Sunday, December 2, 2012

The end of the world as we know it

I never know whether to take biblical accounts of the end times literally. Will we wake up someday to see heaven and earth trembling and Jesus coming in the clouds? I’m open to that possibility. But I’m more open the possibility that the biblical description of the second coming is not to be taken literally. Which is right? I dunno.

A lot of people got it wrong the first time Jesus appeared. They studied the scriptures and they thought they had it all figured out, but their Messiah came to them in a way they hadn’t expected and they missed him completely. So, I’m always leery of anybody who thinks they have it all figured out. Even if that anybody happens to be me.

Jesus promised that he will inaugurate the end of the world as we know it. Maybe it really happens the way we Christians have been taught to expect it. Maybe Jesus came and lived on this earth until he went up into heaven. And now, maybe we’re all waiting around for him to come back. That would be kind of like what happens with my pets, Guido and Pooky, when I leave the house. They run to the picture window and watch me drive away and Pooky throws a conniption fit. Then they lie down and go to sleep, until they hear my car return to the driveway, at which time they jump up and run to greet me at the door. Maybe the second coming of Jesus works like that.

Or maybe it’s more like that sweet country song where the guy is leaving his kid to go on a trip and he assures the kid that not only is he going to return, but he’s already here. Maybe Jesus is already here. Maybe the second coming is a process. And maybe we’re all a part of it. That’s what makes the most sense to me. (Yes, I may very well be wrong, but if I am, God still loves me. And that’s how I’ve come to see it.)

What I can’t deny is that this world as we know it will end. Well, I shouldn’t say that I can’t deny it because, in fact, I spend a lot of time denying it. I get all caught up in my day-to-day life and lose sight of the larger picture. There’s a whole big universe out there of which I am just a teeny tiny speck. And there has been and will be a history of which my life occupies less than a nano-second. The astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson wrote, “If the events that span the 15 billion year timeline of the universe were laid along the length of a football field, then all of human history would span the thickness of a blade of grass in the end zone.” This first Sunday of Advent reminds us that we are but a small part of a cosmic drama that has a beginning and middle and an end.

 I suspect we’re missing the point if we think it all ends with Jesus riding into town on a white horse, whipping out his six-guns and restoring peace. Jesus doesn’t come to the rescue of this messed up world at the end and make everything right, because, for starters, Jesus never left this world to begin with. He never stopped being Emmanuel, “God with us.” His kingdom is always near, and his kingdom work continues to be ongoing.
Jesus himself likens the end of life as we know it to a fig tree. It doesn’t just lie dormant and then all of a sudden fruit appears. First, the tree dies. Then it buds. And it blossoms. And it grows. That’s the way God’s story unfolds. And it’s not just God’s story; it’s our story, too. We’re a part of it. The way that Jesus continues to remain present in the world today is through us.

Jesus promised that he will inaugurate the end of the world as we know it. Will it be a time of terror, the way we see the apocalypse depicted in the movies? I can’t bring myself to imagine that, not if God is really the God of love I have come to trust through the years. What I can imagine, though, is a time when things are made right and God’s peace, justice and love prevail. That’s my hope. I’m striving to wait for it patiently, but never passively. It’s my prayer that Jesus may inaugurate an end to this poor excuse for life that we've come to know and bring us to experience real life in its place. May that new life come, not despite us, but through us.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine... fine...
-- R.E.M.


Sally D said...

The age-old question--"What's the meaning of my life?" For the first time, I see hope in your comment-- "It’s my prayer that Jesus may inaugurate an end to this poor excuse for life that we've come to know and bring us to experience real life in its place. May that new life come, not despite us, but through us." Does that make sense??

Michelle McConnell said...

fantastic sermon. your voice echoed in the sanctuary today. you stirred me, and I always need fresh stirring
this time of year. thank you!

Bob Berger said...

Nice work- you work at it and you might become a good preacher.