As for me, Daniel, my spirit was troubled within me, and the visions of my head terrified me. I approached one of the attendants to ask him the truth concerning all this. So he said that he would disclose to me the interpretation of the matter: "As for these four great beasts, four kings shall arise out of the earth. But the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever – forever and ever."
Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces, and stamped what was left with its feet; and concerning the ten horns that were on its head, and concerning the other horn, which came up and to make room for which three of them fell out – the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke arrogantly, and that seemed greater than the others.
As I looked, this horn made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them, until the Ancient One came; then judgment was given for the holy ones of the Most High, and the time arrived when the holy ones gained possession of the kingdom.
This is what he said: "As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth that shall be different from all the other kingdoms; it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them. This one shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and shall attempt to change the sacred seasons and the law; and they shall be given into his power for a time, two times, and half a time. Then the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and totally destroyed. The kingship and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them."
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."
The Scriptures on this final day of the church's year blend practical realism with an exalted hope. We need to see the heavy clouds from both sides; from below, they reflect darkness and signs of persecution, while from above they radiate sunlight and the enjoyment of eternal peace. It seems that the transition from darkness to light will be certain and sudden. Meanwhile we trust 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.
Daniel the prophet was terrified by the visions of the mind. A great persecution raged and the beast who made war against the holy ones was a greatly feared regime. We hear of that period of time when the beast reigned, "for a year, two years, and a half-year." It is tedious to trace the symbolism of numbers through the Bible, but the writers say that we must persevere through the time of trial, and that this time will certainly end. Only at the end will we see everything in proper perspective and for now many details remain wrapped in darkness.
Though his gospel was composed after a time of severe trial (the destruction of the Holy City of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. seventy) Luke actually wrote during a peaceful breathing-space. Still he has the warning, "Be on guard lest you become bloated with indulgence and worldly cares. The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap." It often seems that faith thrives more during adversity than during peace and financial prosperity. So Luke also advises, "Pray constantly." Live in God's presence and then you will "stand secure before the Son of Man" when he comes in full glory.
The thirty-four weeks of the church year are coming to their close. They do so with the message that the Lord Jesus will return suddenly, soon and gloriously. We have had the long preparation of the church year. We will be further graced with four weeks of special alertness during Advent. Since on life's pilgrimage we are surrounded by the grace of God, we can lay aside every hindrance and with eyes fixed on Jesus, persevere as his followers to the end.
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 space to be aware of the Lord and his presence to us. He urges us to be 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."
The exhortation to pray at all times may sound strange to our ears. How can we pray at all times? Is it not something we do just on particular occasions? Paul says something similar when he calls on his Christians to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:16). 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."~~