The Beginning of the Birth Pangs

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Mark 13:1-8. I also referred to the other readings as well, Daniel 12:1-3 and Hebrews 10:11-25.

When? When?

When, O Lord, are the buildings going to fall?

When are the wars you predict to come? When will nation rise up against nation? When are the earthquakes? When the famines?

As Daniel wrote in our first reading, when shall Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, arise? When shall the time of anguish be extinguished? When shall your people be delivered?

You mentioned birth pangs, Lord. Is that what we are living with now? Is that what it is to be delivered? Delivered from our birth pangs. Yes, Lord, we suffer from birth pangs. Not the birth pangs of a woman whose baby is due, but the birth pangs of the child itself, being born. A whole new world is being born around and within us, through water and spirit. It is not here yet in full. It is being born. We are being born. We are now in the process of being delivered.

How long, O Lord? When will our delivery be complete? When will we enter the new world you have promised? When will your light shine upon us?

How long?

When will you return in your glory with the angels all around?

When will you arrive and bring your harvest home?

When will the world turn, and become as you intend?

We grow impatient in this age of pain and suffering, this raw age of anger and distrust. We grow impatient, and we ask you again, When? When? Give us a sign!

As though they were our own spokespeople, Peter and James, John and Andrew, asked Jesus in private: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Jesus paused. Cleared his throat. Waited for the right time. Then began to say:

Beware. That no one leads you astray.

Many will come in my name and say that they are me.

When you hear of tragedies and wars, devastations and catastrophes.

When you hear of snow in Texas and wildfires destroying California.

When you hear of mass shootings and mass migrations.

When you hear of all of it, do not be alarmed.

Those things are going to happen. But it is not the end yet.

It is just the beginning. Just the beginning of the birth pangs.

The beginning of the birth pangs is all around us. If it feels like the end of the world, that’s because it is. It is the beginning of the end of the world. The end of the world is not the destruction of the world, but the new creation, the birth pangs of the new world. The Book of Revelation tells us that the future promised to us is not the rapture of the faithful, not our escape from this world into a place called heaven, but rather the arrival and creation of a new heaven and a new earth. And in this new earth, there are no regrets, no tears, no anxieties, no darkness at all. For the light of Christ fills the whole world.

Imagine living in a womb for nine months, no windows, no doors, so very little light, and then suddenly being burst into a new world filled with light everywhere. You experienced that once. You will again. Paul wrote, “For now we see as in a mirror, dimly. But then we will see face to face.” The new earth is coming. The new light is coming. The new life is coming.

But when? When, O Lord? Jesus says, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” This new birth, this new life, this new world – it takes a long time. How long? 2000 years so far, and counting. Jesus started it long ago; the new birth began on the cross, as Jesus destroyed death and opened the gates of eternal life for us all. And the first fruits of this new birth was his own resurrection. His own new life. His own risen, resurrected body.

But when for us, O Lord? When for us?

In a way, now. Right now. With each new breath, the new birth.

With each new thought, the new birth.

With each new tear, the new birth.

With each new smile, the new birth.

With each new moment, the new birth.

The new birth happens now. Not in the future. Not in the past. But now. Because it is always now. There is only right now. And now is the moment of eternal life. Now is the moment filled with Christ himself. Now is the moment filled with hope. No matter what is happening around us and within us now, there is hope now. There is Christ now. There is life now. There is new birth now.

The author of Hebrews wrote in our second reading today, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.”

Hold fast to the confession of our hope. Now is the moment to hold fast.

Hold fast without wavering. Now is the moment not to waver.

For he who he has promised is faithful. Now is the moment where Jesus is. He is here, now, for he is faithful.

And let consider now how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. Now is the moment for encouragement, not for worry. Now is the moment for action, not for hiding. Now is the moment for love, not for fear.

The birth pangs are now. Now is the moment to be alive.

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