Happy Advent! This liturgical season focuses on the coming of Christ and of waiting for Him. Of course we recall the long time of waiting of God’s People: the Hebrews (and later the Jews) for the Messiah. We recall especially the time of Mary’s pregnancy leading up to the birth of our Savior at Christmas.
But especially in these early weeks of Advent we focus not on historical events but on the trans-historical event of the Second Coming, also known by the Greek word Parousia or “arrival.” This is an important part of our faith, but one that is not often given much attention.
The very earliest Christian prayer we have, in Jesus’ own language of Aramaic, is “Maranatha.” It means, ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ It expresses a wish and desire for the Second Coming, the arrival of Jesus as Lord in glory. Then the Kingdom of God will be ushered in in its fullness. Evil and sin and decay will be done away with; God’s Justice and Mercy will be triumphant. It will be wonderful! No wonder early Christians, especially those persecuted for their faith, tried to urge on and hurry up the Day of the Lord’s Coming. Dramatic imagery is used because it will be a dramatic reversal of how things are done on earth and in history. God’s Will will be done, and that will be a dramatic and fundamental change from how things are now, to say the least.
Early Christians hoped for the Second Coming of Christ to happen soon, in their own lifetime. After nearly 2,000 years, we have lost that expectation. But the Second Coming is still a part of our faith. Every Sunday when we recite the Creed, we state: “and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty; from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Or for our neighbors who use the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
Are we to expect Jesus’ Second Coming as an actual historical event? Is there an actual date in the future when Jesus will appear again on earth? Or is this teaching a sort of symbol for the judgment that each of us will face on the day of our own particular death? The first option of an actual historical event seems very hard to fit with our current understanding of cosmology. If creation has taken over 13 billion years of work up to this point, to suddenly and “out of the blue” interrupt it all and bring it to an end with some divine intervention from without the whole creative process just strikes me as a kind of a cheesy “deus ex machina” solution that seems unworthy of the God of such intricate and complex and prodigal creation.
And yet, to limit this creedal statement of the Second Coming to a symbol of our individual judgment does not do justice to the centrality and importance of this belief to our creeds and faith. God’s creation is not static. It goes somewhere. It has meaning because it has purpose. In Christian understanding time is not cyclical nor eternal. Rather it has a destination. It goes someplace. This is called teleology. Time ultimately finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, Who is All in All. Time is not just a meaningless accumulation of endless moments, but proceeds to a destination determined by and known only to God. So figuring out the destiny of the universe is a little above my pay scale, and also above yours. Nonetheless, as we hear the prayers and readings of early Advent that direct our thoughts to the Second Coming of Christ in glory, these are beliefs to chew on and wrestle with. Not only does this article of faith give meaning to all of creation, but also to our particular part in it, to each of our lives.