As we near the end of the church year — the first Sunday of Advent is two weeks away — the readings speak of times of tribulation, offering ideas and images that many think of as referring to the end times. In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the sun being darkened, the moon giving no light and stars from the sky. In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus also speaks of “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars.”
This year, on Halloween, a 2,000-foot wide asteroid (2015 TB145), passed by Earth. It came within 3,000 miles of our planet — or only about 1,000 miles farther away from us than the moon. No one even knew this asteroid existed until Oct. 10. It was, in space terms, a near miss. (On Oct. 29, another and larger asteroid — 2009 FD — also passed by, though quite not as close.)
There are no asteroids depicted in our churches. But look around your church to see what speaks to you of signs in the heavens. Maybe it’s a statue of Mary crowned with stars. There might be stars painted on the ceiling, especially in our older churches, or angels in clouds. The stained glass windows might show a hand coming from a cloud — representing God the Father, the creator. And sunbeams might come through any of the windows.
References to signs in the heavens aren’t meant to terrify us, as the thought of an earth-smashing asteroid might. But they are meant to remind us to be alert, just as space-tracking radar and satellites keep scientists alert. Christ has promised to return.
Many parts of the Mass remind us to be mindful of that return. For example, there are the words of the creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” And the words of the Mystery of Faith (formerly the Memorial Acclamation): “We proclaim your death O Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” Many hymns speak of the time when Jesus will come again — both at the end of time and at the end of our lives.
As we draw near the end of the church year, and the beginning of a new year on the First Sunday of Advent, we are meant to look for signs that Christ will come again and to prepare for that coming. Keep your eyes to the sky, or maybe better yet, “Here comes the son.”
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of multiple books, including “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers” and “Making Sense of Saints.”