We stopped newspaper delivery to our house a few months ago. With two toddlers underfoot, I rarely have time to read the paper anymore. When I do carve out space to reflect on the world, I find it easier to go online for news.
If I’m honest, there’s another – more disquieting – reason we cancelled our subscription. There’s just too much bad news these days!
As I write this editorial, protestors are occupying public squares across North America, railing against greed and the influence of large corporations on government policy. Mennonite Disaster Service is still working to clean up following this spring’s massive flooding in North Dakota. And Christians are being persecuted and killed at an alarming rate in Egypt, even after a hope-filled revolution rocked that country earlier this year.
Like many others, I wonder what it would be like to escape all the bad news and start over again.
An escape route?
Armageddon is both a scary and welcoming thought – total annihilation is fearsome, yet promising. It’s the escape route many of us are looking for. It’s the hope of something completely new.
Given our natural human longing for fresh starts, it’s not surprising “end time fervour” bubbles up again and again – from secular and Christian camps alike. Consider Jerry Jenkins’ popular Left Behind series. Or the many Hollywood movies, books, and songs that boldly announce the end of the world on December 21, 2012, the final day on the 5,000-year-old Mayan calendar.
This isn’t the first time people have predicted the apocalypse. Sir Isaac Newton believed it would happen in 2060. Even evangelist Billy Graham, at a 1950 youth rally, offered his thoughts about the end times: “We may have another year, maybe two years, to work for Jesus Christ… two years and it’s all going to be over.”
Hellfire or opportunity
Time and date aside, the Bible does tell us there’s an end. With this in mind, sharing our faith is imperative, as Jesus will surely put an end to all the “bad news.” He is our greatest hope for the future.
But what we believe about that future greatly affects our message, and shapes the way we live today. If our vision is all about the world being destroyed in one cataclysmic event – about God’s wrath being visited on the earth – our message will be fire and brimstone, fear and urgency.
There are other pictures that can help us to envision the future. Jon Isaak, in his book New Testament Theology: Extending the Table, offers these words about the end times: “God’s mission is not about providing ‘hellfire insurance,’ but about the tremendous opportunities to experience authentic living from now on….
“[The book of Revelation] is a glorious picture emphasizing the unmediated presence of God with God’s people, the drawing up of the human into the divine, the coming down of God to dwell fully with humanity, the completion of the creation project begun so long ago, the multinational character of God’s shalom project, the celebration of human ingenuity, the open access to further creative projects, and the absence of evil.” Kurt Willems offers a similar perspective in “Just passin’ through?”.
The Christmas crèche points to the throne
Isn’t this also the message of Christmas? God among us – Hallelujah! A foretaste of what’s to come. Celebrating a future of hope and wholeness, not just destruction and fear. It’s the story of a miraculous cradle, an angel chorus, the fulfillment of prophecy, the undoing of a corrupt leader, and God’s glorious presence… the beginning of the end.
The Christmas story is evidence that our hope for something new doesn’t depend on a giant nuclear explosion. Just like baby Jesus, we are all vulnerable to the evils of this world. But we are also filled with the capacity for forgiveness, compassion, worship, and transformation. God is in the business of redeeming these “good” things, and bringing all creation back into intimate relationship with him.
This reminds me of something I read in Revelation. Maybe the Bible’s final book is not so scary, after all. For more on this, see Angeline Schellenberg’s “6 freak-out-free ways to read Revelation.”
Theologian David Ewert writes: “To live in the last days means to sniff the air of the world to come. It means to live on tiptoe, spiritually. Without the awareness that we are always living in the last hour, life becomes flat and insipid. Excitability isn’t called for, but the kind of expectancy that says to us when we go to bed at night, that before morning breaks the eternal morning may have dawned.”
So, what are we waiting for?