The season of Advent begins this Sunday, and in church, we will be hearing a lot about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. This is, indeed, the case every year in our run up to the Christmas celebration. For most of us, these readings are hard to make sense of because, for most of us, the idea of the world ending in some spectacular, God-caused event and literally seeing Jesus returning, “coming on the clouds of heaven”, is one that simply doesn’t make sense to us. So what are we to make of these Advent readings?
For me, the biblical texts about the end of the world and the accompanying return of Christ is a biblically provided path into an overturning of our settled and ordered lives. We have a tendency to view the world in a rather static way, thinking that the patterns of life as we have come to know them are more or less permanent and the way life has always been. The apolcalyptic passages of the Bible can remind us that life is not, in fact, like this at all – that in truth, lives and worlds are collapsing and coming to new birth all of the time. When such apolcalyptic imagery views God as the agent of the “end times”, this is an emphatic affirmation that the impermanent nature of things, the tendency of things to collapse and for new things to arise, is the way life is supposed to be. Indeed, this impermanence is a sign of the truth that creation is not completed but is constantly in motion.
The references to the second coming of Christ, when viewed from this interpretive point of view, both challenge and assure. The challenge lies in the overtones of justice which always come with any biblical speculation about Christ’s return. This event is always imagined as a time when wrongs will be set right, when justice will prevail. For me, this serves as a reminder that as God’s work of creation continues on, as worlds collapse and new ones arise, there is at the heart of that process God’s constant call and desire that what arises will be more just than what has come before. We are challenged to be attentive to that call and that desire, to be agents in helping God to bring to birth a more just world.
The assurance that comes with this challenge, however, is the assurance that God in Christ is always on our side. That is, on the side of the whole human family. Throughout this whole on-going process of creation, throughout all the collapsing lives and worlds, throughout all the new lives and worlds that arise, Christ is constantly present, holding all of us in the love and compassion of God. And that makes the process itself, and the challenge to live more justly, something that we can meet with joy and hope rather than fear and despair.
At the end of Advent, of course, comes our celebration of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus in history and also of the longing of the Risen Christ to be born anew in our hearts. It is not a mistake that the time leading up to Christmas is abundant with apocalyptic images: for if Christ is truly to be born anew in each of us, there are things in our lives which must be overturned, aspects of ourselves and our personal worlds that must be allowed to collapse so that a truer self, a more compassionate self, a more just personal world may be born – out of which we may act more justly in the larger world we inhabit.
So I invite you to welcome the Advent overturning, that you might be more fully prepared this Christmas to allow the Christ to be re-born in your heart more fully and abundantly than ever.