Christians, throughout history, have been concerned with both the afterlife and the end times. What happens when we die? When will we be resurrected? When will Jesus come again? What will it be like when that happens?
There are many different views about the afterlife and the end of all things, and this week, as the Christmas lights were turned on in Hamilton, we entered the season called Advent. Advent means arrival and we, the church, now spend four weeks awaiting the arrival of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, but we also look forward to the arrival of God’s Kingdom – known as the second coming.
But what do we really know about the end times? Well, Jesus said we will not know the day or time, but that, before the end, things in the world will get pretty bad. Therefore, I suggest we hold lightly to ideas and traditions about the future that we do not know, and hold on to what we actually do know. For example, we can be certain that we live in what we call the now and not yet.
Firstly, Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is here. We can know and be known by Jesus, and we can be filled with his Holy Spirit and transformed by His love, in the here and now. Secondly, we also know that God’s kingdom has not fully come. We still pray the line in the Lord’s Prayer, Your kingdom come, and we look forward to the day when God’s kingdom will fully come. God’s Kingdom is both now and not yet.
I am an optimist and hope that the world will be fully redeemed, restored, and renewed; and I know that, through Christ, I am called to be part of that redemption, restoration, and renewal, however, the world does not seem to be becoming the ‘better’ place I expect it to be. In the last Century we have had two world wars and right now we are in the grip of a world-wide pandemic; and in the face of Coronavirus, the words of Jesus ring with a new chill when He talks about the end times, saying things like, “For it (the pain and suffering) will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” It may be the first time in the history of humanity that this statement is literally true.
Surely, if the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated two thousand years ago is growing and spreading, the world should be in a better place, not a worse one? So, this got me thinking, what if God’s Kingdom is not dependent on the world becoming a better place? What if God’s Kingdom does not only come when things are good and right with the world but when the world is full of suffering and pain; and that somehow, when that suffering and pain increases, so God’s Kingdom inreases? For example, think about Maximilian Kolbe. You may have heard the story of the Catholic priest incarcerated in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. After the escape of a prisoner, as a punishment, ten men were to be executed by being locked in a bunker and deprived of food and water. They were to suffer a horrific and painful death, and when this was announced, one of the men called out, “My wife! My children!” Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to take the man’s place. So, do you see? That is an example of God’s Kingdom coming in power, right there, in the most hideous and unimaginable place of pain, death, and destruction. The light of Maximilian Kolbe shone bright as day against a backdrop of pure evil.
Today, we find ourselves in a broken, pain-filled world, but God’s Kingdom is coming. Jesus is coming, and the good news is that you can meet him in the here and now. When the brokenness increases, God’s healing increases; when the pain increases, the comfort increases; when the evil increases, the good increases. Why? Because that is the very nature of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, when the things of this world feel overwhelming, do not give up; stand firm; and hold up your heads. As a nation, we do not know what we will face over the coming weeks and months. Right now we have come up for air and life feels almost normal again, but for some of us, we are already feeling the pain of Omicron, this new Covid variant; unable to travel home for Christmas to be with loved ones and family, however, do not give up, have hope, because God’s Kingdom is coming.
Rev Gav is the pastor at St.Mark’s Anglican Church