Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
“My world has come crashing down.” You’ve heard those words spoken by others around you who have faced calamities, real or imagined. Many of you have, I am sure, in the midst of your own tears uttered those words.
Every year at this time, the Church has us deal with the apocalyptic — those terrible endings we face in our own personal lives, as well as cataclysmic endings of our collective civilizations and our human epochs and eras. History is replete with them. Questions and concerns about the end of the world abound in our day as they have throughout past. Is there an asteroid headed directly at us? Will the sun burn out? Will we all be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust?
Concern about the end of the world and the coming of God’s Messiah was very intense when Jesus of Nazareth came on the scene. The wise men who came from the east following the star were concerned what that question. Many thought John the Baptist was the Messiah. He was forced to repeatedly deny that he was.
In today’s Gospel account we find Jesus sharing with the disciples His vision about world-ending events. He was about to enter into the days of His suffering and death in Jerusalem. The disciples probably wondered if their world was about to come crashing down around them and so we find Jesus preparing them for those days. He prepared them by speaking in apocalyptic language, “end of the world” language, and He opened with the phrase “in those days.”
Measuring and denoting time by days is a human measurement. Days for humans are a concept that differs from “days” in God’s timelessness. Human time differs from God’s time. For God, everything exists in a timeless “now”. God is always doing whatever He is doing. Thus, we need to see that God is forever coming to us in endings that are in His plans really beginnings. “Behold,” He tells us, “I am making all things new.”
Human eras come and go, followed by new eras. Human cultures have arisen and fallen. In our history lessons we have all given attention, for instance, to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. The Dark Ages came and went, followed by feudalism, followed by monarchies, followed by the Enlightenment. Communism and Fascism have come and gone. Human days and times are simply our human ways of measuring and denoting change.
There are moments, periods and events in which God’s time intersects with human time. This is true not only socially and historically but individually and personally as well. Jesus and His disciples are about to experience such an interfacing between God’s time and human time.
What is our Christian response to these events, be they apocalyptic or personal, when it seems that our world is crashing down around us?
Standing back and looking at the big picture, let me first call your attention to the fact that life goes on. A teenage girl may feel life for her is over because the boy she’s infatuated with has found another girl and is no longer totally interested in her. Still, life goes on. A college student may find that he is not as intelligent as he once thought himself to be. Others, he discovers, are smarter and more intelligent, getting better grades than he has scored. Still, life goes on. An entrepreneur may face the fact that his or her company will fail. A scientist may learn that what was discovered for the benefit of humankind is now being employed for its destruction. A president may find that a war entered upon for good reasons has ended in disaster at the cost of numberless lives and countless human miseries. Efforts to end gun ownership, illegal immigration, the drug trade, and all manner of vices can result in terrible unintended consequences. The list of failed human endeavors, nobly conceived and ignobly ended, is seemingly endless. And still, life goes on.
That, it seems to me, is the first response of a Christian to all that appears to be apocalyptic in our lives. Christians have an advantage in dealing with these questions, the advantage of hope. We can have hope based on what Jesus Christ has done for us, and not only done in the distant past but also what He has done for us in our own personal lives.
Another advantage we have is vision. We have a vision of reality that transcends the here and now, that looks over the horizon, and that sees beyond recorded human history. When you stand back and look at the big picture and see human life Christ’s way of seeing things, you cannot help but see that God is continually bringing good out of evil, meaning out of absurdity, order out of chaos, and life out of death. If the meaning and purpose of the life of Jesus Christ is otherwise, then please tell me what it is.
The Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of St. John the Apostle, is not a book of doom and gloom – it is a book of hope and a vision of final victory of good over evil. The Book of Genesis, the first book of the bible, depicts God bringing light out of darkness, creating the sun, the moon and the stars, followed by a beautiful world into which He places wondrous creatures, man and woman being God’s superlative creation made in His own image and likeness. The last book of the bible, the Apocalypse, has the lights going out with the sun, moon, and stars falling from heaven, and God’s beautiful world in agony. It ends with yet another creation, God’s New Creation. The pattern is that of Christ, from His birth under the light of a heavenly star, through His passion, death and resurrection in a new dawn of creation. Men and women who were doomed are now men and women redeemed.
The Christian response to all of life’s losses and tragedies is to see that hidden in every crisis there is opportunity. We need not feel like helpless victims who must surrender to doubt and despair. Why do we let fear overwhelm and bury us? Have not our greatest artists given us their best creations in the midst of terrible loss, in time when their worlds have come crashing down around them? Has not history demonstrated that great cultures have risen from the ashes of previous collapsed cultures? Have we not seen greatness in human beings who found themselves in the most terrible of straits? Think of Socrates, Plato, Michelangelo, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, to mention only a few.
The third Christian response I want to suggest to you is to ask the question: Are we purpose made? If we answer in the affirmative then the questions that must necessarily follow are: “For what purpose?” What finality awaits us?” For what purpose is there intelligent design in all things?”
There are scientists who are talking these days about Intelligent Design. They see the universe as only appearing to be nothing but chaos – but in reality it is not. There is evidence of intelligent design out there in the cosmos and in our own existence. What fascinates me is that such a discussion could well take place between scientists and theologians. Maybe such discussions are in fact now occurring. They once did in medieval universities.
As we approach the end of the Church’s yearly liturgical cycle the question is put before us. It is one that we must face collectively. More importantly, however, is the fact that each one of us must face the question personally. What is the meaning of my life? What is the purpose of my life? When and how will my life end?
Today, as the saying goes, is the first day of the rest of your life. Tomorrow is yet another day of opportunity. Beginnings can be endings and endings can be beginnings. Beginning to live differently today ends the ways we lived yesterday and in the days of our past.
Maybe, then, it’s a good thing we don’t know what the future holds in store for us. Maybe it’s a great gift God is giving us, the gift of forming and shaping our destiny with His love here and now, rather than in some possible future. God has given us here and now realities, not just future possibilities. That, it seems to me, is something wonderful.