The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4 NRSVCE)
Looking For a Sign
Interpreting the “appearance of the sky” is as old as when the first humans roamed the Earth. From the color perceived with the eyes to the information received through the other senses (including signals received through the big toe), the weather has been used as a harbinger of what is to come. All these centuries later, with double doppler and computerized “spaghetti models,” interpreting and predicting the weather is still subject to variables that are simply unknown.
We, as Christians, long for the day when Jesus will “come again in glory”, and receive us into His Kingdom that “will have no end.” Curiosity as to the exact time has been present in the church from the very beginning, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:
[Jesus said:] “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Luke 21:9-11 NABRE)
The conditions listed above by Jesus that will precede the end times have been in place for centuries, with the possible exception of “mighty signs” coming from the sky. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues have been a part of life on Earth since Jesus outlined the sequence that would precede His second coming. The prayer of the early Church, Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus,” is our prayer in the twenty-first century Church.
Christmas Anticipates Easter
The season of Advent anticipates the wondrous Christmas season with the celebration of the “first coming” of Christ as a newborn child. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke chronicle their respective “infancy narratives” that together have formed the story of Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah.
Although Advent directly precedes Christmas, it anticipates Easter as the pinnacle of the liturgical year. As a resurrection people, we celebrate the Easter season with joy and expectation as we look forward to what our Creed proclaims: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.” A humorist once said, “Live each day as though it were your last, and one day you’ll be right.” In terms of preparing for the Second Coming of Christ, the quote could be altered in this way: “Live each day as though Jesus were returning, and one day you’ll be right.”
Living in the State of Grace
For Catholics, living in a state of grace means being free of mortal (serious, deadly) sin. The following quote from the Catechism Of The Catholic Church explains: “For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: ‘Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent’” (CCC 1857; cf. St. John Paul II, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia [Reconciliation and Penance] 17.2) Anything short of these three conditions falls into the category of venial (less serious) sin.
The Catechism continues: “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. ‘Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness’” (CCC 1863; cf. RP 17.9).
The best preparation for Advent, Easter and the Second Coming of Christ, then, is the repentance and confession of sins, whether Mortal or Venial, and living in a state of grace on a daily basis. The last portion of the Apostles Creed should serve us in good stead as we prepare to encounter Christ during Advent and beyond: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” Come, Lord Jesus!