Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The End of the World

There are lots of people out there suggesting that it’s coming…oh, in about six years. Our friend the President of Iran wants it sooner, of course. But if not sooner in a fiery apocalypse with Iran, then why six years from now?

It seems the Mayans had two calendar systems that were highly intricate and accurate. One system calculated solstices and equinoxes for every year and season in the future. But it ends on December 21, 2012. No more Mayan time after that. Well, not quite. There are precious few Mayans to ask these days, but they probably believed that the world would be re-created, or Quetzalcoatl would return (a strangely Christ-like god who dies and lives and will return, whose blood gives life to the new generation). Hmm…

Then there is the scientist, R. Duncan. Simplifying his argument, we are already past the peak oil production and are now in decline. The years until 2012 will be marked with increasing economic depression, followed by catastrophe from 2012-2030. Modern civilization is at it’s peak.

And Christians, too, noting the “prophesies” of St. Malachy (does that sound alarmingly like “malarky” to you too?). In the 11th Century he supposedly made predictions of the last few popes before Christ returns. As it turns out, Benedict XVI is the second to last.

I’m Lutheran so I can’t help but ask, “What does this mean?”

1. We do live in grim times. 115 meaningless cable channels, shiny SUVs and hybrids too, new construction, ethanol plants, hardwood floors and modern healthcare may hide it, but we are in dark days. We saw it around these parts in April 1995. The rest of the country saw it in 2001, if only for a moment. And you feel it too. Everyone does. Look around at the new television shows. Listen to music.

2. No one knows the day or the hour. I can say for certain that the world will not end on December 21, 2012. Our Lord gave true prophesies about His return and the foolishness of trying to predict a certain day.

3. But the most dangerous game we can play is thinking, “No one knows when the world will end/when Jesus will return, so who cares? Besides, our “judgement day” will be the day we die, and we don’t know when that will happen either.” — This is exceptionally dangerous because of where it leads, the inevitable thought–”…and I feel pretty good now.”

Apparently this was the popular interpretation back in the day. I have one devoted, faithful member who constantly interjects whenever I mention Judgement Day. “But Pastor, when we die that’s judgement day for us, right?” Well, sure it is, I suppose. But that undermines the foundation of Christian living. Listen to the rest of that passage:

Matthew 24:36-39 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. ” (ESV)

Elsewhere Jesus’ Word to us is “watch!” The coming Lord Jesus connects and sustains our Eucharist (see Schmemann). Watching, waiting, expecting is the Christian attitude.

When I hear that dear member say, “Well, Pastor, the last day is really…” I hear some foolish pastor in her past, whispering in her ear, “Don’t look for Jesus to return. Don’t look for the world to end. Everything will go on and on as it is.” Except that’s not the voice of a Christian shepherd, is it? We know who speaks like that and we have denounced him.

“Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” (Matthew 24:44-46 ESV)

4. While no one will know the “day or the hour” Jesus also says watch–watch for the signs. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. ” (Matthew 24:32-33 ESV) We will not know the day, but we certainly can see it approaching. Indeed, we ought to see it approaching no matter what day or age we live in. That Day of the Lord may indeed come in six years time.

Of course He may not wait until 2012. Or it may be 2112. In the meantime, what shall we do? Six years is not a lot of time to accomplish much. Should we already flee to the mountains (Luke 21:21)? Should we forget our 401k’s and give to the poor? Should we not make plans for tomorrow, knowing that our lives in this world may soon be snatched away from us?

Jesus says much about these issues. But here, let these words suffice: “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matt. 24:45-46 ESV). These words, spoken to the apostles about their work, also speak to us. When our Lord comes, let Him find us faithfully doing the tasks set out for us, living for the day, working while it is day, for the night will come when no one may work (John 9:4).