"These mark the commencement of labor."

ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων ταῦτα. (Mk 13:9)

Ah, the "little apocalypse." And because of that, how often we sidestep the fact that what Jesus refers to here in Mark is the coming of new life into the world! Now, with the help of skilled obstetrics, we have no reason to expect that the mother will die. But there will certainly be pain -- and in a time without epidurals, let alone all the other things we associate with modern medically-assisted childbirth, that pain could be the end of the world.

And yet, in today's gospel reading, we receive the promise that the righteous rule of God will crown, and be born, and we will live to see it and not die in labor. The days of our travail will be cut short, and we will be rescued from the labor pains. And why have the days of labor been cut short? For the sake of the salvation of God's chosen people. Because God is not in the suffering -- God is in the bringing of new life, and the rescue of the old.

This is why we hope for the advent of our God, in this time of war and death and greed and suffering. And Jesus promises his audience, in every time and place where the story is told, that this lineage, this chosen people of God will not be wiped from the earth before the coming of the kingdom of God -- even if the heavens and the earth should be destroyed, the promise will remain. As for when the labor will begin -- well, you know as well as I do, that that's in God's hands. And so we will watch for it, and endure the time patiently, knowing that when it comes, new life will follow.

And in fact God will expand this chosen people -- this nation whose righteous fruit is the fig, and not the olive. In the sweeping aside of every celestial power that could claim our allegiance, God has also sent witnesses to the ends of the earth, and Paul is one, just as Isaiah was. That new life is new life for us also, because we have been grafted into the fig tree, and await the summer with every Judean, every life that belongs to God's planting in Abraham. We live by the grace and peace that God sends us, the "pure fatherly goodness" Luther declares in the catechism. In everything we are enriched and supported by the providence of God, the evidence of Jesus Christ our Lord. We have no deficit of grace as we gentiles, too, await the coming of that day. Whatever the troubles, and however we misunderstand ourselves in the mean time -- even if the labor pains take us by surprise -- we will be upheld, and in the coming of the kingdom of God, we will find our true life.


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