Who’s apocalypse is this?

Signpost for Sunday 29 November, 2015, First in Advent: Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10;

1 Thess 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36.

Happy New Year. We start the new church year with a warning and a vision of the apocalypse. Thank goodness the reading from Luke is preceded with a comforting snatch of Jeremiah, taken out of context, to usher in Advent. These verses deliberately chosen to echo the beginning of the narration of Christmas in a few week’s time.

Then, it’s worth reminding yourself that an apocalyptic vision is a style of writing. It’s a literary genre common in the ancient Middle East, surfacing whenever times were tough. And times were often very tough. Conquest by Alexander the Great, followed by the Babylonians, the destruction of the Temple, exile and return, and then subjugation to the Romans, who by AD 100 had destroyed Jerusalem. Terrorism and war were the order of the day.

The way any ancient writer using the apocalyptic genre dealt with such things was to describe the entire cosmos in a way that reflected the disorder of the world. Sun, moon, and stars become signs of chaos.

When we look around us now and see terrorism and war threatening our modern world, it’s enough to revive the apocalyptic genre. Sadly it will probably only revive a few cooky notions that the end of the world is nigh. Again. Especially when we read Luke 21:27-28. Luke, of course, is referencing Daniel 7:13. In Daniel, the son of man translates literally as “human one” who will have royal power. Kingship is an important point the author of Luke wants to make: verse 31 “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Then comes the really difficult bit for modern readers and listeners: Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. (verse 32).

If you’re anything like me, you’re first thought will be, “Ah well, Luke got that wrong. Maybe Jesus never actually said it.” But last week I came across a different way of thinking about this passage that doesn’t just consign it to being a literary conceit or a mistaken prophecy of doom. In the previous verse Luke writes about ‘the kingdom of God’ and earlier he has written The kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:20). In the same way, some scholars ask, might not the apocalypse be among us? Think about it. Life has no favorites. Every person on earth experiences a time when things begin to fall apart for them (a death, a divorce, a redundancy, an accident). Here’s something else to think about: Luke tells us that Jesus’ words will never ‘pass away’. Then he leaves us with advice on how to get through the times when it may seem we have lost or are about to lose everything: pray. Pray in Jesus name, because Christ came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). It’s a thought. One I rather like.

Paul

P.S. The Signpost year signs off with this post. Blessings to all our readers and writers until February next year. May you be blessed, with the spirit of the season, which is peace; with the gladness of the season, which is hope, and with the heart of the season, which is love.

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