It is always a good news day for the media when some group or other is declaring that the end of the world is right around the corner, or indeed, is next Tuesday. People gathering on hilltops, or building bunkers; there is lots for the cameras to show, and lots for people to laugh at.
At one level, laughter is unwise. These last weeks of the Church’s year and the beginning of the new, once Advent starts, remind us of the fact that the world will end. Christ will come again, and what that means for us and the world is definitely worth thinking about.
But the mistake that too many people, including a distressing number of Christians over the centuries, make is thinking that we can know when it will be, and trying to predict exactly when it will be. It really isn’t a mistake Christians should make. Our Lord himself told us that it wasn’t for us to know, and in this Sunday’s Gospel He specifically warns us about those who will say the time is near. Don’t go with them, whether to the hilltop, or the bunker.
We do not, and are not meant to, know the timetable. What we do know is that we have tasks while we wait. Going on, as St Paul tells us, quietly doing our daily work. Speaking the Good News to the world, and not expecting that this will bring us triumph or great rewards. It may well, as Our Lord warns, bring opposition and difficulty. But that is where our focus must be, so that we make ourselves ready for the day, a day we won’t necessarily expect or be able to predict, that will come for all the Earth.
It will be the same for all the Earth, but how it will be experienced will be different for each. For some, a day to fear, but to others, as the prophet Malachi tells us, a day of healing, a day of joy. Our task then is not to try to predict when that day will come, but to prepare ourselves so that, when it does, we will know it as the fulfilment of all we have been promised.
That is the message for us at the end of each year. Yes, the world will end, but that it not something to obsess about, or try to predict. It may, in fact, be next Tuesday. But it probably won’t. But next Tuesday is a day, like today, that my life should be lived following the Lord’s call for me. So that, even if it is the Last Day, I can look to it with hope and confidence.
Fr Chris Denham