Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent, Day 16

Jesus said, "Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ – do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

"Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven will be shaken.

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." - Matthew 24

This is a portion of Matthew's version of what is called the "little apocalypse"; it appears also in Mark and Luke. All three of these writers place it toward the very end of Jesus' ministry, shortly before his arrest.

These days most scholars believe that Mark's gospel was written right around the time the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. For both Matthew and Luke, then, it would have been a very raw memory of a deeply traumatic event.

So here we are with more language about the end of the world, probably inspired by the seeming end of everything the Jews held dear. But while it seems at first glance to be all about gloom and doom, note that the end of all this action is the gathering up of God's "elect" from every place to which they have been scattered. In the same way that the Old Testament prophets spoke of God gathering the nation of Israel back together after the Babylonian Exile, Jesus speaks of God gathering the faithful back together at the end of time.

Jessica Hill/AP (from link below)
Love wins. No trauma, no violence, no destruction is so complete that God cannot ultimately overcome it. But neither does God always prevent traumatic events from taking place. And this doesn't tend to sit well with us.

But still, love wins. In the garden outside a church I frequently attend is a small patch of trees and bushes, and placed inconspicuously among them is a little stone inscribed with the words, "Love wins." The stone is just sitting there, waiting to be seen by any person who needs desperately to see it.

I was struck yesterday by this NPR story about the family of one of last year's Sandy Hook victims. Despite their trauma, they have chosen as their motto, "Love wins."

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