I am blessed to live in a very beautiful and still quite wild and remote part of the world on the south coast of Western Australia in tall karri forests, among vineyards and other agricultural enterprises, and various tourist attractions. I often think of one of the phrases from our psalm this week: “The share that has fallen to me is in pleasant places, and a fair land is my possession.” (RCL Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 15: Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; and Mark 13:1-11.)
I feel very grateful to have been called to serve and now live in this part of the world. But even here in this pleasant place we get the constant news feed of plague, violence and devastation. And closer to home people we know and love are engaged in their own health battles, family struggles and community conflict.
There are solid, intelligent reasons for thinking that the world is in such a mess that maybe these are the sorts of things that Jesus was talking about. Wars and rumors of wars abound. You don’t have to watch very much day time TV or spend much time on social media to see family member turn against family member. Natural disasters seem to happen all around us. Although progress has been made the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on families and communities. And at this time we are very aware of climate change and impending disaster on a terrifying scale. But folk have been predicting the end of the world since before Jesus. Every time that the world is gloomy – and it is right now – people see ultimate doom written in the heavens.
Jesus was referring to the fall and ruin of the Temple which happened in 70 CE – about 35 to 40 years after his death and resurrection. And at the time that the gospels were being written down the faithful had seen this terrible, and previously unimaginable thing happen, and the dispersal and second great exile of Israelites. The Christians were also beginning to be persecuted. All of this is the context in which Mark and the others wrote down and remembered Jesus’ predictions and warnings.
So, from the specific doom and gloom of end times, we go to the letter to the Hebrews which speaks to the perennial nature of our failure to live as we know we should, and the cycle of sin, repentance and sacrifice, followed by renewed intention to live as new people and then back to sin, repentance etc. With hindsight, in the light of Christ, this Hebrew community of Christians look back to their origins and see the annual cycle of sin offering as the old law and that in Christ there was a new law because his life and death was the one sacrifice which was sufficient for all time. To the new Christians who had first been raised Hebrew they saw that Jesus was both the High Priest and the sacrifice – the one who had truly dealt with sin forever more.
But it is a crude simplification to suggest that they thought of his sacrificial death as only a legalistic blood payment for sin that meant the faithful could avoid doomsday. They also saw it as a tearing down of the sanctuary curtain that kept ordinary folk away from the holiest of holies. In Christ they saw that they now had reason to be confident and to draw near to God. There was now a pathway cleared from their heart to God’s heart.
God’s heart in which creation was first dreamed up. God’s heart in which our days are recorded. God’s heart in which there is an ache like an empty chair until we come home. And our hearts upon which the law of God is written. Our hearts which are full of hope one day and dread and discontent the next. Our hearts which are restless until they find their rest in God. The life and love of Jesus the Christ, God become human, clears a pathway between our heart and God’s heart: a path of life from which will flow delights for evermore. And we become awakened to our true nature: heartbeat of the universal heart, divine spark of the maker of this and every galaxy, children of God.
Engaging with the one who loved us so fully that his sacrificial life and radical love, dealt with the need for sacrifice once and for all, however is not the end of things. It is the beginning. The beginning of living a life of hope, discipline, joy, sacrifice – living life fully. And living life fully means being fully present to, engaged in and faithful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Sometimes living life fully means being fully present to our own and other’s suffering.
And living life fully in God also means having our eyes opened to the blessings of life, the opportunities for new creations, the curious partnerships emerging for new life enhancing work and play. Such a life in not a solitary one, it is not only about personal piety. It is about a life lived out with family and friends, our family the church, and the universal family which includes all of creation. And in doing so with integrity and determination, with commitment and courage, we may just avert doomsday and bring to fruition the new creation. And then, when the end does come – our own particular end or the end of the world – we shall be seen to shine like the brightness of the sky, like the stars that shall shine forever and ever.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ.
It will soon be Advent. You may be interested in courses designed to help you have a deep experience of the season and if you are a worship leader to inspire you in the preparation of your own work.