Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Today's World is Coming to an End

There has been much talk lately about the end of the world.  We have known for a while that the Mayan calendar runs out this Friday, December 21st.  The Gospel reading for the second Sunday in Advent, moreover, enumerates the various events of violence, destruction and suffering that will signal the coming of Jesus, ending on the verse, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Luke 21:33).  I'm pretty certain that I will wake up on Saturday morning to find that the Mayans simply ran out of room on their calendar, and life will go on.  But in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I don't know that I can accept Jesus' words as signaling a better age to come that will replace the one in which we are currently living.  I imagine that life will go on much as it has for a while, and this concerns me deeply.

Crucifixion, Anthony van Dyk, 1622.
The trouble is that we are headed for destruction, and yet we seem surprised by the signs of this trajectory.  We are told in the Gospel of Mark, that "the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking him for a sign from heaven to test him.  And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign?  Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation" (Mark 8:11-12).  I suspect that an exasperated Jesus threw up his hands and said, "Good grief, how many more signs do you guys need!"  Besides, there is no point in giving signs to people who don't heed them and act in accordance with the truth and wisdom they convey.  Why tell folks the truth if they're not going to change their ways?  Fair enough, Jesus.  John the Baptist, too, told people to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord.  Some did, no doubt, but many--probably most--did not.  Hence, Jesus' sacrifice to redeem a wayward and sinful humanity.  If the image of our blessed Lord's broken body on the Cross doesn't offer a potent enough sign of the broken state of the world, I don't know what else can.

Grieving parents of Sandy Hook massacre.
But the signs are abundant.  Global warming, the melting of polar ice, and climate change demonstrate the way we have been slowly, gradually, bringing about the end of the world.  The ease of obtaining guns in this country in the absence of adequate and sensible legislation that exists in other nations, such as the United Kingdom, is wiping out a generation of our children through gang violence and events like the Sandy Hook massacre.  The absence of affordable and accessible mental health services through mental health carveouts by insurance companies means that psychological and emotional problems will often be neglected and unaddressed.  In fact, after working in health care policy for 11 years, I can't help wondering if Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook might have been prevented if those gunmen had been identified early and treated for mental illness. 

The point is that the end of the world is a situation of our making, through our action and inaction.  In that quintessentially apocalyptic book, the Revelation of John, the angel of the church in Sardis says, "‘I know your works; you have a name for being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is at the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God.  Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. [ ... ] Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Rev. 3:1-4, 6).  The world that we know will end however we respond to the angel's exhortation, but it can be an ending that brings the finality of violence and death or one that inaugurates a future of peace and abundant life.

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