I’m writing this on 12/22/12, which means that we’ve all survived the dreaded Mayan Apocalypse, much to our relief, I’m sure.
I’m obviously writing with my tongue planted firmly in cheek; we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this whole “end of the world” thing. But I wonder what’s hidden beneath our smiles. Why did the Mayan prediction (misinterpreted as it was), out of all the thousands of ancient predictions available, create such a stir in our culture? What was it about this prophecy that held our fascination for so long? Especially within the 20 second news cycle? How did something so routinely batted about as a worthless joke manage to hold our attention for so long???
I suspect it has something to do with our corporate “escape complex:” we long to escape all that is painful and bad. We recognize that something is wrong with our world, and regardless of our religion, we crave for the solution is desperately needed. I often wonder if even a joke of the world’s end touches a nerve precisely because it taps into our deeply held desire for justice and paradise.
I wonder if our jokes conceal the truth that we secretly long more for escape than we long for the return.
Take, for example, the popular Christian phrase “left behind.” The phrase was a part of evangelical culture long before it was borrowed by a famous fiction series. I believe it comes from Matthew’s gospel, which says in part, “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” This prophecy of Christ is often interpreted to suggest that the return of Jesus will be marked by the rapture of believers while the unbelievers will be ‘Left Behind.’
And yet, Jesus was not describing an escape–he was describing a return!! He was building on the example of the unbelievers from the time of the flood, saying they “knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” The rage of the flood took away the mockers and revilers, while Noah and his family were left behind when the waters receded. In Jesus’ mind the faithful were left behind!
As Christians, we hope to be left behind.
Our hope isn’t in an escape, it’s in a return! We don’t long for the end of the world, we long for the world to be set right. We don’t pray for our souls to go to heaven, we pray for heaven to come to earth.
Christmas is the opposite of an escape–it’s an entrance. The return of Christ is the oppose of the end of the world–it’s the renewal of the world. This, in turn, is of great importance because ideas always have consequences; our ideas shape our lives. If we’re looking for a rapturous escape or cataclysmic end then we tend to be uninvolved in the current solution. Why, after all, should we rearrange the furniture on the deck of the Titanic? But if we are looking forward to the return and the renewal, then we should be even more eager to join wherever we can in the work that foreshadows the renewal of the future.
Hoping for an apocalypse leaves us apathetic and unconcerned. Hoping for renewal is a catalyst for action and involvement.
May we never reduce the good news to the message that he came. May we always share the good news that he came, and will come again.