By the Rev. Darren Miner
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Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be
acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
Today is the first day of the season of Advent, and the start of a new liturgical year. The basic meaning of the word advent is “coming.” In Christian terms, it refers more specifically to the Coming of the Messiah. Note that the name of this season is singular, Advent. Well, I think someone must have made a mistake! We ought to call the season Advents, with an “s.” Because this season has two distinct foci: the first coming, or advent, of our Lord some 2000 years ago and the Second Coming that we still await. The readings today testify to the duality of this season.
The first reading from that gloomy Gus, Jeremiah, is like a ray of light breaking through the clouds on a dark and dismal day. Jeremiah is renowned for his oracles of doom, yet here we find him giving us a word of hope. He predicts that a descendant of King David will one day rule over the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah and bring peace, and the people of God will once again know justice and righteousness. This is, of course, a classic Messianic prophecy. And Christians find its fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. We believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, prophesied by the prophets of old. And yet, in all truth, even after his coming to us, God’s people are still waiting for his righteous rule. Jerusalem does not yet live in safety; the world does not yet experience the shalom of God. And so while our Jewish brothers and sisters wait for the first coming, the first advent, of the Messiah. We Christians await the Second Advent, when the Messiah will come again in power and glory to bring justice and righteous, not just to Israel and Judah, but to the whole world.
Jumping ahead in time some 700 years, we have the Gospel according to Luke, telling us what must happen before that Second Advent. We are told in no uncertain terms that it’s going to get worse before it gets better—much worse! The heavens and the earth will herald this time of distress. Nature itself will reflect the rebellion against God found on earth. But Jesus promises salvation. This Messiah, this Son of Man prophesied by Daniel, will return to this plane of reality to set all things right. And when he comes, there will be no doubt about it, for he will return from the heavenly realm with power and great glory. Jesus assures his disciples that they, and we, have nothing to fear, for the crescendo of disorder and violence in this world is but a sign that our redemption is drawing near.
Jesus goes on to say that “this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” This is most definitely not a case of failed prophecy, as some critics of biblical prophecy have maintained! Jesus is not using the word generation literally. Perhaps, it would have been clearer if Jesus had referred to a last “age,” instead of a last “generation,” for that is what he really means. And so here we are 2000 years later, living in that Last Age, part of that last generation, waiting and waiting for our redemption to finally arrive, for the Messiah to return again, for the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness.
For some, the temptation is to focus on the signs, to look for events in the heavens or events on the earth that foreshadow the Second Advent. Some people desperately want to know the exact day and hour of Jesus’ return. But all such calculation is unnecessary, and ultimately unhelpful. What is necessary, what is helpful, is to live each day as if it were the great Day of Christ’s Return, the day in which the world will be judged. What is necessary is to live proleptically. Now, I don’t expect you to know that word; it’s pretty rare. What it means is “in anticipation” or “in advance.” We are to live now as if the Kingdom were already here. We are to love one another now in the same way that God’s people will love one another when the Messiah rules over the Kingdom of God.
How do we do this? Well, first we are told to be alert, to be watchful, to be on guard, lest the worries and anxieties of this life turn us from the path of righteousness. It is all too easy to give in to fear and to be crippled by worry. It is all too easy to make our own security our number one priority, rather than God’s will. (Even worse, it is all too easy to make our own convenience our number one priority!) Next, we are told that we should pray without ceasing, at all times and in all places. In particular, we should pray for the strength needed to resist the many worldly temptations that would entrap us, for the strength to survive the spiritual trials of this Last Age. And the temptations of this world can take many guises: power, money, booze, sex, television, the Internet, shopping, food…. There are so many ways that we try to anesthetize ourselves both emotionally and spiritually, when what we need to do is to stay alert. There are so many ways that we try to protect ourselves from this world, when what we need to do is be active in this world. In First Thessalonians, St. Paul reminds that we are meant to abound in love, both as individuals and as a community. We are meant to remain holy and blameless—a tall order indeed! In fact the order is so tall that there is no doubt that we will fail from time to time. Living proleptically is not easy. Living as if in the Kingdom of God when we actually find ourselves in a tumultuous and violent world is not easy. But it is our calling as disciples of Jesus the Messiah. Fortunately, when we fail to love, when we fail to be holy and blameless, we have only to repent and turn back to the Lord in order to be forgiven. This repentance can take several forms. We might repent privately to God and do our best to make amends to those we’ve wronged. We might seek out a priest, make a sacramental confession, and so receive the grace of absolution. Or we might offer our sins to God at the General Confession on a Sunday and then come to the Holy Table to accept our forgiveness in the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. God is ever willing to forgive us and to give us the grace we need to persevere, if we but ask.
In this season of the two Advents, as we contemplate the prophesied First Advent of the Messiah and as we eagerly await his Second Advent, let us not give in to despair, but hold on to the sure and certain hope that “it will get better.” In fact, with the coming of God’s Kingdom, it will get unimaginably better! With this in mind, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer later in this service, let us give particular emphasis to the words “thy kingdom come.” For only after God’s Kingdom has come and this generation has passed away, only after the Second Advent of the Messiah and the Day of Judgment, only then will this whole suffering world know justice and righteousness and peace.
© 2015 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.