No one can hear the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent without feeling at least a twinge of dread. I mean, Yikes!
People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.
Our Lord undoubtedly meant to inspire some of us (the stubborn ones!) with just a little bit of holy fear. And let’s be honest, fear can be an excellent motivator!
The Lord has my attention now!
Instead of commencing our preparation for Christmas with a comforting description of Yuletide cheer…
…the Church has chosen the passage from Saint Luke where he records the bone-chilling and downright scary words of our Lord that describe His Second Coming.
St. Luke says,
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars.
And St. Matthew says,
after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven.
Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
What are we to make of all of this? Will the sun really be darkened? The moon will not give light and the stars will fall from the sky?
Now, I am not certain just what to say from an astronomical standpoint, except that I suppose there might be a time when the sun will burn itself out. Then, of course, the moon will no longer be lit up. But as far as stars falling from the sky, I am not certain just what that could mean physically speaking. My present scientifically naive understanding is that the fixed stars are in their positions not having any sort of down or up. They do not really have anywhere to fall? Maybe I am wrong.
But St. Augustine has a fascinating thing to say about this,
I think what has been said may be better understood to apply to the Church. For the Church is the sun, the moon, and the stars, to whom it was said, Fair as the moon, elect as the sun. And she will then not be seen for the unbounded rage of the persecutors.
Now, as interesting as this interpretation is, I do not find it very consoling. I figure the Sun will not burn out in my life time. As a matter of fact, according to at least one article the sun will still be around for another five billion years! Phew!
St. Augustine is saying that the Church is sometimes referred to as the Sun and the Moon, as we read in the Song of Solomon,
Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?
And if someone were to suggest that the Church is currently “not seen” I think I would have to agree. That is to say, the Church’s doctrines, Her sacraments, and Her timeless wisdom seems to be quite obscured at the moment. At least judging by the number of empty pews which I inadvertently count every Sunday when I should be praying.
St. Ambrose agrees that the Church is figured in this passage. He says,
While many also fall away from religion, clear faith will be obscured by the cloud of unbelief, for to me that Sun of righteousness is either diminished or increased according to my faith;
This is what is meant by “the sun shall be darkened.” Ambrose continues,
and as the moon in its monthly wanings, or when it is opposite the sun by the interposition of the earth, suffers eclipse, so also the holy Church when the sins of the flesh oppose the heavenly light, cannot borrow the brightness of divine light from Christ’s rays. For in persecutions, the love of this world generally shuts out the light of the divine Sun;
And finally he says,
the stars also fall, that is, men who shine in glory fall when the bitterness of persecution waxes sharp and prevails. And this must be until the multitude of the Church be gathered in, for thus are the good tried and the weak made manifest.
Thus the earth is a figure of the flesh (and “worldly” desires) which block the rays of Divine light. And the stars that fall are the saints or the men “who shine in glory” even while on earth, but fall during times of persecution.