Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place."
"See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
Jesus said to his disciples, "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
On the last day, the liturgical year we hear that our passing from darkness to light is certain and will come soon.. Meanwhile we must live with faith in God's eternal plan for us and for the entire world. Whether in darkness or light, we are not alone but are united with all of God's holy ones who have gone before us.
Luke composed his gospel some years after one such period of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70) and apparently wrote it during a peaceful breathing-space for his Christians. We gather this from the way that he words Jesus' warning, "Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares." It sounds like an echo of our Irish spate of prosperity in the so-called "Celtic Tiger" era, when so many overspent and indulged themselves as though borrowed money were theirs to spend! How prophetic the words of Jesus sound, for our situation since the crash of the boom-times: "The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." If it is true that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity, perhaps we may hope for some rebirth in our Church. But in Luke Jesus also advises that spiritual life requires commitment: "Pray constantly." Live in God's presence and then you will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he comes in full glory.
In his vision on the island of Patmos, St John views the momentous crises of earthly existence from the perspective of final glory. Here is the silver lining to the clouds, the end of the three and a half years of trial. The seer of Patmos feels himself already standing with one foot within the heavenly Jerusalem and one foot on planet earth. Therefore he hears Christ's promise, "I am coming soon… They will drink from the river of living water, clear as crystal, which issues from the throne of God and of the Lamb."
The thirty-four weeks of the church's liturgical year are ending this very day. They do so with an announcement that the Lord Jesus will come suddenly, soon and gloriously. We have been gifted with the long preparation of the church year. We will now be further graced with four weeks of special alertness and prayer during Advent, starting tomorrow. With the help of God, we can lay aside every hindrance of sin, and with eyes fixed on Jesus, persevere in running the race which lies ahead, to reach the glorious destiny he has won for us.
Once again Jesus warns against becoming so immersed in the attractions and cares of life that we fail to see beyond them. We need to step back and find a space in which we can become aware of the Lord and his presence to us. In the language of the gospel we are to watch, to become watchful, attentive to the Lord within and beyond all of life. Such watchfulness and attentiveness is at the heart of prayer. That is what prayer is, which is why the gospel says, 'stay awake, praying at all times.' That exhortation to pray at all times may sound strange to our ears. How can we pray at all times? Is prayer not something we do from time to time? Paul says something similar at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians when he calls on the church there to 'pray without ceasing.' Jesus and Paul were calling for a contemplative stance towards life, a prayerful attentiveness to the Lord at all times, before all situations, in the midst of all our tasks. To help us do this, we could take a very short prayer drawn from the Scriptures and allow it to echo quietly in our hearts as we go about our day, a prayer like, 'Lord, make haste to help me', or, as we begin the season of Advent this evening, the simple Advent prayer, 'Come Lord Jesus.'