First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 122:1-9
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel: Matthew 24:37-44
At this time of the year, some radio stations play Christmas music continually throughout their broadcast day. This has proven very popular, especially among older listeners who enjoy the dose of nostalgia that the holiday season brings. Hearing the songs and carols that we have heard and sung many times invariably brings a smile to our face and sometimes a tear to our eye as we remember past Christmases.
At a time when currents of Christmas induced nostalgia begin swirling around us, the Church directs our attention to the future — to the fulfillment of what began when the love of the Persons of the Trinity for each other burst forth in the creation of the cosmos, reaching its climax in the coming of the Word made flesh. We believe that the Trinity’s creative love will reach its ultimate goal when Jesus returns to complete his work on earth.
The lesson from Isaiah paints a picture of the world at peace. Too many people in today’s world know no peace. There are civil wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria, and a drug war in Mexico. News of these wars reaches us every day. But there are nearly forty other lesser-known wars going as well, leading to the death of many thousands of innocent people. The prophet assures us, however, that the future will see an end to wars because people will learn to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isa 2:4). Still, the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision seems more remote than ever.
The Apostle calls us to keep the prophet’s vision of a peaceful world alive because “our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11). Jesus advises us to be prepared for the day when peace will triumph over war since it will come when we least expect it (Matt 24:44). We need to keep the prophet’s vision of the future before us to encourage, support, and empower us in this present age as we await the world to come. This faith in the future God has in store for us assures us that nothing we do to bring about the triumph of God’s justice, love and peace — no matter how insignificant it may appear to be — is ever done in vain. When Jesus comes again, he will take our feeble efforts at transforming our world and join them to his own. Jesus will then present to the Creator that world as it was meant to be.
There is nothing wrong about Christmas induced nostalgia, but today’s Scriptures remind us that Christianity is a faith about the future. So much of the cues given in the liturgy suggest that our faith is about the past. The presider wears stylized clothing reminiscent of ancient Rome. The church is adorned with paintings and statues of people who live long ago. We read from writings composed in the distant past. The rituals of our worship were shaped centuries ago. But we should not let our eyes or ears mislead us. Christianity is a religion about the future. Our beliefs about the future are to shape the decisions we make in the present. Our beliefs about the future serve to sustain us as we work to transform this world of ours. Our beliefs about the future empower us to do what we must to make this a new world — a world that will witness the fulfillment of the prophet’s vision. Today the Church reminds us that we have no time to lose since we do not know the day or hour of Jesus’ return.
Carroll Stuhlmueller Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies