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Reflection December 2, 2018
"Jesus is Coming Again" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Advent is the sacred season when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth so long ago in Bethlehem. But it’s also the sacred season when we await Jesus’ return to us! As Christians we look back to the Nativity but we also look forward to the Return.
The Greek word for the second coming of Christ is parousia. It is used 17 times in the New Testament to refer to Jesus’ return. We, Christians, are always waiting for this second coming.
In the early church, expectations for the second coming were very high. The first few generations of Christians were very excited about what they believed was the imminent – the just-around-the-corner – coming back of Jesus Christ. Many of the apostles believed Jesus would return in their lifetime.
For example, Peter in his first Pentecost sermon, quoting the prophet Joel, states that those days would be the last days before Jesus would return. (Acts 2:17) In Peter’s first letter, chapter 4, verse 7, he writes: “The end of all things is near” meaning that Jesus Christ was on his way – to set everything right – to heal everything that was broken.
The Book of Revelation begins by stating the events described in Revelation “must soon take place” because “the time is near.” (Rev.1:1,3) The Letter to the Hebrews begins by announcing people are living “in these last days.” (Hebrews 1:2) To speak of “the last days” means the days before Jesus Christ returns to bring the great reign of God’s justice and peace to the earth.
In every age since Jesus first came to us – Christians have been awaiting the second coming. This has been going on for two thousand years. It continues. But part of the problem is that we Christians no longer live with any heightened expectation of Jesus’ return. How many of us really expect Jesus to come in our lifetimes?
I believe Christianity has lost much of its inherent energy because our expectations of Jesus’ return are so muted. Yet if we Christians are not people expectantly waiting then we have lost the core message of our faith. God is coming to us from the future. God is not coming to us from the past. Let me state this again: God is coming to meet us from the future – not the past.
If we get trapped in the past then we easily lose all hope. And this may be why Christianity seems to have little appeal to many of our young. The only Christians who seem excited about the future are those who bring apocalyptic images of destruction and death. This is not what my God is bringing to me. My God – the God revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – is bringing healing and hope.
When Jesus comes again everything will be transformed. Everything will be made right. Everything and everyone will be made whole. This is why I await the return of Jesus Christ. This is why I look to the future. Our God is coming to meet us with hope, with healing, with justice, with love.
Our young look to the future. When we are five or fifteen or twenty-five – the future calls us forward. We are all hope. But as we age – as we become senior citizens – we can easily get trapped in the past – looking back instead of looking forward. This is one reason why Christianity has lost its appeal. Where is the hope?
Where is the expectation of what God is bringing to us from the future? What do we expect Jesus will do when he returns? He will bring us everything we hope for – everything we desire. He will bring us the great reign of God.
This is what we are waiting for. Not terrible destruction and war. We await the future God holds in God’s mighty hands. As the minister/author, Frederick Buechner, writes: “An ancient Advent prayer supplies us with the words. ‘Give us grace,’ it says, ‘that we may cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light.’ We who live much of the time in the darkness are waiting not just at Advent, but at all times for the advent of light, of that ultimate light that is redemptive and terrifying at the same time. It is redemptive because it puts an end to the darkness, and that is why it is terrifying because for so long, for all our lives, the darkness has been home, and because to leave home is always cause for terror.”
Advent is the season when we pay special attention to our waiting. We look back – so we might look forward. We are always waiting for Jesus Christ to come again. After all, the final words of the Bible are the prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20) This is the prayer that should always be found on the lips of every disciple. This prayer is our deepest prayer – our deepest longing – our deepest desire.
We wait. But as Buechner cautions us: “To wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come…is above all else – to act in Christ’s stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is – as best we can – to be Christ to those who (most) need us to be Christ to them and to bring them … Christ’s healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all.”
Let’s ponder this truth deeply, we’re called by Jesus, our Good Shepherd, to be Jesus to those most in need of Jesus, to bring the healing and hope of Jesus to those most in need of this hope and healing. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus is delaying his coming because we, like John the Baptist of old, need to prepare the way for Jesus.
What if this is the case? What if we – a meager but mighty band of disciples at Morgan Park American Baptist Church – have been called – with all believers – to prepare the world for the second coming of Jesus Christ? We prepare the way by being – as best we can – disciples of hope in our hope-depleted world – disciples of healing in our sorely unwell world!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister