The End in the Middle
The Rectory, December 1996
The End is Nigh, read the placards of some street evangelists, and we shudder at this narrow and threatening presentation of the Christian faith. Yet Advent is the season in the Churchs year when we are encouraged to think about the end of all things, and to live in a lively expectation of and longing for the final establishment of Gods kingdom of justice, truth and peace.
A couple of years ago an American academic Francis Fukayama wrote a book which had many people talking, called The End of History. His thesis was that with the fall of Communism we have witnessed the triumph of consumer capitalism and entered a steady state of consumption based on a free market economy which is the best possible system, and to which it is now clear there are no alternatives. Since history is about the development of and the conflict between competing political, economic and social forces, it has now come to an end because there are no more political, economic or social developments to chart. Time of course goes on but there is no future goal for which to aim, no greater economic or social justice to strive for. The End is not just nigh it has arrived, and it is Western capitalism! This is not very good news for those living in shanty towns in Latin America or Asia, in cardboard boxes in London, nor for any one born in a pub garage in Palestine. Nor does it seem to be a very exciting vision of the fulfilment of human potential and longings. To live is to shop may be a slogan for the run up to Christmas, but most people hold out greater hopes of life than this both for themselves and for the poor of the world.
Yet in a strange way the book mirrors the Christian hope - certainly not the content of that hope, but because the birth of Christ also announces the end of history. Jesus first statement in Marks Gospel is "the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1.15). The first Christians came to understand this in relation to the person of Jesus. Here is the end product, if you like, of the human race. This is who and what we are meant to be. This is the goal of creation and of our human struggle. This is where we are all heading. Christ is the End. In Christ we see who we are and what we are to become. We see the glory in our midst and our hope is that His glory will transfigure us as individuals, and as peoples and nations, into His likeness. This is the End of History and it is not Consumerism or the Free Market but Love. This was put in a nutshell by a writer who said that Christ has come as the end in the middle. Of course life goes on but the End is no longer hidden, it is revealed in the middle of time by the coming of Christ. In a sense there is no further development or evolution for humanity beyond Christlikeness, beyond oneness with Christ. So our hope is not focused on some future utopian era but on being drawn into the life of Christ now. To live in Christ now is to make the End a present reality, it is to live the petition thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
The End is Nigh is in a sense the right message for Advent. It is nigh because the feast of Christs birth is approaching. It is nigh because Christ is in our midst, the End has come into the middle, the goal of Gods creative work is completed and revealed in Christ. We are invited to make His life our own. This is of course a cause of great rejoicing for we have seen his glory, and yet it can also be a threat and a challenge if we still wish to write our own history and create our own goals. Our Advent longing and hope is that all things may be drawn into the life of Christ, his peace and justice; that all things may be filled with his glory, and that we may grow more fully into the End which is forever in our midst.