Saturday, November 16, 2013

The End is Near! .... or not!


One of my favorite comic strips shows a ragged-looking man in tattered robes with a long flowing beard walking down a crowded city street carrying a sign proclaiming doom to everyone who reads it. The sign says simply and ominously, “The end is near.”  And, about five steps behind that man is a second man carrying another sign that simply reads, “The end.”  The end…is near!

Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you today that the end is indeed near!  Actually, there are a lot of endings that are near.  As we embrace the Fall, we know that the warm weather is more-or-less over and cold of winter is just around the corner.  Thanksgiving in a week and a half reminds us that November is almost over.  The Christmas decorations that are out in the stores already, tell us that Christmas will soon be here and that another year is almost over.  As I said, the end is near! 

And here in church today, we enter into the final two weeks of our Church year.  Two Sundays from now, we embrace Advent once again, a new Church year, and so today and during these next two weeks our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!”  In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  And He is asked, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”

I think He is asked these questions because we all have a natural anxiety about “the end.”  We ask, will we be ready?  Will we be among the chosen?  Will we make it to Heaven?  I work with our young people preparing them for Confirmation each year, and I always give them the chance to write down any faith question they’d like answered.  Not surprisingly, they often ask questions about this very topic – they wanted to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – the End.  We see this in our culture periodically.  Just think about the turn of the new millennium. There were lots of articles about the end of time; or just last year those focused on the so-called Mayan prediction that the world would end in 2012 (we’re still here).  If we choose to look at the negative in our world – the financial crisis, the many wars – we can read those as signs of the end.

This is nothing new.  Historically, just about every age has thought it would be the last.  And to all of this, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”

I don’t know about you, but I find these to be comforting words.  I think Jesus wants to convey basically two things to us today.  The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world.  We tend to do this far too often, and when we entertain this train of thought, we are not following the word of God.  We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties.   We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives. Our God is not a God of fear and anxiety – He is a God of love.

The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name.  I think of some of the televangelists that you see on TV who tell you exactly when the end is coming.  But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come.  Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets.  Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.”  The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Even the political dialogue in our country seeks to tread upon our fears and anxieties about the future. Our world is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices.  Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.” 

So, what are we to do?  Well, a true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us.  To a world that proclaims, “The end is near,” our God counters, “Be not afraid.”

And this is what Jesus says today; that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. These seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life.  Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth. “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”

My friends, the end is near….or not.  But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.

May God give you peace.

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