There are over three million of them in the USA alone, but the idea has already found its followers in the UK too. The followers are from different ways of life, professions, financial and social status, religions… There’s actually only one feature that they have in common: they are dubbed preppers. I’m talking about people who are taking every possible precaution against potential major catastrophic events. They collect imperishable food, weapons and ammunition in high volumes; they take up survival training, polish their hunting skills, build special shelters and so on. Natural disasters that have recently hit the USA plus some Hollywood blockbusters have increased the popularity of the movement. But the uninvolved majority, immersed in living each day to the full, treat them as weirdoes.
I think many neighbours of the biblical Noah were looking with similar contempt at him building a massive boat. His ideas were thorns in the side of the then society; they wanted to live out their days to the full, enjoying their ‘here and now’, without worrying too much about the end of the world as they knew it. Perhaps they were shaking their heads in disbelief that he was wasting his time and his resources in building an utterly useless wooden trunk. They might have changed their opinions when the disaster hit but, sadly, by then it was too late to do anything about it.
The biblical story of a worldwide flood is factually implausible. It wasn’t a geological or meteorological report of a certain dramatic event, which in the XXI century would look purely ridiculous. Its anonymous author wasn’t a historian but a story-teller. His intention was to pass on particular moral teachings; and this is something from which we can still learn. This is actually what Jesus does in today’s gospel: he draws a message from the story of Noah and applies it to those he teaches. The core of Jesus’ message is contained in just two words: ‘stay awake!’
Commonly most of us – and even non-believers – consider Advent as a time of preparation with its climax at Christmas. This is a harvest time for retailers, restaurants, party organisers and many other businesses. This is a hard time for priests and ministers trying – in vain – to rescue the remains of the religious and spiritual meanings of Christmas. So, now it’s my turn. The origins of Advent were deeply rooted in the expectations of early Christianity that Christ would come back soon, and that his second coming would bring the end of the world (the biblical apocalyptic visions were pretty scary). Christians were to be ready, unstained by earthly desires and sin, to meet their returning Lord. Initially the believers lived in a permanent advent, all year round. But with time and generations passing by, their understanding of the return evolved and took on a more personal dimension; it wasn’t a kind of an epic natural disaster, on a worldwide scale, but an utterly solitary experience with an ultimate destiny: death.
This word makes us uneasy, sending shivers down the spine. We dread our own death and the death of loved ones. More or less intentionally we tend to put it to the back of our minds, enjoying our ‘here and now’. There’s nothing wrong with that. Advent is not about pondering on our own death, but about our own lives, or – to be more precise – about the quality of life. Last Wednesday the funeral of Teresa Forbes gathered huge crowds of people. That was a testimony to the quality of her life. She had stuck to her Christian faith, beliefs and moral values, though for many people nowadays they seem ridiculous, old-fashioned and unpopular. Like the biblical Noah, she had been building her lifeboat on the wood of the cross. She was prepared to cross the river of death and to reach the other side: her promised land.