In these weeks the country has been on heightened alert for bushfire. We have known just how destructive the fires have been on the north coast and in Queensland; it has been difficult for us to imagine the scale of bush destroyed and we have felt the despair of the people who have lost their homes and property, especially those who have lost loved ones. Here in Sydney we have recognized the situation by the pall of smoke covering the city now for some days. All of us feel a sense of trepidation about the forthcoming summer.
As we see the pictures of devastation and view the smoke that engulfs us it is not uncommon to hear the description, ‘apocalyptic.’ The word signifies a catastrophic end of time. In the face of calamity there is a part of us that wonders about the parameters of such events: can they be contained; are they portents of even worse things to eventuate; will we survive? Or have we come to the end of life as we have hitherto known it?
There are always religious extremists who interpret such events as God’s judgement, who wish to reduce everything to cause and effect. The image of God behind such assertions is very disturbing: a wrathful God; a God who capriciously manipulates the forces of nature; a God who sits in calculated condemnation of the morality of people. Yet, as the Gospel today indicates, this is not the God we understand in Jesus Christ. Rather, the Gospel presents us with directly the opposite of what religious extremists would preach. In the Gospel we are presented with a crucified God, a God who is vulnerable, and powerless. Indeed, the entire Gospel breathes this inversion of how we understand power in God. God is not powerful in control; God is powerful in compassion. God is not vengeful; God is silent. God does not condemn; God is full of invitation.
And it is precisely this inversion of how we understand God that is truly apocalyptic. Fire, drought, earthquake, war . . . all of these are experiences of a world limited and finite. They do not of themselves suggest we have reached the end of the world. True, each of these experiences invite us to recognize our mortality and our fragility, our dependence on God and on one another. In each of such experiences there is always the invitation to consider life and ourselves in a new way. But as followers of Christ, we are not those who believe that the end times are in the future. We are those who believe the end times have already occurred.
Yes, what is truly apocalyptic, what truly has brought about the end of time, is Christ himself. In the mystery of God incarnate in Jesus we believe that the fullness of time has already come. The event of Jesus of Nazareth – his life, death and resurrection – has introduced a finality to the world. All for which creation has evolved and longed has been fulfilled. There is nothing more that can be said. His life, death and resurrection has brought us to an end all that has gone before it, and brought us into a new world, a new life. Jesus Christ is the true apocalypse. This is our bold proclamation as Christians. And each year, we finish with this declaration through the Solemnity of Christ the King.
Something completely new has come into our world and we live in this new order. We are the people of the end time. We are not waiting for the end; we are living the end. Knowing that the end has already come brings with it a new disposition of mind and a new way of acting. It means that we live with hope, even in the face of despair; it means that we live with faith, even in the face of doubt; it means that we live with joy, even in the face of distortion; it means we live with peace, even in the face of confusion. Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace – these are the gifts we celebrate during the forthcoming season of Advent, gifts from our belief that Christ has been born in our midst. And that, as a result, nothing is the same again.
The Gospel is graphicly clear: the Kingdom of God does not come with upheaval. It comes with the simplicity of forgiveness. It does not come with earth shattering event; it comes with the grace of hospitality. It does not come with traumatic catastrophe; it comes with our refusal to enter the logic of domination and power. In our actions of hope, faith, and love the promise and the possibility of the end time that has already been inaugurated in Christ Jesus becomes apparent in the world, transforming it from below rather than consuming it from above.
The end has already come! Our waiting is over! But our obligation has only just begun. Let us be truly the people who believe that we live in a new era. What is apocalyptic therefore are our gestures of kindness, of thoughtfulness, of forgiveness, of care. In Christ, we know that these are what truly are the signs of a changed world, a new world, a post-apocalyptic world.
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