Summary: Things that go bump in the night stop being really scary if you (a) understand what's going on (b) know what do do and (c) have confidence in the expert - AKA God..
A couple of days after I got back from my vacation I was relaxing in my comfy chair, watching TV and doing needlework, when all of a sudden I heard a great banging and clattering, as if - I don’t know, as if a coal truck were dumping the winter’s load down a chute into the basement. You can tell how old I am, that’s how we heated our house when I was young. I looked outside, but there was nothing there, and it really seemed to be inside the house.
As it happened, there was a squirrel in the fireplace. Fortunately, there are glass doors on the fireplace, and so I shoved the footstool up against it to keep it penned up while I tried to figure out what to do. Well, to make a long story short, it was late the next afternoon before the pest control people came, and by that time not only had the little beast escaped its confinement but there was more than one. There were four. Apparently, so they told me, a female in heat had come down the chimney followed by half the neighborhood. Well, three gentleman callers, actually. Not only did they knock everything off the shelves and pull down curtains, but they weren’t afraid of me at all and they kept running around the rooms and up and down the shades and chittering and squeaking and I was TOTALLY FREAKED OUT.
Well, the squirrels are gone at last, and the pest control guy is coming back next week to cap my chimneys so it won’t happen again, but every time I hear the slightest noise in the house I get spooked. The furnace goes on, I jump. I wake up every time the wind blows a twig against a window. I even dreamed about them one night. I will never look at a squirrel the same way again. They are NOT CUTE. But at least I’m bigger than they are, and smarter than they are, and
I knew I’d win eventually. And now that I know how to protect myself I’ll eventually start feeling safe again. After the chimney caps are on, that is.
Not all scary things are as easily dealt with as that. There are places in the world where unexpected loud noises means a raid - either by irate neighbors with a score to settle or local authorities looking for a hidden Bible. In North Korea or Vietnam or Saudi Arabia the terror in the night is likely to be official - but it’s no less dangerous in Bangladesh or Nigeria, where the authorities close their eyes when Muslim extremists go on a rampage. There are places in the world where things are just as bad for Christians today as they were in the first century Roman empire when the Apostle John had his visions and wrote them down in the book we know as Revelation, or the Apocalypse. Apocalypse, incidentally, means the
same thing as Revelation: it’s an opening up, something coming to light or becoming visible, only in Greek instead of in Latin.
Tradition holds that John wrote during the time of the Emperor Domitian, who instituted the first large-scale persecution. Most of the emperors didn’t become gods until after they had died, but Domitian insisted that his subjects worship him as a god while he was still alive, so when Christians refused to do so he took it as a personal insult, rather than just a political problem.
But whenever it was, times were rough all around for Christians. Even if you weren’t going to be tossed into jail or even to the lions, have your business boycotted or your house torched, neighbors whispered behind your back and spread nasty rumors about what you did at your worship service. The rumors included everything from cannibalism to incest - from the communion table, of course, and the kiss of greeting between believers. Christians were even called atheists, because they didn’t respect the multitudes of gods that abounded in the Roman world. Which - since the gods would be upset by this - of course made Christians responsible for anything that went wrong, from bad weather to business
And in the middle of all this turmoil and anxiety and danger, John - who is the last apostle left alive - has a vision. He’s an old man by now, and he is in exile on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of what is now Turkey. Actually, he has several visions. He writes them down, sends them off in a sort of round robin to the scared and confused first century Christians in Asia Minor, and tells them they’d better pay attention. But what on earth are they to make of it?