“Will the world end with a bang, a whimper — or Christ?” asks Thomas Reese, in an Advent article for the National Catholic Reporter.
Anyone who scans world news these days can guess where Reese is going with this question. From the posturings of some clearly incompetent and dishonest ‘world leaders’ to the climate change the same leaders are dismissing and the mass migrations already under way – to the fears and racism this is stoking in the ‘developed’ north and the understandable anger and impatience of educated younger generations: the pattern is clear – an unprecedented global crisis is with us, and building daily.
And we Christians have our own specific crises – of persecution in lands where inter-religious tensions are being stoked by populist politicians. Plus the realisation that evil can penetrate our own institutions to the highest level.
“The Gospel of Matthew tells us to be watchful, stay awake, the Son of Man is coming,” Thomas Reese reminds us. “To some extent Matthew is trying to scare us into doing good and avoiding sin.”
The 18th century Englishman Samuel Johnston had put it slightly differently:
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
So what will the truly concentrated mind be considering just now? How much to ‘splash out’ on Christmas gifts and festivities, or the likely impact of all of that on the environment and the unmet needs of the homeless and jobless, of migrant children, of those now staring at barren fields?
Or whether ‘charismatic’ politicians X or Y should be voted for – or whether any bombastic leader anywhere can be trusted?
What if the Christian story is telling us instead to trust in ourselves, and in the Christ who can come to any of us individually – as the Holy Spirit? And what if an escalating global crisis – borne in on all of us simultaneously by global media – was to turn the concentrated world mind to sincere prayer to the same Holy Spirit, the spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice.
“All survival is built on sacrifice,” insists the scientist Ogilvy in the BBC’s recent production of H.G. Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds“. Greta Thunberg’s message is essentially the same. So many things that are frivolous, selfish, abusive of others and toxic to the environment must be ‘given up’ – and the physical dangers posed to environmental journalists in third world countries by their own calling speak the same message. To speak truth to reckless power, whatever the cost, is to overcome that evil in the end – because there is a transcendant yet subtle power on the side of truth and love. This is surely the central meaning of the Christian Creed.
So, come, Jesus, come – the Lord of self-sacrifice! Come also the Holy Spirit, the same Lord multiplied endlessly. The greater the global crisis the more likely that there will indeed be, in due time, a New Global Pentecost – for the survival of the World.
For the Lord of the Gospel, the one who comes at Christmas, will not forget his people.
Thomas Reese is surely right: “Will Christ come to save us because we have made a mess of it, or will we work together as the body of Christ to make the world a more welcoming place for Christ’s coming? The choice is ours. This is what it means to be free. We can choose how history will end: with a bang, with a whimper or with the coming of Christ.”
Sean O’Conaill, 6th Dec 2019