Readings for 1st Sunday ofAdvent: Jer. 33:14-16; Ps. 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes. 3: 12-4:2; Lk. 21:25-28, 34-35
We're standing on the brink of Apocalypse. I don't mean the end of the world. I'm talking about the end of empire.
That's the point I tried to make here two weeks ago, when our Sunday liturgies began featuring apocalyptic readings from both the Jewish and Christian Testaments. That's what the biblical literary form "Apocalypse" is about-- not the end of the world, but the end of empire.
Apocalypse is resistance literature, written in code during times of extreme persecution by powerful imperial forces like Greece and Rome. The code was understandable to "insiders" familiar with Jewish scripture. It was impenetrable to "outsiders" like the persecutors of the authors' people.
In our own case, all the provocations of apocalyptic rebellion are there. Our country is following faithfully in the footsteps of the biblical empires against which apocalypse was written: Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, Babylon, Greece, and Rome.
To say it unambiguously: Our government is headed by gangsters pure and simple. It's as if Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Nero, Caligula, Domitian --or Al Capone -- were in charge. All of them (Trump, Obama, the Clintons, and the Bushes) should be in jail. In fact, as Chomsky has pointed out every single post-WWII U.S. president from Truman and Eisenhower to Carter, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Donald Trump has been guilty of crimes that contradict the Nuremberg Principles. The only policy difference between Donald Trump and his immediate predecessors is that he's blatantly shameless in owning his criminalities.
Here's what Chomsky has said:
To clarify Chomsky's point, here's a short list of our current president's most recent atrocities. He has the country:
- Fighting perpetual and internationally illegal wars against at least five sovereign nations. Count them: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen . . . without any sign of ending. (The genocidal war in Yemen has caused a cholera epidemic and will soon have 14 million people starving to death. Can anyone tell me why we're in Yemen??)
- Refusing to recognize the validity of a CIA report identifying Mohammed bin Salman as the Mafia Don who ordered the beheading and dismembering of a correspondent for a major U.S. newspaper.
- Similarly soft-pedaling the climate-change findings of the government's own scientific panel predicting the devastating effects of climate change for our economy, country, and species including, of course, our children and grandchildren.
- Spending billions modernizing a nuclear weapons arsenal, while our cities' bridges, roads, and other infrastructure disintegrate before our eyes.
- Similarly, insisting on wasting billions building a wall along our southern border instead of sea-walls, dykes and levies along our country's coasts.
- Following Obama and Hillary Clinton by backing a narco-government in Honduras that has become a street gang making huge profits from the addictions of U.S. citizens while directly producing the immigrants and refugees Trump identifies as our enemies.
- Using chemical weapons against the resulting caravan of women and children seeking refuge at our southern border and justifying it in a way that would be trumpeted as a casus belli were the perpetrator's name Bashar al-Assad instead of Donald J. Trump.
All of that is relevant to today's liturgical reading, because (as I've said) this is the third week in a row that the lectionary has given us readings from apocalyptic literature.
As I indicated, apocalypse differs from ordinary prophecy in that it addresses periods of deep crisis, when the whole world appears to be falling apart. Neither prophets nor apocalyptics were fortunetellers. Instead, they were their days' social critics. They warned of the disastrous consequences that inevitably follow from national policies that deviate from God's will -- i.e. from policies that harm God's favorites: widows, orphans, immigrants, the poor -- and (we might add) the planet itself.
When Luke was writing his gospel around the year 85 of the Common Era, Jerusalem had been completely destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish War (64-70 CE). The Romans had brutally razed the city and the temple that had been rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. For Jews that was something like the Death of God, for the Holy City and its Temple were considered God's dwelling place. The event was apocalyptic.
In today's gospel, Luke has Jesus predicting that destruction using specifically apocalyptic language. Luke's Jesus says "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
What can such apocalyptic message mean in our own day faced as we are with a false crisis stemming from U.S. policies in Central America in general and in Honduras in particular that identify the poorest people in the world as the causes of our problems instead of climate chaos and narco-kleptocrats?
Yes, the immigrant crisis is a mere distraction -- a completely human and remediable fabrication caused by U.S. policy. Meanwhile, the real threat to our planet is the threat of nuclear war and the environmental cliff that our "leaders" refuse to address. And who's responsible for that crisis?
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