While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
The temple was the center of Jerusalem, it was what drew the faithful to that city, it was the center of a culture, and it was a magnificent architectural structure. Jesus though is talking here about more than the demolition of a building. Jesus is also talking about the end of that temple culture, or the end of an era. In talking about that end of an era, Jesus describes the violence of that destructive process in terms of wars between nations and civil wars within society. He describes briefly the hardships and challenges one must endure during that trying time. What should not be missed though in this doomsday message is the line that says not a hair on your head shall be destroyed. While there is that destruction and turmoil that was part of their lives, Jesus assures them that they will be a part of that era that is to begin. The destruction of that kingdom of man and the rising up of the kingdom of God. While Jesus message takes place in the timeframe of those disciples lives. Malachi’s message describes that judgment at the end of time. Malachi points to a final judgment , Jesus points to a changing of time. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians also describes a form of judgment as a personal evaluation of our lives. Judgment ,an ending and a beginning are themes that are throughout these readings. In this calendar day they too point to an ending as they are the last readings of year-C of ordinary time. They are a call to judgment, of evaluation of a past era and a small proclamation that a new era will arrive. Next Sunday is the final Sunday of the church year which is celebrated as Christ the King of the Universe and then follows the Advent of the Nativity of that Christ.
While the first reading describes the final judgment, Paul’s letter puts that concept of judgment into a much more personal context. His is judgment towards contemporaries that they might discard their weaknesses much as Jesus describes the destruction of the temple: both are a destruction that allows for new growth. Advent marks this season of preparation. The destruction theme of Advent though is something that has been lost throughout history. In older times Advent was a more penitential season, in many ways mirroring Lent. It was not the shopping season that it has become, but more a season of discarding and personal housekeeping of sins that creep into ones lives so that one can again receive that newness of Christ. In the cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours it might be akin to compline and its prayers for the examination of conscience at the end of a day in preparation for the next day that will begin anew.
In Jesus discussion he warns those people to be careful in that season when the temple will be destroyed. He warns of false prophets and battles that will take place and of the hardship and sufferings that will be a part of their reality and that they are not to prepare their defense beforehand, “for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. ” Somehow these seem to be good words to remember before this modern Advent season begins. The season can be marked as a battle between popular culture and the Christ. In it are many of the trappings of that old temple with its “costly stones and votive offerings.” It contains the proclamations of commercialism and its barrage of advertisements designed to tug on ones emotions for a merchants gain. It is a season with many false promises preached by others and expectations that have little to do with Christianity. Perhaps these readings warn of the battle that Advent has become, and a warning to be vigilant in remembering what it truly is: The destruction of one that another might be born.