Saturday, November 27, 2010

The (First/Second) Coming: Reflections on the First Sunday in Advent

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian. I am not a candidate for a bachelor's degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. I am not, despite my high hopes, an intellectual prodigy in the realm of living faithfully. But this year, on this blog, and perhaps for years to come on this blog, I would like to offer you a few thoughts for each week of Advent, the time of preparation and waiting before the celebration of Christ's birth. 

The first Sunday in Advent is focused on the coming we are all much more familiar with: Christ's second coming. We are familiar with this coming because it is the one Christians have spent much of their time discussing over the past 2,000 years. We have done our fair share of miscalculating (during the Protestant Reformation an entire city burned because of it) the date and time of His arrival, and we've also written tomes and tomes about how Christians should act "in light of the Second Coming." We are a hopeful people - pushing forward to the next horizon and pushing beyond the boundaries of our conventional imaginations. Yes, we say to ourselves and our churchly neighbors while sipping cups of chocolate and admiring one another's tasteful pine cone Christmas wreathes, God is going to come back and we are going to see things put right. 

It takes a great deal of faith in God to make this statement. After all, our belief that Christ is coming again hinges on our belief that Christ can come again - that is, that Christ is not disintegrated into the earth, not dead, but alive, and not merely alive but ascended. We cannot believe that Jesus was born, died, did not rise, and is coming again. The Second Coming is about the Ascension. And the Ascension is about the Descending, the Birth. 

I have often wondered why we talked about the Second Coming during Advent. I was spending most of my childhood mind wondering where Mom hid the plastic baby Jesus so that I couldn't put him in the Nativity scene until Christmas Eve, or wondering if we would EVER get one of those Advent calendars with the chocolates inside them like my friend Ashley down the street always got. And I still don't know, as a 20 year old, what the Second Coming is all about. This year, though, I have found myself marveling at how the Second Coming grounds itself in the events of the First Coming, how the two are connected, how God has designed the story with more elegance and more ingenuity than any human mind can contrive. Marvel with me: God descends to Earth, lives among us, and because He lives among us, He dies for us, and because He dies, He destroys death, and because He destroys death He rises, and in His rising gives us the promise of His return. 

So perhaps we talk about the Second Coming during the First Sunday of Advent because its promise is grounded on what we know has already happened: that First Coming, the Birth, the Incarnation. And perhaps we would do well to remember that grounding when we are tempted to think of the Second Coming as some kind of "do-over" where God finally gives us the things we want, or where God says, "all right, this one's for real!" or even the time when God is going to show us His cards and separate wheat from chaff, play by the rules and get some to Heaven and others to... well, the other place. No. The Second Coming is hidden in the promises and events of the First Coming, and the story is grounded in the reality we experience every day on Earth: the creation of families through the arrival of children, the difficulties of being accepted by groups of people who don't seem to understand us, the temptations of power, lust and influence, poverty, war, hunger, doubt. These realities should not evaporate when we think of the Second Coming, rather, these realities should usher it in, welcome it with open arms. It is the world broken and yet beautiful to which Christ came, and it is the same world broken and yet beautiful that yearns for His return. 

First Coming, Second Coming. Second Coming, First Coming. The order seems less important than it did at the beginning of this blog post. It is my hope for you this week, readers, that you look for the places in your life that are crying out for the Arrival of Christ. Look for the places that would usher Him in, remembering that He is being Incarnate already in your heart, that He is already arriving. And hope, hope wildly and freely and with abandon, in His Second Coming, that this first Sunday of Advent calls us to remember. 


Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the 
works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now 
in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ 
came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when 
he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the 
quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through 
him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, 
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Tradition, 1979 edition)

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