This last week before Advent is full of sombre warnings about the end times and the coming reign of God. With the mounting tension between Russia and Turkey and the seemingly inescapable rise of Wahabist violence and religious intolerance, it would be easy to identify world events with Armageddon. Easy, but wrong. What scripture refers to as the end times is actually the beginning of something new, something infinitely better. However gloomy we may feel about the international situation, however worried we may be that we are on the brink of yet another war, we must hold fast to our hope and prepare ourselves for what is to come. This is a time for prayer, for the reformation of our lives, for hastening the coming day of the Lord by the purity and zeal with which we live. We are not helpless puppets. God has dignified us with an essential role in his plan of salvation, but it is not something we can put off to a tomorrow that never comes. It is today that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. He who has neither beginning nor end is also at work, and what he wills must eventually come to pass. Our deliverance is at hand!
Yesterday the kind person who drove me back from Oxford asked a serious question about the End Times. Are the ‘wars and rumours of wars’ that we see in Africa and the Middle East, the plagues or grave illnesses currently afflicting many (think Ebola, for example), a sign that we have reached the End Times, when there will be apostasy and error? My off-the-cuff answer was that I think every generation has, in some measure, to confront the End Times — when truth is attacked, and false gods and false values are substituted for the real thing. I have mentioned before my unease at the way in which, for instance, multiculturalism has been championed at the expense of really getting to grips with the religious values that underlie so many cultures, including the Christian basis of Western civilization. In every generation, we Christians have to confront our own failings both as individuals and as members of an institution, the Church. In every generation there has to be an attempt to return to the centre, to the Truth that sets us free; and that isn’t something we can put off until tomorrow. Christianity is an historical religion, with a definite past and a hoped-for future; but Christians live in the eternal present. Think about it.