With all due respect to the Mayans, I have plans for Dec. 22. It also may be news to you, but you guys are not the first to predict the end of the world, and even though you still have a shot at being the first to correctly predict the end of the world, I have plans for Dec. 22. My daughter is getting married. Perhaps to be on the safe side, I won’t pay any bills until the 23rd.
Seriously, why all the excitement about a Mayan calendar? Are we that bored? The Romans predicted the end of the world 600 years before the birth of Jesus. Since then there have been nearly 200 serious, or at least well publicized predictions of the end of the world including many religious leaders, Martin Luther and at least two Popes among them, and several people who had to keep revising their date because it didn’t happen as predicted.
The writer of the Gospel of Luke was like a lot of Christians in the late first century and imagined a return of Jesus not so much in a cataclysmic, special effects laden explosion, but in the sense of an ending of what we know as time and a hopeful vision of the coming of the kingdom of God. There are two ways to interpret the phrase “end of time.” One is pretty explosive, the other means an ending to the limits placed on my life by time and space. The Big Kaboom I can imagine, but the other is more difficult because there is nothing in my life that is not determined by time and space.
In the meantime, given the limits of time and space, I can get glimpses of what God’s kingdom would look like. The hungry get food. The thirsty are given drink. The captives are released, the exiles are returned home. The oppressed get justice. The poor are raised up, and those in despair are given hope. Need something to do between now and the end of time? Even within the limits of time and space, there is a lot we can do, and that is indeed good news.
Here is an Advent hymn from the eighth century:
Come, Sun and Savior, to embrace
Our gloomy world,
its weary race,
As groom to bride, as bride to groom:
The wedding chamber, Mary’s womb.
At your great Name, O Jesus, now
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
All things on earth with one accord,
Like those in heaven, shall call you Lord.
Come in your holy might, we pray,
Redeem us for eternal day;
Defend us while we dwell below,
From all assaults of our dread foe.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.