Story-formed living

I realize the Christmas season has past, but this morning I was reading from Luke and was struck by Mary’s song of response after being blessed by Elizabeth (1:39-56). What impressed me most was how in this time of immense change in Mary’s life, where the course of her life has been drastically altered, she finds solace in reciting a story – the story of God’s faithfulness:

And Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers."

Stories form who we are, both positively and negatively, depending on which story we choose to inform our identity. For Mary, it is the reminder of God’s faithfulness not just to her, but throughout Israel’s history that allows her to make sense of the sensational situation she finds herself in.

Too often, Christians limit the story-forming experience only to their own personal lives, basing the testimony of God’s faithfulness on personal well-being. But what happens when personal well-being is an elusive reality for extended periods of time? What happens when certain situations place you on the fringes of your community and completely alone, which is exactly what happened to Mary? This is where I believe we need a story that is bigger than ourselves, something that Mary rightly realizes.

In my view, what makes the Christian life an intelligible possibility that can make sense of challenges we face, requires us to constantly be reminded of the story of God’s faithfulness – shown in the stories of Israel, exemplified in the entire ministry of Jesus, and continued through the presence of the Spirit in our lives and communities.

Eschatology – Or, why I am not worried about December 21, 2012.

Eschatology” is word that is frequently misused, misunderstood, or simply ignored (see the wikipedia link for what I mean).

Every once in while I enjoy entertaining myself by watching a few minutes of the ‘compelling’ program of ‘prominent’ Bible ‘scholar’ Jack Van Impe. His specialty is predicting how current events relate to biblical prophecy, particularly pertaining to the end of the world. Apparently the latest doomsday prediction is December 21, 2012, which is based on the Mayan calendar (I guess the Bible has been deemed ‘unreliable’ for specific dates after so many faulty predictions). Nothing like a little fear to motivate faith, eh!?!

Eschatology, of the Van Impe variety, is concerned with the specific details of history’s end, often relying on overly literal readings of prophetic passages. I think it’s pretty clear to say that this would fall into the category of a misuse and misunderstanding of eschatology.

Likely influenced by this type of guess-work, coupled with the challenge of understanding the apparent complexities of biblical prophecy such as that found in the book of Revelation, eschatology is most often simply ignored as a relevant aspect of our faith.

Over the past few years I have come to realize that this often feared topic is anything but scary or confusing. Rather, in my opinion, eschatology is a concept essential to providing an intelligible and authentic Christian faith.

Rather than limiting eschatology to the end of history, an alternative view sees the ministry of Jesus as the inauguration of God’s kingdom – the beginning of the ongoing-end so to speak (N.T. Wright has much to say on this). In this light, eschatology is still related to the ‘end times,’ except the end times are already here, begun with Jesus. While this will not be completely realized until Jesus’ return, whenever that will be, it does mean Jesus’ life signifies a sort of new era for what it means to follow God.

Living eschatologically, then, means living in the realization that aspects of God’s kingdom can already be realized now, particularly through following the example of Jesus. Stanley Hauerwas comments that Jesus illustrates “the way the world is meant to be – and thus those who follow him become a people of the last times, the people of the new age” (The Peaceable Kingdom). Eschatology, therefore, is a hopeful word, inspiring us to participate in areas of this world where we see this ‘new age’ being realized.

So, what is going to happen on December 21, 2012? I don’t have a clue…