Daniel 12:1-3, Mark 13:1-8
The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Nov. 18, 2018
Years ago I met a young woman who had a son about three years old. His name was Braxton. We got into a conversation about the child’s name. She said he was named after Braxton Hicks contractions, the false labor contractions that can start in a pregnancy as earlier as the second trimester. She wryly told me that she was plagued with Braxton Hicks contractions when she was pregnant with the boy and decided that should be his name. I thought this was rather amusing.
But I remembered that conversation this week in light of our Gospel reading today, especially the last sentence:
This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
This is not the most comforting set of readings. Our reading from Daniel has an ominous tone. Our Gospel reading also has an apocalyptic air to it. We could read these passages with great anxiety but we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t because of that last, almost flippant, comment: This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.
Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples were quite concerned about Jesus’ words. We can tell the depth of their concern because of two subtle hints from Mark.
First, the disciples brought the subject up to Jesus later and in a different location. Jesus’ prediction sat heavy on their souls and that needed clarification.
Second, Andrew is mentioned. Peter, John and James were Jesus’ closest companions. When just a handful of disciples are mentioned in the Gospels it is very often Peter and John and James. Andrew, not so much. In fact, this is one of only two places in the Gospel of Mark where Andrew is included in the company of Peter and John and James.
So we can glean that Jesus’ words about the Temple were quite concerning to the disciples. They needed more information. Was this to be a revolution or a catastrophe? How should they prepare? How will they know it is about to happen? But Jesus sidesteps their concerns and, in some ways may have increased their anxieties.
I feel comfortable in admitting that his words increase my anxiety. Yet I am reminded of a piece of wisdom a bishop once told me: Anxiety is a symptom of idolatry.
Yes we can hear Jesus words this morning as dire. Who would hear these words and not be concerned: For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.
Who among us doesn’t read the paper or watch the news and know the truth of these words? Yet, there is reason to hope. Do not miss the hope in this passage.
Before Jesus speaks of such tumults he says these words, “ When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed….” It is well worth noting that the Greek in this passage renders this as an imperative statement. Jesus commands us, “Don’t get worked up about this.”
Why? Because he tells us “ This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” These are just the Braxton Hicks contractions of a new creation.
Labor and giving birth are not for the weak of heart. That’s why God decided men weren’t up to the task. But labor and giving birth are endurable because new life arrives, new potential, hope, and joy.
As my mother used to tell me when I was a boy, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should continue.”
We believe in an eternal God. We believe in a God who is redeeming a broken creation. We believe in a God of life who is bringing his creation to its fullness. We believe that no matter how bad things are, or get; no matter how many wars or rumors of wars arise, God wins in the end.
The death, resurrection and ascension of our God in Jesus Christ tell us that strife, turmoil, hatred, war, famine, catastrophes are simply the beginning of the birthpangs.
Do not be alarmed by the headlines, by a world that seems hell bent on its own destruction. All of this is just the Braxton Hicks contractions of God’s work bringing his renewed and recreated reality into being.