Jesus - history, mystery and majesty

Jesus comes to humankind in history, mystery and majesty. When we look at the Christmas crib, we are reminded that Jesus came as an infant into human history. "God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to be our Savior." (Jn. 3.16) Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus is truly God and truly man. When we look at the altar and the pulpit, we see that Jesus comes in mystery. On the altar, we re-present in an unbloody sacramental way what Jesus did in a bloody way on the cross at Calvary. Jesus said the night before he died: "This is my body which is given up for you. This is my blood which is shed for you." (Mt. 26.26-28) At the pulpit we hear sometimes about Jesus' actions and other times Jesus' own words when we hear the gospel read. Jesus speaks to us and Jesus feeds us through his Word and sacraments. When we ponder the end of time as we do in this morning's readings, we look forward to Jesus' Second Coming. Jesus comes to humankind in history, mystery and majesty.

This season of Advent exhorts us to prepare spiritually for Jesus' Second Coming. Regarding the end times, Jesus says: "As to the exact day or hour [of the end of the world], no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mt. 24.36) Since the beginning of time, people have been predicting the end of time. And the world hasn't ended yet.

The world is still young, and we humans have so much more to learn about it. At the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a circle 20' in diameter is painted on a wall. This circle presents the timeline of creation. A dot in the center indicates the beginning of the universe about 15 billion years ago. The circle presents in centrifugal cycles the time-proportioned stages of creation.

It is good for our humility to know and appreciate the enormity of God's creation. 15 billion years ago, the universe began, according to the Bing Bang Theory. Thousands of galaxies resulted. Our galaxy has billions of stars. Jumping quickly through time, 700 million years ago on planet Earth, the continental drift occurred so that the one land mass Pangea broke up into the seven continents. Boneless jellyfish were the forerunners 500 million years ago to 30,000 species of fish. Soon, land plants, insects and amphibians emerged. 300 million years ago, reptiles, mammals and 9,000 species of birds began to evolve. The dinosaur era began about 250 million years ago, and they died out in an apparent meteor crash about 65 million years ago. As recently as 2 million years ago, God breathed a soul into the first known man near Kenya, Africa. We humans have been developing ever since. On that wall of creation at the museum in Chicago, the birth of humankind is a tiny speck. Two million years is a dot in relation to 15 billion years.

Regarding the end of the world, do we have much time left? In the last 2,000 years, people repeatedly have been predicting the end of the world. Many believers among St. Paul's Thessalonian community prepared for the end of the world by having stopped working. St. Paul corrected them saying, "anybody who does not work, should not eat."(2 Thess. 3.10) During the later Roman Empire, various rabbis and St. Hippolytus predicted the end of the world with specific dates.

In the Early Middle Ages, solar eclipses, supernova and Halley's comet many times caused panic among soldiers and civilians who interpreted these cosmic events as the end of the world. Around the year 1,000, many saw the imminent end based on famines, plagues and promises made by clergy and laity that the anti-Christ was about to return. In 1666, London suffered the bubonic plague and the city's Great Fire, which people perceived as the beginning of the end; it did not help that the year's date ended in the number of the Beast, viz., 666.

Beginning in the 19th century, Charles Russell and his Jehovah Witnesses predicted the end of the world 11 times, between 1874 and as recently as 1994; they explained the non-event as a postponement of God's wrath or as their numerical miscalculation. From China, Korea, Japan all across Europe and here in the United States, Jews, Christians, Moslems, and many other imaginative people have predicted the end of the world. These charlatans "prove" their claims from their individual interpretations of the Scriptures, scientific discoveries, cosmic events, political events, and numerology. Reality proves them wrong.

Personally, I think that we remain in our infancy in our scientific understanding of the earth, the skies, and the seas. And we remain in our infancy in spiritual recognition of the image of God within each person. Theologically, the more that Catholics and mainline Protestants examine the Reformation, the more we learn from each other and about each other, and we scratch our heads as to why the separation of churches ever happened in the first place. We are in the early stages of ecumenism, progressing towards a stronger and deeper mutual enrichment of all Christian churches. We are so young in understanding and appreciating God, our humanity and our universe, that in my humble opinion, which counts for nothing, we could be here for many tens of thousands of years. Ultimately, the Father in heaven alone knows the day or the hour.

Today, as we begin Advent, maybe you can make a resolution to prepare better for the anniversary of Christ's coming in history, mystery, and in majesty in his Second Coming. Pray and ponder, could you identify one thing that Christ might want you to do during these four weeks of preparation and anticipation?

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley