Shuck and Jive

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Second Coming

From the December newsletter:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
We are in the season of Advent. Advent means coming. This season is one of expectation, longing, anticipation, preparation…hope. For what are we hoping?

Advent anticipates the birth of Jesus and the “second coming” of Jesus. Because popular Christianity has viewed the second coming of Jesus in a superstitious fashion complete with timetables and expectations of “the rapture” and so forth, many of us shy away from this metaphor altogether.

I think the metaphor of Jesus’ return is powerful in a positive way. It captures the feeling that we are not yet what we could be. We are still captive as the Advent carol says, to “our fears and sins.” We have not discovered peace within our own skin. Our civilization is not living in a sustainable way. We take from Earth more than we return. The gap between wealthy and poor is increasing and the number of the poor is increasing. The human impact on Earth is causing the extinction of plant and animal species at rate faster than Earth has known in over 60 million years.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Brief Statement of Faith puts it succinctly:

Ignoring God's commandments,
we violate the image of God in others and ourselves,
accept lies as truth,
exploit neighbor and nature,
and threaten death to the planet entrusted to our care.
There is room for improvement.

Not only are we “not yet” as a species, we are “not yet” as individuals. Again, quoting the carol, we long to “find our rest in thee.” We are not at peace within our skin. The Buddha recognized this long ago when he showed us that the cause of
dukkha (unrest) is our insatiability.

What might it mean for Jesus to return? The return of Jesus is a powerful symbol of finding rest, peace, justice, and balance in our personal lives and in our interconnectedness with Earth. To sing, “come thou long expected Jesus” is to sing with the expectation of fulfillment for balance and peace.

When will Jesus return?

Today, if we are willing to give birth. If we are willing like Mary when told by the angel that she was to give birth to Jesus, to say:

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
To be open to the creativity of the Universe, to allow ourselves space to be at peace right now in the midst of life as it is, is what I think it means for Jesus to return.

There is another part of it. To anticipate the return of Jesus is to anticipate an expansion of consciousness or awareness. It is as Joanna Macy calls it, “The Great Turning.”

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world-we've actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.
For what are we hoping?

Articulating our hopes is a task for Advent. For what do you hope in your personal life and in our collective life as a human species? When the not yet becomes now what does the now look like? The world is turning or to use Christian terms, Jesus is returning. How might we prepare for that reality today?

Come, Lord Jesus!


  1. Thanks to Doug King at Witherspoon for posting my piece over there. You will find other great resources of Advent there as well.

  2. I appreciate using the second-coming as metaphor in this way. I would make it even stronger by talking about "incarnation" in the same context. But "incarnation" as taking on the work of distributive justice-compassion, not just pious promises to be nice -- which is how singing about "be born in us today" is often interpreted.

    We need to realize how difficult it is to actually live the metaphor -- example from the comments in the "sarcasm" thread below, where poor people were roasting endangered birds because they had nothing else to eat.

    The layers of injustice are like an onion. Peeling them back takes dedication, surrender, hope, and faith -- "faith" meaning knowing we are making a difference in the face of no evidence that we are.

  3. John - I really connect to what you are saying here. I wrote a reflection with a similar spirit on my blog (the post is called Holy Waiting at my blog Grace Rules) because as I approach Advent this year I am thinking about the birth of Jesus, what it represented and how that translates into something relevant for the present day. I see the birth of Christ representing a new way of life and so that is what I am waiting for this Advent - it is very connected to the idea of "the Kingdom of God is at hand". It's not fully here and yet it dwells among us and we see glimpses of it all the time.
    Here is the poem I wrote to go along with my post:

    Holy Waiting
    by Liz Dyer




    For the dawn

    Of light full blown

    To grow inside us.

    A rebirth of love

    Beginning again and again

    Life anew

    With a promise in our heart

    Of coming celebration