Lk. 21:5-19

In l947, Berglund and Stephen’s Lumberyard burned down in our little town of seven thousand. My parents and I stood across the street and watched. Have you ever seen a lumberyard burn? It is a horrific sight. The dried pine and oak create a holocaust. You are buffeted by the shock waves of heat and by the ferocity of the consummation. As I watched the fire, I was emotionally stripped of my natural defenses and overwhelmed by the intensity of the fire. My parents asked me why I was crying, and although I knew it was from the sheer horror of the conflagration, I told them it was because we had lost the lumber that we had ordered to remodel my bedroom. My parents accepted this explanation, but I knew that I had felt the elemental experience of the force of sheer destruction. I had had an apocalyptic experience.

The idea of an apocalypse is found throughout Old Testament, intertestamental, and New Testament literature. The apocalypse is the end of history and the world. It is sheer and utter destruction. It is a cosmic event. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, declare God’s judgment upon His people with the coming of utter destruction. At the end of the world, the meaning of life will finally be known.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus uses the poetic language of the apocalyptic when He speaks of the destruction of the temple, the upheavals of nations, and the end of history. Jesus reads the signs of the times. He sees the struggle between that which is creative and that which is destructive, between the forces of good and evil. Jesus uses the apocalyptic genre not as a council of despair but to exhort His followers to vigilance, faithfulness and readiness. He assures them that they will have the presence of the Holy Spirit (whose symbol is also fire). In effect they will fight fire with fire.

This sounds like pretty esoteric stuff: false prophets, nation against nation, destruction of cities, total collapse. But are not these the signs of the times in our lifetime? Is not the fire of my childhood a mirror image of the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, Vietnam, or the firestorms of hatred in the Balkans? Were not the apocalyptic signs of the times evident in the fires of Chicago, Watts, Newark, or Waco? Are there not also the private, little apocalypses of loss, grief, illness, and despair?

The genre of apocalyptic thought strips away our defenses and leaves us naked before God and one another. Christ calls us not only to endure for the sake of our lives and our souls, but to utilize the power of the Holy Spirit to make this world, our Church, our cosmos, a better place in which to live. Amen.

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