A reading and reflection for Thursday, December 6, 2012.
The fifth day of Advent.
Click "Read More."
Luke 21:25-36 NRSV
The season of Advent this year begins as it always does, with a glimpse of the end of time. But this vision of the last things of the world is not filled with rose-colored images of lions sleeping next to lambs or of swords beaten into harvesting tools. This vision Jesus paints in one of the final chapters in Luke's gospel is grim. Astronomical and environmental disasters will lead to chaos between nations and people will faint from their fear and anxiety about what is happening to the world.
And isn't that the way it is? We read the newspapers, we see the headlines about hurricanes and disasters and wars and it doesn't take long before the cable news channels are telling everyone to stock up on guns and ammunition and providing instructions on how to build a bunker in your backyard. Fear comes with the threat of disaster.
So that's why Jesus said, "When you see these things happening, go and hide, build a bunker, retreat from the world, go and bury your heads in despair." Er...wait. Let's read that again, correctly:
"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Jesus says to stand up, raise your heads, because as those who follow Christ, we are to see the chaos of the end as the labor pain that leads to something wonderful and new. Our redemption is drawing near. In another Gospel, the writer, Mark, says this about the end of time: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."
And it makes sense, at least a little. When God's realm, God's dwelling place comes and interfaces completely with the human realm, there will be an intense restructuring of the world. If justice is to be dealt out with equity among all peoples, then unjust systems and governments must crumble. If peace is to rule the hearts of humanity, then wars and warmongers must be silenced. And when these things happen, it will be perceived as chaos.
But Jesus calls his people to be so attuned to God's kingdom, so consumed with the politics of a kingdom that favors the poor and weak and insignificant, that when it comes to earth, we will perceive it not as chaos, but as redemption.
The question for the Christian today is: Are you practicing the ways of God's kingdom? Are you sufficiently aware of the virtues of this new reality, this new order, that you have begun implementing them now? If we do, we are more likely to see "redemption drawing near." If not, then Jesus warns that "the day will catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."
We live in the tension between our immediate circumstances which are often difficult, painful, or anxiety-producing and the coming kingdom of God, which we say we believe in every Sunday. The task of the Christian is not to ignore their present trials, but to learn how to view them through the lens of God's kingdom. The paradigms and values and virtues of God's kingdom should reshape how you live today and how you view your current struggles. Virtues of forgiveness, love, patience, peacemaking, justice, and the like are the currency of this kingdom.
Go find a Bible, and open it to the New Testament (hint: to the right) and find the Gospel of Luke. Then find chapter 6, and read from verse 20 through the end of chapter 6. Make a list of all the virtues or values that Jesus attaches to his way of doing things (aka, the Kingdom of God). Now look at your list. Circle the ones that you find especially difficult. After you finish, pray this prayer:
Eternal God, you rule this universe and govern all people. In Jesus, you kept your promise to your people to give them a Righteous Branch of David. And in Jesus, you have chosen to complete your kingdom among us. As we live our lives, we confess that it is hard to live as your children, it is hard to be people who __________________. Nevertheless, you have commanded us to be rich with generosity and quick to forgive. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to become the kind of person who recognizes your kingdom when we see it. In Jesus' name. Amen.