Well today is the last day on the ancient Mayan calendar, so I expect there will be a lot of jokes and memes all over social media. Since the doomsday prediction is coming from a different religion, I doubt that the far-right fringe of the Christian community will embrace it. I did see a new phrase that has been coined by the Daily Beast: the Barackalypse, which refers to the way that Obama’s reelection has sealed the world’s fate. I remember when the turn of the millennium was approaching, there was a lot of excitement in the fundamentalist Christian community that some members of my family are connected to. They were stockpiling food and digging private wells, yearning so hard for Y2K to bring about a global computer crash. I’ll bet that more than half of the American middle-class secretly wants for the world to end. We have intractable social problems; we have few authentic friendships; our jobs are tedious; life feels like an exhausting treadmill. The thing is, this world which seems like an inevitable dreariness really can disappear without volcanoes and meteors and seven bowls of wrath. Jesus began a new world a long time ago; it’s just that very few of His followers actually live in the kingdom He created.
The reason that most Christians don’t live in Jesus’ kingdom is because they think that their lives are supposed to be hard and tedious since we’re not supposed to care about the short, dismal time that we spend on this planet beyond making sure that we’ve said the right prayer to “accept Jesus into our hearts” and have the right theological answers to whatever test questions St. Peter is going to grill us with at the pearly gates after we die. The result of an otherworldly attitude about our faith is that it has little to say about how we spend our time other than a general sense that we should keep ourselves and our kids away from bad people, bad music, and bad habits. Thus, to fill this vacuum, most of the values by which we prioritize our time are actually defined for us by market-driven social currents, which we presume to be a foundational normality that isn’t up for debate.
But Jesus is making His kingdom new again. It’s beginning all over again, just like it does every day. I really prefer to translate bereshit bara elohim et hashamim vet ha’aretz as “In the beginning God CREATES the heavens and the Earth.” The Hebrew perfect tense can either be present or past; there’s no distinction. Because God’s creation is always new. He is constantly trying to liberate us from our slavery to the demonic power synergies, national fetishes, and widespread idols that Paul terms “the powers and principalities.” So many things that we presume to be “normal” are not necessary. Jesus just wants us to gain the liberation to live imaginatively and authentically. That’s the whole point, though I realize I’m articulating it in a way that Christians are not used to hearing.
The authenticity He offers to us comes when we have given up every shameful secret to be crucified on His cross and disempowered from oppressing us. Our imagination comes from knowing that we have a God who raised Jesus from the dead, and thus we really can say, to use a favorite phrase of the global justice movement, another world is possible. There are many market-based idols and commodities out there that pretend to be authentic and imaginative. I used to buy clothes at the grunge clothing store in the early nineties completely oblivious to the fact that my pursuit of authenticity through shabby looking flannel shirts was a market-constructed form of “originality.” I am convinced that the eternal life that Jesus provides is the authentic and imaginative life in its purest form. But we will never embrace it as Christians as long as we have decided that “eternal life” a post-mortem reward that we collect in exchange for living the same responsible, practical life that every other middle-class suburbanite lives with a few modifications, such as no cuss words or beer, regular worship and small group Bible study attendance, and a belief that our profession of faith in Christ has imputed righteousness to all of our opinions so that we don’t have to take seriously anyone who disagrees with us.
But that’s not the life described in John 1:4, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind,” or the life that Paul wants to be “swallowed up by” (2 Corinthians 5:4), or the life that is the product of the amazing epiphany we have (John 3:35) when we stop being hard-headed and open our eyes to the real faith in Jesus which puts all of the foundational normals in our world up for debate. Discipleship means openness to the voice of the Holy Spirit that shows us a vision for how our gifts can be used to start a new world. This voice of the Holy Spirit is the purest form of inspiration, the breath of God. A lot of people don’t like the word “obedience,” but what obeying God really means is allowing Him to show us how to rebel in a fruitful way against the world’s oppressive assumptions that fill us with a perpetual anxiety.
It’s the beginning again, not the end. Jesus is being born again in Bethlehem so that we can be born again into His perpetually new kingdom. Even though our leap of faith only got us a few seconds of air-time last year, we can try again this year. Imagine what a shift there would be if all the Christians who have buried their talents in the ground to give back to Jesus when the bowls of wrath are poured were converted into disciples who hold nothing back from the eternal life of the kingdom that is ready to swallow us up and absorb us into its beauty. Leave the nihilistic Armageddon lust behind; step into the hope of a newborn salvation. The Mayans were right; they just didn’t have the whole story.