Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Signs of the Times?
I grow weary of the inevitable interpretations of earthquakes, hurricanes, and various weather phenomena as indications that now, really now, we are beginning to see the signs of the end of all things approaching. The reasoning runs like this: Jesus said there'd be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and the waves, and men's hearts failing them from fear, etc., and now we can see that beginning to happen, so in this early 21st century we can see his prediction coming true. The trouble is that such interpretations of the weather have never been in short supply. Pick your century: 20th? Plenty of apocalyptic warnings there, that there's an increase of hurricanes and whatnot, which means that the end is near. The 17th? I think there were even two major prophecies bandied about by fringe groups in Europe pertaining to the last day: one said, I think 1669, and when that didn't happen, it was revised to 1699. The 16th? Luther himself has an Advent sermon in which he points to an increase of meteorological events as evidence that the end was near. And let's not forget the 14th: the great Plague which wiped out a third of Europe was almost universally seen as a sign that the end was near (and in a way, for many it was). Speaking of plagues, there was another in, what, the sixth century? And on top of the plague came this great earthquake in Italy. It was so bad the pope called for a grand procession of mourners.
So I'd say it's only the historically uninformed who might be convinced that now, today, there are lots of eclipses, earthquakes, tidal waves, etc. which we've never seen before. Well frankly, we have too.
In fact we saw them in Jerusalem, in AD 70: there was a great upheaval of the established order of things (nation rising against nation), Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel wiped out--and if you take the "sun" and "moon" and "stars" in Jesus' Lukan discourse on this in an apocalyptic rather than literal fashion, you might see fit to interpret them in much the same way as Joseph interpreted his dream about the same heavenly bodies, and see the fulfillment of this discourse in the obliteration of Israel; in short, Jesus' warning can be seen as having been fulfilled by AD 70; in fact he referenced "this generation" as not passing away till all be fulfilled.
So the end is near, surely. It has been near for two thousand years.
And in addition, the reason for these signs can be taken as an added warning to the words of Jesus, "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighted down." And if dreadful phenomena served to highlight his words for those people, perhaps we can begin also to understand why dreadful things in our own lives serve to highlight his warnings to us. This is why troubling things happen to God's people: he is warning them, he is driving them back to himself, back to their knees, back to his altar, to his word, to his Supper, to faith.
Here's the audio of a sermon on this, from the Second Sunday in Advent.