2 Peter 3:9-10
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.
The bishops at the Second Vatican Council, being aware that our world has been in various crises for more than a century – from two World Wars, to the Cold War, to all the regional strife – wrote a very important document whose Latin name translates to “Christ is the Light of nations.”
In my opinion, it is one of the most important documents that came out of the Second Vatican Council. It speaks about many different topics. It has sections on the church, the bishops, the people of God, the universal call to holiness, the end of time, among others.
But most important for my purposes this weekend is the following quote: “Since however we know not the day nor the hour, on Our Lord’s advice we must be constantly vigilant so that, having finished the course of our earthly life, we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with Him and to be numbered among the blessed and that we may not be ordered to go into eternal fire like the wicked and slothful servant, into the exterior darkness where ‘there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’” (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 48).
The church has consistently taught that this world is going to end at some point. And, according to Scripture, it will be in a blaze of fire. The elements themselves, the earth itself, will be burned up. I do not think it does any good to speculate exactly how this is going to happen.
My dad had a very simple wisdom in this regard. He was a veteran of the Pacific war against Japan. So he knew the results of nuclear weapons. But he used to say that he did not think we as human beings would be allowed by God to destroy the world by fire. He said he expected it to happen by the hand of God.
I agree with him. God has brought us through the Cold War and through some terrible times, with destructiveness in the hearts of too many people. And yet, the world continues. But even all the way back in St. Peter’s day there was a teaching from the apostles, and from Jesus himself, that this world was passing away. It is because of the surpassing grace and mercy of God that the world continues.
I remember seeing a bumper sticker one time that said “a baby is a decision by God that the world should continue.” Well, that is a nice sentiment, and probably some good truth to it. But I would not want to make a theological position on that such that we watch for a time when there are no more babies being born, and then start thinking that the world must be near an end.
The biggest problem has to do with the fact that so many people in our world today do not think of the possibility of the world ending. Or, there are all kinds of people concerned about the environment and climate change and any number of other issues of the day – and one of these will be the destruction of the earth. But the biggest tragedy is that people do not believe that God is in control, if they even believe in God at all.
Because of this “delay” that God has put into place that has enabled us to live and to decide to choose Him, some people want to dismiss the promises of God that: first, this world is going to end, and second that we are not intended to be here forever. Not just you and me, but all of humanity. Our destiny is not here, but is eternal life with God. And, God’s patience is designed so that the maximum number of people will understand this and make a decision to follow Jesus into eternal life.
As I said, one of the topics that this Second Vatican Council document focuses on is the universal call to holiness. This call leads us to look to the end of this world, and maybe more importantly, the end of our own lives. Here as we are in the season of Advent, the church asks us to look ahead to that end of time, whether our own end of time or the end of time itself.
It may do us well to look at Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and how it ends. Scrooge became a transformed man because of his encounters in that one night with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The closing paragraph of this classic story from Charles Dickens says “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
As important as Christmas is, and as much as we all look forward to it, it may be better to keep Advent well within our souls; to keep ourselves looking forward to the promises yet to be fulfilled from a God who has already fulfilled so many promises by giving us Jesus. Again, with Tiny Tim I say “God bless us, everyone.” Amen.