The end of the world as we know it

Hannah knows hardship.

The barren wife of a prominent man, she is shamed by her failure to bear Elkanah a son.

She is well treated, but it doesn’t matter – she cannot do what her society says she must do.

Her life is a disaster – provoked by her rival (Elkanah’s ‘other’ wife),

Hannah has lost her appetite, she is unable to worship, she is in a constant state of grief.

And just when she thought that life could get no worse,

the keeper of the Temple of the Lord accuses her of public drunkenness.

It must have felt like the end of the world for her.

Hannah’s story is the opening chapter in a brighter period of the history of Israel

but it opens in darkness. No joy. No glory. No whispered words of God.

Grief, shame, and provocation are the beginnings of Hannah’s birth-pangs –

birth-pangs that will produce, against all odds, and in God’s own time

a son who will become a powerful prophet – Samuel.

It is easy for us to equate hardship will defeat – disaster with God’s judgement

for Hannah, an inability to conceive equals the end of the world.

And following Hannah’s example, we are more willing to admit defeat

than we are to accept that our difficulties often signal the birth of some new opportunity.

That is a habit we share with many of our spiritual ancestors.

We are drawn to stories that point to our failures as signs of God’s immanence

we seem eager for an easy way out of our present difficulties

and long for “that promised day of God” that will see all things set right.

Because of this, we will never be without our end-time prophets.

The turn of the century provided the fearful voices plenty of opportunities to predict disaster.

The Cuban missile crisis – the rise of powerful military governments in the oil-rich middle east,

the attack on the world trade centre – the economic disaster – the swine flu

If you listen carefully, you can hear people asking- about all of these things (and more)

“is this it? The end of the world as we know it?”

many turn to religion for answers to those kinds of questions,

but no matter what the question, the answers are elusive.

and it was no different for Jesus closest friends.

we can hardly blame them for asking Jesus for some help in reading the signs…

they have been engaged in the same sort of debates as they journey – with Jesus – towards their own doomsday in Jerusalem

who wouldn’t want a head start on the end of time?

Who doesn’t want to be “absolutely prepared” when God brings down the final curtain?

But there is a problem – beyond the fact that only God knows the details.

Did you hear it?

In the midst of Jesus’ stark description of the way things are (and must be…):

“This is but the beginning of the birth-pangs” Jesus says.

Birth pangs…something is being created, not destroyed.

Sorry for all you thriller movie buffs,

but end-of-time scenarios that involve devastation and destruction –

these are human inventions.

God is in the creation business.

I am unusually privileged, in my vocation.

I am invited into the most vulnerable and chaotic times in the lives of God’s people.

I am asked to hold hands while the very foundations of the world seem to come apart.

I have mourned for unborn children, and broken relationships.

I have seen future hopes dashed, and watched addictions destroy families.

I have noticed that no one is immune from tragedy –

the faithful and the faithless alike are subject to terrible tragedy –

but I have also noticed that, once the dust clears,

there is always something new waiting to be discovered.

Our birth-pangs are bitter and tumultuous – soul-shaking and faith challenging

when they will end, God only knows,

but something new is always the result.

The good news that is ours to share –

news that was revealed to Jesus early followers in a very vivid fashion –

is no less than this: even death is not death.

What once was defeat – truly the end of the world for humankind – is not the end.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

God’s people come to many brutal conclusions as they journey from birth to death.

There are times of plenty and times of want.

There are days of favour and days of destitution.

And at every turn, God’s people ask the same questions:

Is this it? Will God ever smile on us again?

Are we standing on the verge of momentous change? The end of time?

There is no consensus among us – each of us understands the evidence differently

generation after generation comes convinced that the end is at hand

groundless fears are raised –

And our answer must continue to be the answer Jesus offered –

these things, and more, will happen – they are birth pangs –

and from the wreckage will emerge some new thing.

because, you see – God is in the creation business.

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