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Apocalyptic Time Is Not Linear

Part of the problem with end-times theology is that western people see time as a line. We think in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Thus, to consider the "end times" is to anticipate the end of the world-as-we-know it, such as a universal devastation on the scale of the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, when history will cease to be. But the biblical texts of Advent point in another, more mysterious direction--that time is not a line. Rather, time is held in the being of God. Indeed, time is timeless. Think about it for just a moment: What do the divisions past, present, and future really mean? When does the present slip to the past? When does the future arrive? When is the now of the present? Isn't time much more of a wonder, a spiritual or philosophical question, than a line?

If we enter the Advent journey with a different perspective on time, the apocalyptic texts speak afresh. Indeed, the words of the liturgical prayer weekly reminds us of the mystery of God's redemptive time: Jesus has come; Jesus comes; Jesus will come. This is the dance of time, grace-filled steps that enact God's vision that the end-times are all times; that all times are the end-times. In this spirit of times-enfolded-in-time, we walk through Advent. Jesus has been born, but we act as if we are still waiting. Christ will return, yet Christ has already come.

What words better describe our world than those of Luke? "People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world." These are not words of some far-off moment in time. They are words of NOW: Our cities and churches are full of people who are afraid--afraid of loss of their jobs, of income, of health care, of decency, of safety, of change, of pluralism, of... of ... of ... The list of fears is nearly endless. Yet--be honest--has there ever really been a time in human history when we've not been filled with such fears? Luke's words are also the words of all of yesterdays. We may imagine that the past was better, safer, cleaner, or more stable, but that is not the case. We are a fragile lot, we humans, and our history is roiled with fear--and the stupid things that we humans do when we are afraid. And sadly, enough, they are probably the words of many of humanity's tomorrows. Apocalyptic theology does not augur escape; rather, it provides a profoundly realistic view of history--a view that should plunge us more deeply into the shalom of God-in-the-world.

- Diana Butler Bass, "Progressives, Advent, and the End of the World," Huffington Post, 12/02/2012