Beginning of the birth pangs: 2nd Before Advent 2012
Daniel 12:1-3 Hebrews 10:11-25 Mark 13:1-8
“this is but the beginning of the birth pangs”
Before I trained to be a priest I also did some training as an Ante Natal teacher, learning to take classes and groups with expectant first time parents.
One thing they were always concerned about was the pain, how would it start, when should they go to hospital, how would they cope?
They often joked about heading in and asking for an epidural as soon as they had a twinge, the fear talking..
But what we used to say so often is “that’s just the beginning… hang in there, don’t give up, save your energy, (and your painkillers) for later
Not that we ever really know how long there is to go… a fact that caught me out with number 3 child,
What the mother in labour does have though, in the majority of cases is a hope, a hope that all this will lead to something which she’s been preparing for and working towards –that moment when she holds her baby in her arms, whether it’s 30 mins or 30 hours later.
In our Gospel today Jesus starts to talk to his disciples about what will happen at the end, what will happen to fully birth the Kingdom, our reading today cuts it off short, we’re left hanging just at the “ beginning of labour” with that prediction of hardship and difficulty ahead. –and if you do read on, it just gets worse!!
It’s hard to imagine from our perspective what the disciple s made of this, were they frightened? Bemused, in denial?
Did they understand at all?
In childbirth and indeed any other painful thing we go through one of the things that increases pain is fear, fear freezes us, we physically tense, bracing ourselves for the worst and ironically then we experience more pain and more discomfort than we might have done.
Fear paralyses our minds too, worry and anxieties multiply and become far bigger and more looming that they need.
If the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about it maybe increased their anxieties about what was to come – it would certainly explain a lot of their reactions and actions!
We don’t know what is to come in our world, in our lives. We can see much of what Jesus described, the wars, the earthquakes the famines happening around us.
We see kingdom rise against kingdom and nation against nation.
At any given moment in the past 2000 years, these things have been present, our world now is not any more turbulent or dysfunctional than at any previous point. Maybe we know more about these happenings now, but for 2 millenia we humans have lived in the time of birth pangs, we’ve lived in the time of the birth of the Kingdom.
It’s a long labour.
But we have hope, we know what is promised to us
The Writer to the Hebrews says
“ let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful”
We have this hope.
In our reading from Daniel, it describes how at the end after turmoil, the dead will wake, some to eternal life and some to eternal shame.
The disciples would have been mindful of these prophecies as they heard Jesus’ words which echoed them, and perhaps frightened of what lay in their future.
We live now the other side of the cross,
Jesus died and rose again, he offered himself
“offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin”
“by a single offering he has perfected FOR ALL TIME those who are sanctified”
We have the hope of life, not a cross your fingers type of hope, a real, solid hope,
Hope of life we can feel now, know now, just as a mother feels the life she is birthing already in part, but waits in hope for the fullness of that life, so do we in Christ.
We are able to live a life now, free and hopeful because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We have been forgiven, and our sins forgotten and because of this we are able to live .
“ I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds… I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”
The writer to the Hebrews encourages us then to hold fast to this hope, and to let it be lived out in our lives,
It’s no coincidence that following on from this is the verse that says “ let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds”
Our hope and our confidence in the death and resurrection of Jesus is not something that stops there.
Living the Kingdom life now means living differently in our day to day lives,
We may see the world going to rack & ruin around us, the birth pangs beginning
But we are called to live differently, to live as though the Kingdom was fully here, fully birthed among us.
We might be often discouraged but we need to meet together, to share our hope and to take it out into that world, to offer comfort and hope.
Our hope is of no use held to ourselves, the news of God’s amazing live in Jesus is too good to keep within the walls of a church or our homes,
The mother in pregnancy and labour lives and acts like her baby is already here, she talks about it, even names it, it is real, its presence affects her life. So it should be with us and the Kingdom of God
If we are able to live now as if the Kingdom was already here, it will change us, and we will be working to bring the Kingdom about -this hope will become infectious, the hope that will carry us through, until, however it happens the Kingdom of God is finally birthed among us in its fullness
And then we
“shall shine like the brightness of the sky and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever.”