When you hear of wars

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things are bound to happen; but the end is still to come.

And just like that, the long season of Pentecost makes a hard turn towards Advent and readies us to contemplate the coming of Christ to fulfill God’s promise of a world reborn.

During our weekly young adult bible study last Wednesday, we were looking at last week’s passage from Hebrews – another biblical text that points to the coming end of the world as we know it. We were talking about the experiece of being in those earliest Christian communities, when the second coming of Jesus was actively expected, before the accumulated weight of centuries of waiting and its accompanying theological explanations. One of our participants, however, observed that we are, even today, obsessed with the end of the world.

And she was right, of course.

On television, in the movies, in books – the world is constantly on the brink of total destruction, threatened by zombies or aliens or pandemics or environmental devastation. Every generation has its own image of the end-of-the-world – Jesus’ generation’s was about collapsing under the weight of occupation; my parents’ was about unnatural, monstrous attacks; the current stories seems to be about internal collapse or disintegration. The stories reveal that even here, in the privileged relative-security of North America, we are deeply aware of the fragility of our world, deeply aware of humanity’s role in its destruction, and deeply afraid that we are helpless to do anything about it.

Which isn’t that surprising when we switch channels and turn on the news.

Wars and rumours of wars.

When Jesus looked upon the wonder of the temple in Jerusalem and warned of its collapse their first reaction was to ask for more details: “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen?”

They weren’t just asking about the architectural calamity. The Temple was evidence that Israel was still surviving, even in the context of occupation. For it to fall would be not simply the collapse of their place of worship but of their community’s entire, tenuous, fragile existence.   The end of their world.

“Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen?”

And, ever since Jesus first answered that question, people have been saying that he meant this time, right now; from the earliest Christians down through the ages to our own time.

After all, in age after age, the end of the world does seem to be just around the corner – wars, plagues, fires, earthquakes, floods, and famines. The stage seems to be set for the apocalypse in every generation.

And yet, Jesus tells us “do not be alarmed. Such things must happen – or, as a different translation put its – such things are bound to happen.” These things happen, over and over again. The end is still to come”.

It is useful to remember that the Bible’s apocalyptic visions – whether in the books of Daniel or Revelation, in the words of Israel’s prophets or Jesus or St. Paul – they are all drawing on the evidence immediately in front of them. The enemies were at the gate; the internal divisions were volatile; human behaviour is all too predictable. Their prophecies are not simply future-tellings but rather, and more profoundly, truth-tellings, which is why they continue to be prophetic today. The world is constantly in a state of self-destruction.

But none of these prophecies actually end with the story of destruction – a fact that is easily forgotten. We get so caught up in the images of destruction and chaos, these images that resonate so deeply with our own fears and experience,  that we neglect to notice that they are not, themselves, the end. They are but the birth pangs. The end, presumably, is the birth.

And birth is not an ending – or at least, not only an ending. Birth is also a beginning.

The problem is that we seem to keep bringing forth more chaos; more violence; more destruction. Each tragedy triggers more tragedy as people react out of fear and pain, rather than compassion and hope.

Fear narrows our perspective; compassion and hope expand it. Fear blinds us to any possibility other than more destruction; compassion and hope help us to see the end promised by God – the birth of a transformed world in which we live in harmony with all creation, with one another, and with God.

This is the true gift of the prophets – this vision of a new earth; of a new and everlasting life; of a community of love made possible by God’s grace working in the lives of hurting, frightened people.

It can be hard to hold onto this promise – given the amount of encouragement required in their letters, it was hard for the earliest Christians to hold onto and we’ve been waiting even longer than they did. And so, when the horror threatens to command all our attention, it is even more important to heed the author of the letter to the Hebrews and consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. How do we give birth to something other than more tragedy? How do we make manifest the hope we have within us? How do we offer an alternative to the fear that grips so many so tightly? How do we help others glimpse the world that is being born even now, brought forth by God even in the midst of the suffering?

In prayer and in action, we open our hearts to those who are suffering, embodying God’s love for them and for us and preparing ourselves to live together for all eternity.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus, Come Soon. To Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and Kenya. To Washington and Ottawa and Geneva and Jerusalem. To all the hurting and fearful places. Lord Jesus, Come Soon and set us all free. Amen.











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