It looks like a slogan on the sign of a white-bearded guy in a prophet's robes in some cartoon, doesn't it? Nevertheless, it is the truth. The end of the year is coming. The end of the church year has already come and gone by the beginning of December. And Scripture teaches, "The end of all things is at hand." (1 Peter 4:7) The truth of the statement is not in question. The meaning of it, and the use to which one chooses to put that information is.
What is the value of the statement? Is the end a good thing? Ends of things are, sometimes, quite welcome. Or is the announcement intended to cause fear? Even then, some fear is appropriate and useful. If the end of the world is coming, how do we prepare? And what are we preparing for?
The year 2009 is drawing to its end. Some see that as good, and some see it as frightening, and, in reality, it is just a date. We have seen many years come and go, and the calendar is not so important as what people do on the days in the calendar.
Society is changing. Our culture is becoming something less hospitable to our faith and confession. Some fear that the nature of our economy is shifting in dangerous and unpleasant ways. Others are afraid that our use of the resources of our world are causing the end of 'things as we know them' to creep up on us. It is interesting to note that most people who focus on the approach of the end are fixated upon the end with fear - or for the purpose of causing you to fear.
The end is coming: the end of the year, the end of your life, the end of the world. All of those thing are coming. The only one we can date with any precision is the end of the year. That will happen on December 31st, around midnight. As to the rest of it, so what?
When one is aware that their personal end is near, they can make certain preparations, such as writing a will, doing the things they feel they must do while they still have time (referred to as "the bucket list" in a movie with that name), making peace with people in their lives or saying good-bye, and such things. But, whether one realizes it or not, the end is coming. The future comes toward us one day at a time, relentlessly.
Some say that we should live each day as if it were to be our last. That is a silly thought. If one was surely going to die tomorrow, he or she would not be likely go to work today. There would be not purpose in earning a paycheck for the end of the week, and there would probably be more urgent things to accomplish in one's mind. That would depend, of course, on what their work was, and which day of the week it was. As a Pastor, I would go to church to preach on a Sunday, for example, even if I was absolutely certain to die on Monday. I would probably preach a little extra-long on that day, although my congregation would be unlikely to tell the difference. I tend to preach each Sunday as if it were the last time I would get to proclaim the Gospel.
But living each day as if it were the last day you had would stop some people from doing those sorts of things that they need to do in a life that has longer than twenty-four hours to go. A world full of people who lived for just the moment or the day in which they lived would produce no food for tomorrow, no usable products for the business of life. We would all find tomorrow impoverished by the selfish focus on the one day. The thought sounds like wisdom of a sort, but it doesn't bear up under even a quick consideration.
It is reported that Martin Luther considered the idea of the end of the world, and indicated that he would just go on doing what he always did on that day, or what he had planned for that day. When asked what he would do today if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he said he would plant a tree (or so I have been told). When asked why, he said that he had planned to plant the tree on that particular day. The story, whether true or not, suggests that we should be doing what we believe God would have us do, and that if the end threatens, it should not change our plans. After all, if God would have us plant a tree today, it should be planted even if there seems that there will be no tomorrow. It is up to God to look after the tree.
The story about Luther highlights the truth of the Christian faith: that we have all comfort in Jesus Christ, and nothing to fear from the changes, or the 'ends' with which the world threaten us. While we should not be engaged in things that have no value and no purpose, we should be about the work that the Lord sets before us, even when we cannot imagine how our work is all that significant.
Some people live their lives as if their lives have no significance. They indulge in dangerous and foolhardy activities just for the thrill of it. It is so common in our world that we even have a name for some of it - "extreme sports". People can engage in such activities, those that have no other purpose than the thrill of the danger, because there is a society around them doing the less glamorous and exciting things that provide for their daily needs. In exchange, people who do the mundane stuff can share in the thrill of the 'extreme' vicariously. But doing so often confuses one's values. Those doing the mundane, daily things find their lives appear less significant and less interesting simply because the thrill is not part of their daily lives, and those doing the 'thrilling' stuff often make significantly more in the way of earthly compensations - i.e., money, fame, and concomitant perquisites. But the 'extreme sports' types could not afford to do the things they do if someone else were not taking care of the less glamorous elements of life.
There are those who would argue that the sports and the other non-essential parts of life are valuable in and of themselves, and the money poured into the industries that produce and encourage them argue in their favor, but the truth is that they could not exist, and would whither on the vine, if the thousands of people doing the heavy lifting of daily life (like farming, manufacturing essentials for living, and the like) were not doing their less glamorous and less-lucrative work faithfully.
The point is, the work which the Lord gives us to do is significant, often vitally important. The most important things are often the least glamorous and least noted by the world around us. The Bible says something like that: 1 Cor 12:22-24, On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked. Of course, we "honor" some body parts by hiding them under clothes. But in this passage, body parts are an image for different members of the church, as well.
We can be tempted to say, "Who cares?", or "What difference does it make if I do this task or not?". The truth is that individually we are probably not of earth shaking importance, and if we did not do what the Lord set before us to do, it would not shatter the world. God would find another to carry the load that we refused, in all likelihood. But we would be less for declining our service, and we cannot calculate what impact a different course would have on us, on those around us, and on the entire course of mankind.
What if there were no Luther? Could God have accomplished the Reformation without Martin? Of course. But it can be quite challenging to imagine what the world would be like if things had gone differently. God blessed Luther's work for His own purposes, and He did it by also blessing Gutenberg, who invented the moveable type printing press, and by controlling the advance of Islam ("the Turk" in the Luther's writings), by raising up the rulers of Luther's days, who stood with Martin and protected him, by bringing together the great men of the Reformation who supported and encouraged Luther's work, and preserved it after his death, and by thousands of blessings and hindrances that I cannot trace, nor do I have space in this newsletter article to list even all of those of which I am aware.
Your work, from your daily devotions and casual confession of Christ in your daily life to the things you do deliberately to advance the Gospel, and the daily tasks of your employment or retirement, is what God has given you to do. It may seem vitally important to you, or it may appear in your eyes as inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but our perspective and assessment is always deficient. It is what God has given you to do, and so doing it serves Him and His plan for you and for the Church, and for the world, and you and I have no reliable ability to judge its true significance.
So the end is near! -- or, at least it is coming. So, what does that mean? It means that we rest in the grace and the care of our God. For the Christian, it means that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon to gather us together and bring us to eternal glory and everlasting life with Him. We have nothing to fear, because the end of this world means the glories of heaven will surround us. Our bodies will be transformed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, into the likeness of Christ's glorious body. We will be outfitted to live forever, and we will be shed of the burdens and evidences of sin that have accumulated in our flesh. For those who do not make it alive in this world until that final moment, it means a glorious resurrection from their graves. Which will be more delightful, transformation while alive or resurrection from the grave cannot be determined, and is probably the sort of question that only a mind clouded by sin and earthly corruption can conceive of. Both will be perfectly delightful!
If the end that is coming during our lifetimes is something less all-encompassing than the end of the world and the resurrection of all flesh, the answer to the question of what it means for us is still the same: Jesus Christ. If it is merely the end of our personal lives in this world, it means we join the Lord in glory and await with the entire Church Triumphant for that day of resurrection. We will be re-united with those who have gone before us in the faith, and we will finally know the experience of the presence of the Lord without the obfuscating filter of the sinful flesh, which hides the realities of God and His glory from our eyes and experience while we wait here below.
If the end that is coming is the end of circumstances that we have known - whether favorable to us our not - we will merely find ourselves in altered circumstances in which we will have opportunities to confess Christ and serve God by serving those He places around us to love, to encourage, and to whom to show the fulness of the Gospel by teachings and by actions. We will have new circumstances in which to pray, and new circumstances in which to hold one another up and help one another stand faithfully.
If the end that is coming is merely the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, well, we have been there before. Just the numbers were different. It will mean that we have another year to look forward to the goodness of God and His abundant blessings in our lives, and opportunities for fruitful labor in the places where He has given us to serve Him, among those He has given us to serve.
So, the end is coming! Thank God! Even so, come Lord Jesus. Come quickly!
Yours in the Lord,
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