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26 November 2010

Advent: Lamb Power Trumps Rapture Fiction

Long before Thanksgiving and "Black Friday" came around, the stores have geared up for the "holiday business" by dusting off the lights and the songs of the season. But rather than adding to the decorations and carols, Advent yanks us back to reality. Jesus does not mince words in Sunday's Gospel from Matthew 24: For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, in their popular "Left Behind" series, are trying to tell us that this text is about the "rapture", when born-again Christians will be removed from earth to "leave behind" those who don't deserve to live. Alas, the concept of a "rapture" is only 170 years old and was thought up by a man named John Nelson Darby. The "Left Behind" books are fiction, and have no basis in the Bible but for a few snippets taken out of context.

But even though these books are fictional accounts, many a Christian has felt engaged by them, in part because we live in a chaotic world in which we crave some "harmless drama". Yet the drama in "Left Behind" is everything but harmless as it portrays Jesus as super-hero who conquers evil by using violence; this is not the Jesus of the four gospels. "At the very heart of God is a slain Lamb," says theology professor Barbara Rossing, "and lamb power is the wonder-working power of God's vulnerable nonviolent love to change the world."

In addition, Professor Rossing suspects that many mainline Christians who use an edition of the King James Bible called "Scofield Bible" have been exposed to the "rapture" idea in the editorial comments of that edition. "The rapture," she states for everyone who hears, "is a racket", no matter what your Bible editors say.

The God of the Bible is not violent. The fiction of  "rapture theology" makes God into the image of our world addicted to violence. It leads to contorted lives and twisted church practice, and more: because rapture theologians have no use for the earth, their attitude is "The flood can come after I get away", prompting conservative pundit Anne Coulter to pronounce, "God said earth is yours, take it, rape it."

"Lamb power" trumps rapture fiction any day! One way to assert "lamb power" in the midst of this world is to walk into the Advent Season with Fr. Daniel Berrigan's "Advent Credo", a helpful reminder of the fact that as people of faith we are "in the world, but not of the world".

IT IS NOT TRUE that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—THIS IS TRUE: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

IT IS NOT TRUE that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—THIS IS TRUE: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

IT IS NOT TRUE that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—THIS IS TRUE: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

IT IS NOT TRUE that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—THIS IS TRUE: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

IT IS NOT TRUE that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—THIS IS TRUE: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

IT IS NOT TRUE that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—THIS IS TRUE: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world. Amen.

Matthew 24:36-44

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