I could start by saying that Advent is an odd season of conflicting lessons: part hope, part despair, part mercy, part judgment, part delight, part fear. Moreover, it’s plopped right down on top of the secular Christmas dominated by shopping, Santa, schmaltzy television, and the myth of cheer filled parties with which most of us have little personal experience. I could start that way, but why? Those of us who observe the season through liturgy and the lectionary know all of that. Many of my more Evangelical clergy friends have long since synced the themes of their services with the timing of appropriate television holiday reruns. Advent, to them, is a time for decorating the church and breaking out the Christmas carols. We even have a popular local production of “The Gospel According to Scrooge” that shamelessly rewrites the Dickens classic.
What I really want to write about revolves around judgment, the second coming, and end times.
The gospel record makes it clear that, while Jesus was capable of, and had the authority, to forgive all of them for what they were doing even as he hung on the cross, judgment of some kind yet lies ahead for each of us. That has to be a terrifying thought. Can I really and truly rely on his promises once my life has been exposed to close examination in every detail? Will he say, “Well Steven your name was penciled into the Book of Life, but I also have a very big eraser, and the audit of your record is not looking too good.”? Maybe this is where a true leap of faith is required. Will his promise of mercy trump judgment? What if there was not enough water in my baptism? What if I failed to use the right words in my profession of faith? What if my many confessions and attempts at repentance were insufficient? What if I went to the wrong church or none at all? Good grief, I can remember the sense of guilt I felt when called to the principal’s office even when I hadn’t done anything about which to feel guilty. When you get right down to it, one of the big questions of Advent is how willing are we to trust God to be the God revealed in the manger and on the cross?
Which brings me to the second coming. There are elements in each of the gospels and several of the Pauline letters, as well as the entire book of Revelation, that vividly portray a triumphant second coming in power and glory to vanquish all God’s enemies, and, because we are God’s children, all of our enemies too. You cannot work your way around that. What troubles me about that is how similar that vision is to the messianic expectations of the Jews of Jesus’ day. It’s almost like saying that when Jesus comes back he’ll get it right this time and finish the job the way he was supposed to. I wonder. If “It is finished” is what Jesus said from the cross, then it is finished. As I read it, what happened on the cross and at the open grave is the completion of all that had to happen. Indeed, as I read the Revelation to John I keep coming across passages declaring completion, not of some act yet to come but of all that has already happened. I’m not sure what the writers were up to, but this I know. Too many have been misled too often by false prophets scaring the daylights out of gullible people about the imminence of that day. What we need to do is keep our eyes on Jesus and follow where he has led without concern for any of that.
And that means that I’m not waiting around or preparing for his second coming. Nor am I overly concerned about end times. My end, at least in earthly terms, will arrive soon enough. The time I now live in will be ended, which also means that his second coming will have occurred. What will happen to me when I die? Perhaps my soul will rest in cold storage until the general resurrection. Perhaps I’ll be welcomed into Abraham’s bosom until I am ready for my new and glorious body. Perhaps it will all happen at once. I’m not sure it makes much difference, or that I will care. However, if they sing Amazing Grace at my funeral, I will come back and haunt them. It’s an amazing hymn but it gets old after so many repetitions.
So what am I to do as I wait for my judgment, my end times, the second coming of my Christ in which I go to him this time? I guess I’ll get on with learning more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a Christian, a proclaimer of the Good News, and see what I can do about improving on a very spotty record. Advent is a good time to reflect on that. Any advice is most welcome.