I get the phrase and I understand how it arose and what it means within a certain context, but it is a concept in Christianity that gets corrupted and feared. It turns the Revelation of John into a doomsday text instead of a text about restoration. I suspect that there is a direct and, I guess, inverse correlation between our lives getting easier through the centuries and the idea of "these last days" as a negative, fearful thing. The early Christians were more apt to look for the ending of the present suffering and the coming of the Reign of God, in its eschatological sense. As life gets easier, the end of the current reign looks scarier, the coming Reign of God (again, in its eschatalogical sense) looks uncertain, unnerving.
(I've heard some people speak of reincarnation in similar terms. In the Asian religions where the concept arose, it was seen as the curse to escape. You built up Karma until you were good enough to escape the cycle of rebirths and, hence, the suffering of the world. Now, our more affluent cultures that play with a belief in reincarnation, see it more as this cool opportunity to live life again. But I digress.)
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Before Christmas, a meme made the rounds of Facebook with people holding signs that said, "The Beginning is Near." Websearching it just now, I see that it was often used in conjunction with the Occupy movement. I think I saw it, at least once, used in connection with the Mayan end of the world hysteria. The calmer of the Mayan calendar watchers were seeing it as the beginning of a new world, a new era in humanity.
I rather liked the meme, whatever its associations. There are plenty of references in our scripture and tradition about God doing a new thing, about new creations and a new heaven and a new earth.
Even in these last days, God is busy doing new things.
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We've come to the Twelfth Day of Christmas. We've had a child born unto us, a Son given to us. We've seen him named and circumcised. We've seen other children die because of his existence. We've seen the powerful lash out in fear the poor rejoice.
And whichever Gospel you want to look at it, this is only the first chapter or two of the book. It is not the end. Not by a long shot.
The beginning is near and in fact has begun.