Newtown, Christmas and the End of the World

James Tonkowich, ReligionToday.com Columnist

Newtown, Christmas and the End of the World

If you’re expecting the end of the world this Friday, I believe you will be sorely disappointed. Saturday will come and you will find yourself running to the mall to do the Christmas shopping you put off because the Mayans ran out of room on their calendar.

On the other hand, the world will end and predicting that end has been a popular cottage industry for millennia.

Christians have tried to set dates for the return of Jesus since our earliest centuries. The years leading up to AD 1000 and the millenarian movements in the 19th and 20th centuries marked particularly active predicting. Recently, a poor excuse for exegesis concluded that since Jesus said we couldn’t know “the hour or the day,” we could know the month and the year: September 1994 — revised to May 2011, revised to... The end will come, but as a friend said, books proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mussolini is the Anti-Christ are profoundly unpopular these days.

Scientists, not to be left behind (so to speak), hold press conferences to preach imminent doom. The end has been near because of global cooling, nuclear winter, over-population, the hole in the ozone layer and global warming. Their record of success is no better than anyone else’s, though they’ve secured much more funding.

And I still remember dire predictions of doom with the coming of Comet Kohoutek in 1974. And now it’s the Mayan calendar that runs out on December 21.

But having said all that, if the world ends this Friday, I for one will be delighted. And all the more so in light of Adam Lanza's murder spree last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

In the past 12 months, I’ve been to more funerals than in the prior 12 years, including funerals for my mom and my mother-in-law. It’s been rough even though all of the faithful departed were over 80. They had lived long, productive and mostly happy lives, leaving children, grandchildren, accomplishments and good memories.

By contrast, 20 of the 26 who died in Newtown were kindergarteners, “6 and as clever as clever.” I remember when my son turned 6 and we asked a friend to illustrate the poem “Now I Am Six” as a birthday gift. I know 6-year-olds at church. I see 6-year-olds getting on school buses. Our grandson is only 6 months old, but will be 6 years old before we know it.

I cannot fathom the pain, shock, and anger in the lives of parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends of the murdered children and adults. The washington post reported, “The most raw display of human grief that [Monsignor Robert] Weiss [pastor or St. Rose of Lima in Newtown] had ever seen or imagined — wailing, weeping, screaming, people sinking to the floor.”

And all this, many will say, just before Christmas.

Exactly. Clear away the presents, tinsel, twinkle lights, cookies and forced smiles that we’ve dumped on the holy day and we can, in the wailing, weeping and screaming, discern the meaning of the Feast of the Nativity, a.k.a. Christmas.

This sad and violent world is precisely the world into which the Savior was born. Jesus didn’t inhabit a sanitized version of reality, but lived in this world as it was and is, a world where innocents are senselessly slaughtered (Matthew 2:16) and where human life is treated as cheap (Luke 23:13).

Christmas, rather than being “a magical time,” is a gritty reminder that the Son of God came to share our lot. He came to suffer with us and to suffer for us.

He was born Immanuel (“God-with-us”) and he is still Immanuel. He still suffers with us and for us as he walks with us through “the valley of the shadow of death,” even when Jeremiah’s prophecy is fulfilled yet again (Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:16):

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

mourning and great weeping,


Rachel weeping for her children

and refusing to be comforted,

because they are no more.”

The good news is this world of wailing, weeping, screaming, and children who “are no more” has an end. These kinds of things will not go on forever. Jesus will come again as the conquering King, justice will be done, and all accounts will be settled. The innocent will be vindicated and the guilty condemned.

God’s presence and goodness will remake everything and “'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

When will that happen? I have no interest in speculating, but this Friday works for me. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus — and the sooner the better.

Publication date: December 17, 2012

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