“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.
In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.
The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”
Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.
In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.
Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, On Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the World, The Promise