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 this last day of the 2018 Liturgical Year we are promised that in the end, those who are faithful to the Lord will pass over from darkness to the light of eternity. Meanwhile we must live soberly and responsibly, holding on to our faith in God's wise and merciful plan for us and for the entire universe. Whether in times of darkness or light, we are not alone but are united to all the faithful who have gone before us into the light of God's eternal presence.
Luke was writing some years after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Romans (A.D. 70) and during a peaceful breathing-space before Christians began to be persecuted by the emperor Domitian. 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." His warning still echoes in our own times, when "getting ans spending" seem much more important than caring for those without housing, or finding a way to welcome refugees. To a heartless society Jesus warns: "The day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." Jesus also cals on his followers to "Pray constantly." If we live in the awareness of God's presence we will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he returns in glory.
In the visions granted to him in his exile on the island of Patmos, St John sees the crises of earthly existence from the perspective of final glory. He predicts the silver lining to the clouds, the end of the turbulent years of trial. In his vision he feels himself already standing with one foot on planet earth and the other in the heavenly Jerusalem. So he reports the promise of the risen Christ, "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 liturgical year end today with the message that there are great times coming. We will now have four weeks of spiritual alertness and prayer during Advent, starting tomorrow. With God's help, with our hopes fixed on Jesus, we will persevere in running the race which lies ahead, to reach the destiny that he has promised us.
Towards the year's end we need to step back and find a space to be aware of the Lord's presence beside and within us. The Gospel urges us to watch, to b attentive to the heartbeat of life. Such attentiveness is at the heart of prayer. So today's gospel says, ‘stay awake, praying at all times.'
Of course, praying at all times may sound rather idealistic. How could anyone pray at all times? Isn't prayer an activity that we do just occasionally, as we feel the need or inclination? But St Paul has a similar appeal in his first letter to the Thessalonians, calling upon the people to ‘pray without ceasing.' Perhaps what Jesus and Paul were urging was not so much something we DO, but an attitude to life… To have a contemplative stance in our heart, an attentiveness to God that affects everything we do and think, a basic gratitude for life. To help us cultivate this contemplative mindset, we could murmur a short prayer from the Scriptures and let it echo quietly in our hearts as we go about our day. Perhaps, ‘Lord, make haste to help me', or the simple Advent prayer, ‘Come Lord Jesus.'