“But 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 then 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 out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
Traditionally, Advent draws our attention both to the Second Coming of Christ and to Christmas. The Church has long considered these Christophanies — these revelations of the person of Christ — to be mutually illuminating. Thus, as Mark’s Gospel speaks of the end times it affords us an opportunity to better appreciate the annual festival of Christ’s birth.
The image presented is one of dying light. The sun darkens, the moon wanes, the stars fall from the sky, and the very heavens convulse as if in death throes. But, as the celestial bodies fail, the true Heavenly Body, the God-man, bursts forth in the brilliance of his glory and draws his faithful to himself.
In the context of the liturgical year, the diminishing of sun, moon, and stars corresponds to the shortening of days that begins in midsummer: Christmas (in the northern hemisphere) occurs in the darkest time of the year. But, in the darkness and coldness of winter, the sun is on the move; the sun approaches.
Such is the comfort that Christ offers us. Whatever the dark and chill of our lives, whatever our sins and brokenness, the Son is on the move; the Son approaches. His light cannot be overcome by our darkness; rather, he draws us into true life even as the creaturely consolations we had relied on fail and fade away. No matter how ugly or disfigured our lives become, the living God can transfigure us.
Indeed, Christmas confirms that even when we do not feel it, God’s hidden Providence is ever active. The Nativity is not the Incarnation, but its revelation: for nine months, in the warm darkness of Mary’s womb, God has been knitting together our redemption. Every moment is the hour of the Father’s judgment — and mercy: Jesus awakens us to see God’s closeness.
Dr. Kevin Kambo is an assistant professor of philosophy at Hope College.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.