25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (NRSV)
I have a love-hate relationship with the apocalyptic.
Ever since I was young, apocalyptic movies have scared me to no end. Testament. The Day After. Miracle Mile. Melancholia. I’m not talking about the softy-apocalyptic movies like The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, Deep Impact and Armageddon. I’m referring to those movies where no one lives at the end or death is immanent for everyone. When these movies are playing on cable, I can’t turn away. I am eerily drawn to them.
Reflecting on what these movies mean, at first glance I see “no hope.” There’s no way to escape this. Some of these are human-made and some are natural. Yet there is no route of escape.
I remember March 10, 1982. Hearing that the world was going to explode because the planets were going to align gave me much anxiety (see the Jupiter Effect). I was almost 9 years old, so the possibility of doomsday took over my thoughts for the day.
I was also scared of the Bible texts like the one listed above. As a child, Matthew 24 was my scary text. It was as scary as March 10, 2012 or the movie The Day After. What was Jesus talking about? And when was this happening to us?
Back then, the early Christian communities (part of the Jesus Movement) believed that Jesus would be appearing at any moment. In 2000 years, it didn’t happen. In the past 39 1/2 years of my lifetime, nuclear wars and earth-ending natural disasters haven’t happened either.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m less anxious about a planet or meteor/asteroid hitting us. I’m even less anxious about a nuclear war occurring. Do I fear December 21? No. It’s another day that will come and go. Logic and reason have now replaced expanding fears of the last days. And with December 21, I see a change in seasons and the beginning of longer days.
But I continue to age, and I see how life continues to change, and life is full of loss.
Seeing the film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is another reminder of our fragile lives and the grieving process we continuously endure. All human life faces their extinction. There will be nothing left. Total extinction is a horrifying thought. Sure – for many of us, there’s the hope of an afterlife with God, but we’re not always 100% sure what that’s going to look like. We have faith that God will be there, but it’s still the unknown, and there’s still loss when transitioning from this life to the next.
***Sorta Spoiler Alert*** The most beautiful part in the movie is the end, where salvation is found in the love of people surrounding us. That’s all I’ll say. ***End of Spoiler Alert***
As we see in this movie and so many others, the chaos that occurs in response to the pending apocalypse is probably the scariest part of many films. Some people are violent. There are others who are kind. The beautiful moments in these films are the human interactions that show love even in the face of doom.
Even if the world doesn’t end in fire and/or ice, with a bang or a mushroom cloud, there are still endings and beginnings. My new apocalypse is turning 40.
Sure, this is absolutely a first-world problem. But as the day grows closer, I still experience this sense of doom and loss. What will the other side of 40 look like? Who will be there?
It’s hard to do but instead of looking at 40 as the end of my young adulthood and the end of life’s summer, I instead look for a new hope. There is hope after the long decade of my 30’s. There is newness in a new decade, a new year.
So why does Advent start with such a shadow-like text? We might as well be watching an apocalyptic marathon. Because, unlike the apocalyptic movies, Jesus shows us that the end is a new beginning. The end of our church year is a beginning of a new one. The end of my 30’s is the beginning of a new decade with new levels of confidence and new relationships. I am blessed to have so many by my side as I cross the threshold of a new decade.
So the fig trees are ripening, the year is ending and gray hairs are beginning to grow in my scalp. Even so, the presence of God and neighbor are here, and that is where I find my hope.