Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Between the First and Second Coming

I’ve often thought that Advent is the perpetual season of the church. As the lessons for the first Sunday of Advent remind us, we’re still looking and watching and preparing for the coming of the Lord. That isn’t just true in early December, when the church remembers that sense of waiting. It’s true all the time.

So here’s my big question for the week: how is our waiting for the “second coming” any different from the waiting that the world did the first time around?

Jeremiah predicts the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel and Judah. One day soon, he declares, God will cause his righteous Branch to spring up—one to execute justice and righteousness for God’s people. As Christians, we have a tendency to read that in Advent as if it has already been fulfilled. Jesus was (and is) that righteous Branch, and he sprung up 2000 years ago. But that’s also what we’re still waiting for. We’re waiting for justice and righteousness. We’re still waiting for the promises to Israel and Judah to be fulfilled.

So what’s different this time around?

In the reading from Luke, Jesus predicts tough times—even the powers of heaven will be shaken. Yet I’ll suggest that the “first coming” means that we wait for the “second coming” not in fear but with joy. As Jesus said, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

In other words, the difference is how we are supposed to receive those troubling times. Over and over, the prophets of old predicted judgment against God’s people. Wrath and turmoil will be poured out upon the earth, and eventually God will sort everything out. That was a pretty scary prediction no matter who you were. But then Jesus came to remind that as the problems of the world are sorted out we discover not a God who hates us but one who loves us. We wait for the day of judgment not afraid of what’s coming but hopeful for our redemption.

When Jeremiah declares, “The days are surely coming…” we might wonder, “Have they already come?” and the answer is, “Yes and no.” The promise and foretaste of our redemption has already come so that when things do take a turn for the apocalyptically worse we can approach it with joyful expectation of the fulfillment of that redemption. In other words, Jesus shows us what sort of end we should expect, and the cross and empty tomb remind us that it won’t end with death—only with life.

Advent is about waiting for the “second coming” but doing so in light of Jesus first coming. Jesus came to earth to show us who God is and how God relates to the world. Will there be judgment? Yes. Will it be tumultuous? Yes. Can we be sure that despite all the trials that may come God will still take care of us? Yes. Jesus showed us that the first time around.

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