You can tell a lot about a New Testament letter by the way it opens. Usually, the author not only identifies himself and his audience, but he sets the stage by highlighting those subjects and themes that will be most important in the letter that follows. It’s kind of like a nice subject line in an e-mail or business letter. In today’s NT lesson (Revelation 1:1-8), we see an interesting way to identify the heart of the last book of the bible: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.”
Is…was…and is to come. We use that every now and then to talk about Jesus—God incarnate. And I think it’s nice to start out this weird prophecy by remembering that Jesus, who is the focus of what we read, inhabits past, present, and future. We aren’t just worried about the past. And we aren’t just focused on the future. There is an “is” in that description, and the “is” comes first. Right now, Jesus is. And that’s something worth remembering.
In this season of Advent, I think we get pulled in two divergent directions. We are dragged back into the past to the Jesus of ancient Palestine. In our favorite readings, we travel “even unto Bethlehem” to watch the story unfold. Like Ricky Bobby from Talladega nights, we like to think of Jesus as the baby Jesus, and that’s especially true this time of year. But it’s not just the infant. We also think of Jesus as the Jesus of a short 33-year window when he walked and talked and breathed.
We’re also propelled into the future: when will the king come again? Advent is about waiting for the second Advent—the end of the world. We read the end-times prophecies with an eye to the future, waiting for things to be wrapped up in God’s perfect time. And, although we usually don’t dwell too much on whether certain prophecies are being fulfilled, we do spend a lot of time thinking about the Jesus of the future—chariots, swords, power. That’s the stuff of Revelation.
But Jesus also is right now. That’s where we are, too. And I wonder whether Advent should be most about waiting and watching for Jesus to be with us right now. Although I do want to honor our Lord’s command that we watch for his coming with clouds, etc., I think I should be spending more time watching for his coming to me today. Jesus is. He is alive. His identity is not just locked in the past and precipitated in the still-distant future. Jesus is. That’s where we start. That’s where Revelation starts. What does it mean to watch for someone who is already here?