By Justin Thirstrup
Pastoral Associate for Outreach with University Ministry
In the past year or so, I have been truly amazed by the number of people seriously discussing the end of the world. You might remember Harold Camping, a Christian radio broadcaster, who predicted that Judgment Day would occur on May 21, 2011. When we all lived on to see May 22nd, my friends and I joked that we should order T-shirts with the proclamation, “I survived the rapture!” printed on them.
I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but I always find predictions like these to be rather silly. It seems like every few years, someone somewhere will claim that they have discovered the secrets of the universe. It happened back in 1999, when the start of the new millennium made many people fear the world would surely end. Here we are twelve years later and our world continues to move steadily through time. Now the date everyone fears is December 21, 2012 because that is the last day of the Mayan calendar. I suppose all calendars have to end at some point…
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Time will ultimately come to an end. One day, the world we know and love will cease to exist. That scares many people, and it leaves them with a number of questions: “On what day will the world end?” “What will this end of time be like?” “Will it be violent and painful as so many have predicted?” “Will there be an afterlife, or will everything just fade to black?”
I, myself, try to live each day to the fullest. Tomorrow is promised to no one, and the only time we have is the present. But with that in mind, I must also add that I do not fear the end of time. I have put my faith in Jesus Christ and his message about the Day of Judgment gives me great comfort. It is a message that Christians will focus on as we begin the season of Advent.
To put it simply, Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas. The season gets its name from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming.” Traditionally, this has meant preparing for the “coming” of Christ as a newborn baby in the city of Bethlehem. This is the miracle of the Incarnation that Christians celebrate on Christmas Day. But I don’t think many people realize that Advent is also about preparing for the Second Coming of Christ. Christians believe that Jesus will come again to announce the Kingdom of God and bring about the Final Judgment. Again, this idea scares many Christians. We wonder when Jesus will come again and we worry if we will be worthy for the Kingdom of God.
If we truly take the Gospel message of the First Sunday of Advent to heart, we should know that there is nothing to worry about. In Mark 13:33 Jesus say, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Only God knows when Judgment Day will take place, so the rest of us should not worry about it. What we can and should worry about is how we live our lives, and I believe Jesus teaches us to live each day as if it were our last. Here we find a question that is worthy of some thought: “If today was your last day on earth, what would you do with it?” Jesus advises us to love one other. Be kind to those who are in need of some kindness. Forgive and don’t hold grudges. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
These are the great messages of the season of Advent. It is a time for us to examine our lives as we consider what is truly important. A little over two thousand years ago, a small family considered preparations for the birth of a baby to be most important. Little could they have imagined just how many billions of lives would be forever changed by this small child…
I fear many people have lost sight of that impact. Our consumer society has turned Christmas into a commercial holiday. We prepare for the day by putting up decorations, cooking big feasts, and buying lots of presents. All of that has its place, but all in good time. None of it is essential, and none of it is especially important. Jesus teaches us that the greatest gift any of us can give or receive is love, so we should make that our top priority this holiday season.
This Advent, my hope and prayer is that all Christians will use the next four weeks to re-consider the impact that Christ’s birth has had on our world. Welcome the love of Christ into your own life, and do what you can to share His love with all those that you encounter. If we can do that, we do not need to worry about the Second Coming or the end of time. And as the great cartoonist Charles Schultz once said, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.”
Justin Thirstrup is the Pastoral Associate for Outreach in University Ministry at Benedictine University. He can be reached at (630) 829-6028 or via E-mail at email@example.com.