Christian or not, you can’t help but wonder if the world is about to implode.
No, this isn’t another Harold Camping-esque attempt at prophecy. It’s just a simple statement of fact. The world as we presently know it will end. This truth is as certain as the birth and resurrection of Christ.
As I write this piece, Camping’s predicted date of Christ’s return—May 21—has come and gone. His new prediction of October 2011 is closing in on us. Of course, if October doesn’t pan out, there’s always the Mayan prediction that the world will end in 2012.
But then what? What happens after Christ returns, or after we die? Is there a physical hell, or, as Rob Bell suggests, is it true that Love Wins?
Fueling all this discussion and speculation is the reality that things in this world are not the way they ought to be, and they’re getting worse. Between the AIDS epidemic in Africa and other places, increasing numbers of children who are hungry (even in North America), reports of systemic rape and torture, the upheaval of political systems, and unending natural disasters, you can’t help but wonder if the world is about to implode.
This is the backdrop for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany 2011. This is the reality we address as worship planners, leaders, and preachers. We speak as priests, bringing words of comfort and assurance; we speak as prophets, declaring that Christ will come again.
Advent is a time of yearning for Christ’s second coming. We do so with vigilance, while acknowledging that we don’t know the day or the hour. We yearn not because we want to escape to some sort of nirvana and see our enemies suffer the torments of hell but because we want the suffering and the rampant evil in this world to end. We yearn for Christ’s return because we desire a new earth where we can experience life without sin and destruction, without the death of children and those we love, without pain and tears. But while we yearn for the new earth we need to recognize the pain of this earth. We need to be the hands and feet of Christ, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and comforting the grieving.
So in this issue we offer a “Service of Remembrance” (p. 36) for those who find themselves grieving while so much of this world is preparing to celebrate. Advent and Christmas are also great opportunities to retell the gospel message. Christ did not remain a baby in the manger; he came to redeem the world. “Under the Bethlehem Star” (p. 10) uses the story of Ruth to share the good news of our redemption through Christ.
We also need to speak peace. As Christians we live rooted in the knowledge that our current reality is temporary; we are people with hope for the future while being busy with acts of compassion for those who are suffering today. It is that deep peace and hope that can help us to be lights in the darkness. “From Darkness to Light” (p. 6) is a Christmas Eve service that begins with creation and the fall before declaring the good news of Jesus’ birth.
Whatever you choose to do during the season of Advent and Christmas, do it as a people of hope and peace. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come!
From the beginning,
through all the crises of our times,
until the kingdom fully comes,
God keeps covenant forever:
Our world belongs to God!
God is King: Let the earth be glad!
Christ is victor: his rule has begun!
The Spirit is at work: creation is renewed!
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
—Our World Belongs to God, par. 2
We long for that day
when our bodies are raised,
the Lord wipes away our tears,
and we dwell forever in the presence of God.
We will take our place in the new creation,
where there will be no more death
or mourning or crying or pain,
and the Lord will be our light.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
—Our World Belongs to God, par. 56
We live confidently,
anticipating his coming,
offering him our daily lives—
our acts of kindness,
our loyalty, and our love—
knowing that he will weave
even our sins and sorrows
into his sovereign purpose.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
—Our World Belongs to God, par. 57