Apocalypse now or never
I seriously wonder how many people were truly disappointed when they woke up on December 22nd and found the world spinning on in just the same as it always has. Beyond the fear-mongering of political groups and fringe religious sects, we are perhaps more aware than ever that our world is in a bad shape, so many of us jump readily at the chance for something new, no matter how violent or grotesque the means of getting there. We long for apocalypse. In part because it would be an exciting change, providing some purpose or narrative for our lives. But I think it is also a longing for renewal. The Apostle Paul writes that the whole created world actually groans in pain, anticipating its coming restoration when God’s kingdom is finally realized. Or, among the wisdom of Ecclesiastes we find that “there is a time for everything…a time to tear down and a time to build up” (3:1-10). The Hebrew prophets provide a particularly vivid vision of God’s plan for the ultimate renewal and recreation of the world: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad in what I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness” (Isaiah 65:17).
We long for apocalypse because we long for the ultimate renewal of all things.
But this longing isn’t just apocalyptic. Every year we make resolutions, vowing to be different, to improve, to put on a better face. In the always-changing world of fashion, we constantly seek out the fresh, the original, in the attempt to express our individuality. We feed this craving on the internet, where new pages, status updates, or messages await us each time we click ‘Refresh’.
Our whole consumer economy is to a large extent driven by exploiting this desire for newness. It’s not just a caricature when Ron Burgundy invites his amigos suit-shopping to shoo away the blues. Buying new clothes or gadgets, a car or a phone, can make you feel like a new person. Refreshed. Renewed.
Perhaps these moments of thrilling newness that we experience in buying new stuff, in making resolutions, or in planning for the zombie apocalypse, are all symptoms of a deeper, spiritual desire.
We are aware that, like the world, we are broken, imperfect, and in a bind and we want to be made new.
To the puzzled Pharisee, Nicodemus, Jesus describes life in the Kingdom of Heaven as being reborn. It blows the poor legalist’s mind. Or in Colossians, St. Paul calls us to “put on the new man,” the self-renewed in the image and likeness of Christ. In the Gospel we see that the “new creation” prophesied thousands of years ago by Isaiah is not just a future thing. In that new man, renewed in the image of Christ, we carry the seeds of God’s kingdom. When Christ sends out the twelve disciples in Matthew 10, he tells them to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is “at hand.” Faced with just another year that NASA promises won’t be the last, we can still bear witness to the newness and renewal of God’s Kingdom. We may never be able to write a set of New Year’s resolutions and stick to them perfectly. But we can, as farmer-poet Wendell Berry urges, learn to “practice resurrection.” In how we live in the present we can be an image of the love and resurrected life of Christ. We don’t have to wait for another new year, for another fashion line, for the zombie apocalypse, or even for the Second Coming to experience renewal. When we love God and embody his love to our neighbours we are enacting the new creation in the shambles of the apocalyptic aspirations of the present.