increase and that love would therefore grow cold. This is the most alarming apocalyptic vision of all.
I would not make any claim that we are in the last days, even though it is not unreasonable to say that the Church has always been in the last days. I would, however, make the claim that lawlessness is increasing and that we are in danger of love growing cold. In a world of locked doors and gated communities, knife attacks and vehicular homicide, sex and nudity in the streets, political insanity and the inability to call evil what it is, we are in great danger of love growing cold. We Christians have heard our blessed Lord’s warnings and so we must be on guard. The love of many may grow cold, but this can not be the case in the Church.
As we make our preparing this Advent for that great advent, that great (and terrible) day when He shall come again, I pray that the Church in general and the Church of the Advent in particular would make sure that her love is burning. We can do this by recalling that first advent when God out of his great love for us sent his only Son into this world to take on our human frailty and to restore our fallen nature. We can practice that self-sacrificing love which Jesus showed us as he bore his passion to save us from our sin, voluntarily taking up our cross daily as he freely took up his. We can fast and pray, making room in our hearts for the one knocking on the door, ready to enter and fill it with his love. We can serve Christ whom we meet in the widow and the orphan, the poor and those in prison, the stranger and even that familiar one who gets our our nerves. We can love them as we would love Christ, even as he loved us. As we mediate and look upon the one who is Love we will find that our love is far from growing cold. We will find that our love is burning more and more. In the face of increasing lawlessness, this is what the world continually needs to see. Cold people will be drawn to the fire of God’s love burning in the churches, whether he comes tomorrow or in a thousand years.
Grant us, Lord, the lamp of charity which never fails, that it
may burn in us and shed its light on those around us, and
that by its brightness we may have a vision of that holy City,
where dwells the true and never-failing Light, Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.