Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent, Week 1: Thursday

Recommended readings from the first Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Luke 21:25-28 "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (NRSV)
The return of Jesus promises to be the ultimate "big event." It depends on who Jesus is to me, whether I will experience his return with eagerness or with terror. And I don't mean how I understand heaven and hell, sin and punishment. I mean simply, how will it be for me to experience the phenomenon itself. Will I be "afraid, very afraid"? The signs will be awesome (in the old sense of the word). Will I recognize them for what they are? Will I be so familiar with Jesus that I will trust him "even so"?

I suppose none of us can really know the answer to that, but I do expect to swallow the very real human reaction of fear, in order to watch eagerly the coming of my Lord. I expect the signs his return to take me by surprise, because he told us clearly that none of us may know the exact time. But I also expect to recognize those signs. They don't have to be literally the same as the various examples we're given in the apocalyptic passages of Scripture; apocalyptic is not meant to be taken literally. But with the Holy Spirit's help, I will recognize the signs. I will recognize Jesus. I will recognize the long-promised redemption of God in its fullness.

Meanwhile, there is Kingdom work to do. That's why I expect to be surprised when the signs present themselves. Being busy about God's task means I don't have the idle luxury of time to spend on fruitless calculations of days and hours, or literal would-be interpretations of figurative passages. Study, yes, but not for the sake of "cracking the code." I'm called to study for the sake of knowing God better through knowing the words of God found in the Scriptures. By learning with this as my goal, I will be better equipped to work ever more faithfully in my Lord's coming Kingdom.

Come, Lord Jesus, and by your help may I be found faithful upon your return.

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