Life First

Armageddon: the playground of the Prince of Peace

By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip’s, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington

When we hear the term “Armageddon” we think of the end of the world; the end of the world caused by a nuclear holocaust where the sun is blotted out and every living thing on earth dies.

It is a Greek word mentioned in the Book of Revelation (16:16) and, over the centuries, has become known as the spot where the future (or lack thereof) of the world will be determined.

There actually is a place on earth nicknamed “Armageddon” and, no, it isn’t meal time on Thanksgiving day at my sister’s house! Armageddon is another name for the Jezreel Valley in Israel.

Located in the northern part of what is today Israel, the valley, for many centuries, was a main thoroughfare for travelers and conquering armies heading from Europe/Asia to Africa and vice versa. Archaeology of the area has revealed a glimpse of the many wars fought there.

During the Cold War (1950s-1990s), the beginning of the end of the world was predicted to take place. The armies of the United States would be facing north in defense of Israel and the military might of the Soviet Union would be facing south standing with its Arab allies.

The end result of the standoff would be Armageddon, the nuclear annihilation of the world.

Ironically, Nazareth, the home town of the Child Jesus is perched on the edge of the valley with a magnificent peaceful view of a land where so much blood has been shed. Jesus, the child, would have played marbles, soccer, baseball or hide ‘n seek on the sweeping plain! Jesus, the Prince of Peace, running free in the valley of war and hate.

In reality, the Valley of Armageddon is more than a political battleground, it is a place in each of our souls where spiritual warfare is fought.

We all have an Armageddon within us, things in our lives which seem to be the poison of our souls. It may be a habit, or a resentment, or a hatred of self.

I pray we can allow the child Jesus of Nazareth to wander through our Armageddon and restore our innocence, to be as forgiving as a child is, as Jesus is. Isn’t it true, forgiving ourselves is often much more difficult than forgiving others?!

At each Mass we cry out, “Lord have mercy!” and I often hear in my mind’s ear Jesus replying: “I do have mercy on you! Now have some mercy on yourself!”

On the opposite side of the Valley of Armageddon in Israel is the Mount of the Transfiguration where Jesus conversed with Elijah and Moses, assuring great hope for all of humanity. Hope, trusting that the future is better than the past, is exactly what Jesus brings to our own personal Armageddons.

Jesus, in his Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-8) makes it clear Christ’s love for you and his love for me is real, right now, in this moment of your life and mine. God loves us! Enough of our excuses trying to convince God he cannot love us. We may be impressed with our sins but God isn’t. God only cares about loving you and loving me.

Too many of us think we have to get our act together before God will even consider hearing our cries for help. Waiting to come to the Lord until we get our life cleaned up is like waiting to go to the Emergency Room until we stop bleeding! God doesn’t love some future version of ourselves, God loves us in our mess, our Armageddon!

Jesus came into Mary’s womb while we were still sinners. He filled his diaper in the manger of Bethlehem while we were still sinners. He cured the cripple who didn’t even ask to be healed, while we were still sinners.

And, in the end, he hoisted himself on a donkey; to march into Jerusalem; to be filleted in front of the people; to be stapled to a cross with a crown of razor sharp thorns; to be bullied for claiming to be exactly who he was; and to be buried in a common tomb and left for common dead ... all of that while we were still sinners!

The only way the Gospel message of Life will be heard by the world is if we, who do our best to proclaim it, reveal by our lives another way, another truth: that we are saved by God’s mercy, not our perfection. May we soon play in the valley or our own Armageddon’s again ... innocent and free!