John said this nearly two thousand years ago, and for almost as long as human memory stretches back, it has been "the last hour." How do we understand this? Is John simply mistaken, deceived by the naive apocalyptic expectations of the first generation of Christians? Or is there something deeper to be understood in this?
I am skeptical of the notion, of which some persons are so deeply and profoundly convinced, that we are literally living in the final days of the earth. Of course, in light of the potential for nuclear warfare and the utter destruction of the planet through our very advanced firepower, I think this claim is more plausible now than it was in previous years. Yet at the same time, generation after generation has been convinced that the world is going down the toilet within their lifetime, and yet it doesn't happen. So even if the world should end within my lifetime, I am not expecting it and I don't believe it will.
What could be meant by this "last hour," then? Because the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Luke 12.40), I think we should always live our life in readiness for and expectation of the coming Judgment. This means that we treat every hour as if it were the last one. This is a way for us to accord proper attention to our present actions, and to treat our life with adequate seriousness. If I am convinced that at any moment I will be subject to judgment, and there will be no making up for my mistakes or asking forgiveness at that point, then I will certainly not waste time and opportunities for good while I have them. [Evagrius] also said, 'If you keep in mind your death and the eternal judgment, there will be no stain on your soul' (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks, p. 118).
This sort of meditation is all the more appropriate in this advent season, in which we await the arrival of the Christ child. For Christ's arrival is not met the same by all: whereas for Mary and Joseph, the arrival of this child was a blessing, for Herod it is a curse and a stumbling block. As Simeon told Mary at the circumcision of Christ, This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too (Luke 2.34-5). So once more I present the question: how do we present ourselves before Christ? He, for whom all things were created (Col 1.16) and who is finally coming into the world that is his (John 1.10-1) -- how will he find us?
For meditation for the end of this blog post, I present this wonderful hymn:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,
And again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,
Lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, O our God,
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us.