The other day I was walking through the woods, in front of our house in Dingwall, and I heard an unusual sound. The trees are beginning to fill out now, with fresh new foliage, blocking the view of the other side of the wood. However, I knew that the noise was vaguely familiar. It sounded like something else that could be heard regularly around here but was a bit different. Although I could not see it I could tell that the noise was coming from the direction of the railway line and it sounded like a train, with a difference. The Choo Choo sound was not that of a diesel engine but of an old fashioned steam train. In fact a picture came into my mind, which helped the penny drop, because a friend had posted a picture of this train on social media, on its Highland tour, when they came across it earlier in the week.
Our wonderful God given sensory system works together to help us understand that which we hear and see. In this instance the picture came to mind, from memory, with the help of the sound. The sound of a steam train is a magical sound. Nostalgia, power and elegance were all conjured up by the sound of the puffing steam.
The writers of scripture used pictorial language to similar effect. In the New Testament pictorial language, sometimes referred to as apocalyptic, is used to help us understand what will happen when Christ returns. Peter talks of the day of the Lord coming like a thief. The elements will be dissolved with fire but we wait for a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is at home. (2 Peter 3:1013, NRSV, my paraphrase) This is just one example of many passages of scripture which talks of roaring fires and rushing winds etc. to describe Christ’s return and the sudden breaking in of the new heavens and new earth. (The Greek word Parousia refers to this)
Meanwhile, we are to be waiting, expectant, holy and merciful people. (Jude 17-22) And when we hear that sound, familiar because it sounds like that which the prophets and apostles described for us, yet different from what we really expected; we will clearly recognise his return.
I recently read from a commentary, on the book of Daniel, that much of the apocalyptic writing there should be read like this: the writer describes what the Messiah would look like, the people waited around 400 years in expectation and then, when Jesus appeared, they were able to say, aha; so that is what Daniel was describing. It was to help them to see and recognise the real thing when it appeared.
This is so unlike the modern day tendency to try to work out where we are regards the end of time by linking everyday world events to bible passages. He will return and every word which has been written to describe that great event, the Parousia, will be fulfilled but perhaps not as we imagined. When he comes then we will know that this is what was written about.
The important thing for us is that when we hear of his coming, as e.g. what we read in the scriptures, that we live lives expectant and in anticipation of his coming; be holy, be merciful and keep praying, as Jude, Peter and even Jesus himself reminds us to.
Praying and Hearing
I can hear the thunder in the distance
Like a train on the edge of the town;
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit:
‘Lay your burdens down,
Lay your burdens down.’
Seeking God’s Presence
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.
 Song by Robin Mark, As Sure as gold is precious and the honey sweet, (Chorus) Mission Praise, 1027
 Source unknown (found in Pynson’s Horae, 1515) SPCK Book of Christian Prayer (London: SPCK, 1995), 3