Reflection given at the Service of Advent Lessons and Carols December 19, 2021
I’ve been thinking about the second coming a lot over the past week or so. I think any time humanity butts heads with the natural world, it comes to the back of my mind. What if Jesus really did come tomorrow? What would that look like?
I don’t think about it in a Left Behind sort of way. I read exactly two pages of that work of fiction before I threw it all to the ground, disgusted by the violence and the writing style. I didn’t grow up believing in an apocalypse, especially not the version popularized in modern Christian culture. All that really comes out of movements that began in the late 1800’s. I have ancestors who sold all their possessions, went up on a hillside and waited for Jesus to come. The rest of the family was understanding the first time they had to help the family get their things back. The second time? Not so much. Their faith was strong, but they believed a teacher who thought he had cracked the code to when Christ would return, something Jesus told us we cannot know.
But I do think there is a deep reality in the return of Jesus. I think it will actually happen someday, and I wonder, what will that be like?
To discover that, we need to dive into the first coming, the need for Jesus, and the hope of the Messiah. That’s what our readings today do. They begin in Genesis at the moment when everything changes. The people who once walked in complete unity with God suddenly become their own people. Some have called this separation a process of maturation. Adam and Eve have their own thoughts, they make their own decisions, and they find the power to make decisions that go against God’s will. Some Jewish leaders find this to be a very valuable moment, even with all the suffering that comes alongside it, because in this moment, the first humans aren’t like children anymore, they are able to become full adults. These scholars find the wisdom and ability to choose for ourselves is greater than the suffering that comes alongside. The first people are finding themselves and creating identities that are separate, but still connected to the one who made them. They are making mistakes and learning. They develop a healthy sense of fear and shame, they recognize their vulnerabilities and their limitations. They are learning right from wrong, gaining immense wisdom over the course of generations. But this separation means that there were now pivotal experiences that God had never had. God was never born, God had never died. Humans became fully mortal and God was immortal. There was a separation, an impasse that could not be crossed.
For thousands of years, God promised the people that they could be close, that there did not need to be a divide. They could build a relationship of mutuality, a relationship that is fully mature yet fully connected. It’s like the relationship between two people who have had a close, healthy relationship for decades. I think of my mother and her sisters. Even though they live in separate states, they know each other well and work together almost as seemingly one unit. They are full adults, but also deeply connected. This is the promise. For thousands of years, God promised that kind relationship, even as God worked to correct people who went astray, even as God saw people wander off to myths and idols of wood and clay, God promised and God yearned. God wanted to fully connect with us, to know our every experience intimately. Humanity has always been God’s platonic crush.
Finally, the time came. The first coming. God received consent and suddenly God was alive inside of Mary. Even before the cells in her womb began to divide and build the form of the Messiah, she was engulfed in the Holy Spirit. Her aunt Elizabeth saw that, and she too was overwhelmed with the power of God. They were two women delighting in the light of the Spirit, leaping for joy as the Holy Spirit danced between them, filling them and their unborn sons with unmistakable power and glory.
The first coming was the fulfilment of a promise, a promise that God could be as close as two pregnant women dancing in the living room. It was a promise that God would take on and understand humanity and mortality in a way that was more than observational, but absolutely relational. God could change and shape the world through us because God now knew what it was to be as we are. God chose mortality. But God not only chose mortality, God chose those who didn’t have wealth, prestige or power. God made a promise to them. They could have food. They could have what they needed. The ones called powerful in the world were not the powerful in God’s eyes. We could all have what we needed. God chose to come among us and save all of us from the corrupting powers of the world. Then God said, “Go and do likewise.”
We are now the commissioned people of God, called to go and follow in this way, to care so deeply for our God and our neighbor that there need not be separation and division between us. In many ways, we are living into that second coming. We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world, not just figuratively, but literally. Christ is in us, dwells in us. If you aren’t sure whether Christ is really there or not, you need only to come forward and receive communion. Christ is present in and among us. God lives in and uses us.
But still, at any moment, Jesus could appear. Would it be in the clouds? On a great chariot? Or maybe in the womb of a young, betrothed girl who needed to go stay with her aunt for a while because her pregnancy was a cause of embarrassment to her family?
When Jesus appears, what will he find? Will he find us living lives of love, soaked in the power of the Holy Spirit and believing with all our hearts that all humans can have enough? Or will he not?
I don’t think we need to be fearful if we don’t fully live up to God’s call. I don’t think we’re going to be thrown into hell for all eternity for not living up to expectations. We certainly disappoint God at times, but continually we find in the Bible a God who says, “Let’s try again.” Even after the most rage filled passages of the Old Testament prophets, God says, “Rejoice! You are forgiven!” God believes we have it within ourselves to get it right, and God pushes us to get there.
Jesus asks us to continue our relationship with God. To go deeper. To invest more into it. Because God knows what it’s like to be human. God knows mortality. God can have that kind of close relationship with us, even closer than the two who have spent decades learning each other’s whims and body language. God’s known our every thought since the moment we were born. We have nothing to hide and everything to gain.
We can trust that when God says that we can build more just communities, that we can create better systems to protect the poor and the vulnerable, that the world can be more like God’s kingdom and less like the nightmares we find around us. So let’s go forth, embracing God and trusting that if God says we are able, we can change the world. Amen.