When I was a boy, I remember seeing the Wizard of OZ for the first time on a color TV set. Needless to say, I was absolutely mesmerized by the wonder of the change from black and white to color, but I also remember being very much sympathetic to the Cowardly Lion when the group of seekers of help first encountered The Wizard. The effects of the head floating in the air and the smoke and the fire were scary and fun all at the same time. In other words, I loved it!
We moderns have become used to amazing “special effects” in a world increasingly caught up in the fantasy of “make-believe.” A recent study came out that suggested that all this fantasy emphasis is actually slowing down the maturity process, especially in boys. With all the video games, Hollywood movies, stories come to life on the screen, and even now “virtual reality” goggles, we are really able to lose ourselves in the world of make-believe.
Now, before you go and dismiss me as some Luddite fuddy-duddy, nothing could be further from the truth. But, it’s silly to also dismiss the unintended consequences of an addiction to the world of pretend. As usual, the wisdom of balance and sobriety give us the path to escape the debilitating effects of too much sensationalism.
So, when we read today’s Gospel Lesson, you may fall into the trap of believing that these words are just more “make-believe,” but you’d be missing an important insight into the power of reality to shake us awake from fantasy.
Look at Mark 13:24-31:
“The Lord said to his disciples, “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Wow, the sun will be darkened and the moon won’t shine. Stars will fall from heaven and even the powers of heaven will be shaken! Sounds terrifying. So, why does the Lord use such language? Well, if His hearers are going to really pay attention, He better set up the wisdom He is about to share by establishing the level of importance of His message. And He does by emphasizing that the Coming of the Son of Man (a powerful phrase understood by His hearers) is going to disrupt the regular flow of nature. His Coming is going to mark the transformation of even creation itself. The hearers had gotten used to the rising of the sun and the shining of the moon, and they believed that the heavenly powers were so constant and unchanging that they would never be shaken, but the Coming of the Son of Man would even shake these powers! This is a momentous event that will not be ignored! And, it won’t catch those who are paying attention by surprise! No, just like you can look at the change of seasons and know what season is coming next, those who are paying attention to spiritual life will not be caught by surprise at the Parousia!
The power of the Lord’s words here is an invitation to self-examination. They are an invitation to ask yourself, do you know the Lord so well, do you spend so much time with Him, that His presence, His plans, and His purpose is no surprise to you? So much wisdom is offered to us in the life of the Church in Her seasons, Her hymns, Her liturgies; all meant to so acquaint you with the Lord that His coming will not take you by surprise, either His coming for you at the end of your mortal life, or His coming to His world again at His Parousia. Neither event surprises you because you live every day in expectation of both!
Today, are you living this way? Do you know Christ so well that His plans for your life are settled in your heart? Are you prepared no matter when the Lord will come for you? Instead of the titillating fantasy of make-believe, are you embracing the sober and light shining wisdom of the life of the Faith and participating in the Life of the Church so that the Lord’s plans don’t catch you by surprise? You can, dearest. All you have to do is stop, wake up, and start embracing a purposeful Orthodox life.