Merry Christmas! It’s still Christmastide, and I hope you are still living in the Christmas spirit, even if the culture around us has already moved on. In this Christmastide, I’m pondering a recent conversation about the second coming of Christ. After all, Christmas has come, but Christ still has not come again.
The conversation came about in response to a Daily Bread reflection I wrote for the first day of Advent. In that reflection, I shared how the church has made Advent into a season of living the paradox between remembering and celebrating the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and also awaiting the second coming of Christ at an unknown future date. A deacon at St. Philip’s asked me what I thought of the idea of the second coming, and the conversation unfolded in ways that were surprising to me. I realized there was more to ponder here—and you are the lucky recipients of some of that prayer and reflection. After all, we’re still waiting.
The question I have is this: Should we still be waiting? The idea of the second coming arose in the early days of Christianity, amongst followers of Jesus who wanted him to return as a triumphal Messiah and, in essence, “finish the job.” They wanted a triumphal Christ to overthrow Roman oppression and inaugurate the Reign of God on earth.
But what if, as many Christians today believe, that Reign of God is already unfolding, here and now? What if the idea of a physical second coming is as outdated and culturally bound as, say, the acceptance of slavery in the gospels? What if we are still wanting God to rescue us from oppression, rather than working for cultural change ourselves (as the French and American revolutions proved was possible)? What if the Holy Spirit keeps moving us forward, as faith communities, cultures, and a species, and we need to leave the rescue language behind?
As I mentioned last week, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be our advocate and helper. I believe that Spirit invites and supports us in this task of inaugurating the Reign of God here on earth, right now. We do it when we welcome others as Christ, when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when we work for change so that our sinful systems and institutions are slowly transformed into the likeness of Christ?
This isn’t an easy road, so it may be hard to swallow. There will be (and currently is) pushback from the powerful who benefit from keeping sinful systems and institutions as they are. But if we are called, by the Holy Spirit, to bring the spirit of Christ into every aspect of life on earth, then we are to act anyway, regardless of the consequences—as Jesus did.
This is not about works righteousness. I’m not saying that our salvation is dependent on this work. Instead, I believe that, if we are already loved by God and saved by God’s grace—which we are—then our response should be to love and serve—and save—others.
So, I ask you: Should we still be waiting for the second coming of Christ?