And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
3 And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. 10 And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. 11 And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
She was a slight woman or had been. Now she was very pregnant with her first child. She cheerfully but slowly walked into church and gratefully sat down with her husband. They motioned me over and asked for a prayer. Her due date had been the week prior; the doctor had said that she would be induced if she did not go into labor soon. I asked how she was doing. Was she nervous? She admitted she was a little afraid but also excited. She was eager to see and hold this baby.
Did you notice that important but small line in verse 8 above? Jesus is cataloguing all the terrible things that will happen before the end of the world. There will be wars, rumors of wars, famines, plagues, and more. It sounds pretty terrible. But with this little sentence in verse 8 he changes everything. All these things are birth pangs, the labor that results in a new life.
They call it labor for a reason. Giving birth to a child is hard and even dangerous work. It can hardly be something that anyone would call fun. Yet, my young parishioner is not alone in her feelings of excitement and eager expectation for that day. She knows that on the other side of the work and the pain and struggle is a child, her child, a life to which she has given birth. She is both nervous and excited.
Is that how our Lord wants us to feel about the end of the world? The generation we live in is fixated on the end of the world and terribly afraid of it. Unlike prior generations, this age does not imagine that God will do this. Culturally we have pretty much dismissed God from the equation. Now it will be an asteroid or climate change or something else. Go to the theater today and you might see some villain or monster who threatens to destroy the world. But this is all focused on the pain and suffering of the end. It is end of the world but with a different vocabulary. Jesus does not downplay the difficulties we will face. But he adds something else. It is the beginning of birth pains. Just as a woman wakes up in the middle of the night and feels those first contractions, she might be a little nervous. She knows what comes. But she is also excited. She knows what this means. We too are given to see all the terrible things of the end times differently. They are the birthing of something good – heaven itself.