Excerpted from In Those Days and In These, an Advent Devotional Guide from the NC Council of Churches
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
During the season of Advent, we reflect on the Lord’s coming in its many dimensions – God’s historical coming in the past, the signs of God’s presence in our lives now, and above all on God’s coming at the end of time in some unknown moment in the future.
As we look to the heavens to make sense of what is happening on earth, Luke 21:25-26 depicts a scene that does not seem otherworldly when we consider the realities of global climate change and the darkness of a future unknown.
As we notice the signs of our times, we can easily become overwhelmed. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited. Food security, already a significant concern, will become even more challenging.
Right now, we see our sisters and brothers displaced disproportionately by violence in their countries of origin. The day could also come, if we don’t respond rapidly, that there could be millions of climate refugees. Already, the fallout from dramatic shifts in weather is fueling instability in countries with the most vulnerable populations. As entire nations experience a global problem in which no individual is exempt, we are being called to judgment without exception.
What message does the gospel offer such a world in crisis? What reason do we who fear for the future of humanity have to “stand up and raise our heads” at the coming of our Lord and Savior into our lives?
As Pope Francis recently released the first encyclical in the history of the Vatican to address environmental concerns, he said, “This is aimed at everyone: Let us pray everyone can receive its message and grow in responsibility toward the common home that God has given us.”
The following quotes are from the encyclical letter “On Care for Our Common Home”:
“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” (Chapter 1, paragraph 23)
“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.” (Chapter 1, paragraph 25)
“A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.” (Chapter 2, paragraph 91)
“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.” (Chapter 6, paragraph 202)
“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” (Chapter 6, paragraph 229)
The encyclical is bringing much needed attention and focus to the related moral, social, and ecological issues of global climate change. Once we have awakened to see the signs of our times, we best have the good sense to be ready and prepared for what is to come.
It is through our eternal faith in the power and light of God’s love that we are inspired and empowered to live in a way that supports the healthy growth of all life on earth.
It is in the parable of the budding of the trees and the promise of spring to come that we are shown hope for our future. We must raise our heads up high with the courage and hope that sustains our belief in God through all times, as we prepare to meet our maker.
Prayer: Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day through whom You give us light. And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
—Canticle of Creation (by St. Francis of Assisi)