Boy, what a week for an apocalyptic text. Well, technically, we could call it a “pre-apocalyptic” text. If we had time (and let’s be honest, we’ve got the time) we would note that “apocalypse” is really just the Greek word for “THE BIG REVEAL!”, the moment when everything becomes clear and all makes sense! And this is really Jesus talking about living through those times before that happens. When things don’t make sense. When all is not yet clear. When life is all kinds of unsettled.
You know, times like right now. How shall we live right now? What do we do in this time?
The short story is: keep awake, for when you see these things taking place, you know that Jesus is near.
(And now we need to back up about 18 steps.)
Here’s the thing, apocalyptic literature has gotten a bad rap over the years. Mostly because it has been terribly misused by people with less than pure motives. It’s like the bible version of a car. Cars can be wonderful tools for so many good things! But put a drunk driver behind the wheel and they can become tools of death and destruction.
Apocalyptic texts are like that. They can be good and beautiful tools in faith. But with the wrong driver, they become texts of terror, judgment, and sometimes, even death. But look a little closer. Look at those “signs” that Jesus tells us to pay attention to. Wars? Rumors of wars? Famine? Falling stars? Earthquakes? Has there ever been a generation when those things weren’t happening?
In every generation, we live with the reminders that God is not done yet. In the Lutheran world, we call this the “already/not yet paradox”.
God has already won, but the work is not yet done. The promise has been fulfilled, but not yet realized. We all live with one foot in eternity, in God’s new creation, and one foot on earth, in God’s first creation. And sometimes, that’s easy to forget. It’s easy to say either, “God has forgotten about us. How else can we make sense of terrible things?” or to pretend that all these terrible things have nothing to do with us. That we’re God’s chosen and so we don’t have to care. And neither of those things is true.
What is true, and what the pre-apocalyptic texts are trying to tell us, is that birth hurts. That death always comes before resurrection. And that, no matter what, God has not left us.
When you see these things, when you see fear and violence and uncertainty and yes, even death, know that God is near. Even at the very gates. Stay awake. Open your eyes. You’ll see it.
You’ll see a bunch of Italians singing from balconies to share hope with one another. You’ll see frazzled, overwhelmed parents trying to homeschool a bunch of bored, underwhelmed kids in order to protect all our grandparents. You’ll see phone calls from old friends and messages passed through the windows of nursing homes. You’ll see grieving and funerals put on hold to protect one another from illness. You will see sacrifice for the sake of another. And this, too, is God at work.
Open your eyes. Stay awake. You will see.
In these times when little makes sense and far too much is uncertain, God is here, too. And honestly, I don’t know what happens next, what’s on the other side of all this. But whatever it will be, we know that God is already there, too.
Apocalyptic texts aren’t about telling the future. They’re about trusting that God is in the here and now and in the days to come. And while birth is terribly painful, the life on the other side is oh so beautiful.
So do not be led astray. Do not believe the voice of despair. Do not lose hope.
Open your eyes. Stay awake. See that God is always and ever beside you, and behind you, and before you. See that all your days, the good, the bad, and even the boring, are held in God’s loving and faithful arms, from the ends of the earth to the end of heaven. And no matter what these days hold, nothing will keep God from loving you.
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