Sunday 28 November 2021: Advent 1
Second Coming? Where? When?
Context: a gathered international English-speaking fellowship, based in an historic church in Geneva, which is intelligent, thoughtful, articulate and can sniff out baloney at 50 metres
Aim: to invite consideration of the possibility that the Coming of Christ is not simply something to anticipate; but something to make real, now!
I’m not holding my breath for the Second Coming!
I’d happily be wrong …
but I don’t think the world will end
a week next Tuesday.
Or in my lifetime.
Or probably yours.
Whatever Jesus was saying
in the apocalyptic vision Luke borrows from Mark
he is probably not wanting to kick-start
a thousand conspiracy theories
and countless weird, end-of-the Age cults.
For again and again he has reminded
that it all starts here.
With them … in them.
Every Monday morning
we embrace the coming of the Kingdom of God;
we seek the coming of the Kingdom of God;
we pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God!
In the church –
it’s terrifyingly easy to talk
in pious generalities:
to speak, gloriously, of some
ill-defined coming ‘Kingdom of God’ –
to advocate some high-minded idealistic principle –
without ever checking
what the pursuit of that fine principle
Within the longing of the Lord’s prayer
‘Your Kingdom come,’
we’re forced to see that fine words and lofty idealism
need to be earthed in costly realism;
or they are simply degraded into being
nothing more than empty religious clichés.
The man who said:
‘I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand’
sort of sums up the dilemma.
Any genuine ‘looking for the Kingdom of God’
needs to be cashed out
in all the little decisions,
all the small choices,
that the Christian encounters
Madame Gironde, trundling in her tumbril,
on her way to the guillotine,
during the French Revolution,
looks out on the bloodthirsty crowd,
baying like wolves for her death, and cries:
‘Ah, Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!’
And she reminds us what happens when,
even the highest ideals,
cut loose from everyday basic morality,
become dangerous things.
The villages burn.
Terror is granted the status of
‘a legitimate weapon of the war.’
‘The bomb in the baby-carriage is wired to the radio.’
As long as ‘the dream’ is being pursued –
whether that dream is
independence, freedom, Democracy
then, the small print, the little agonies,
the nice, and not so nice,
details of humanity and morality, can be bypassed.
That convenient spin on morality
has no place in ‘the Coming of the Son of Man,’
for which we long:
that is realised
in all the small victories over self:
every instance when
love overcomes fear:
where self-sacrifice supplants the more traditional pattern
of looking after number one
or where a broken relationship is put right.
There’s where we discover the presence of the Kingdom!
This keeps the focus sharp –
and stops the Christian going off on some
self-indulgent theological trip –
cut loose from the real world,
head in the clouds of pure ideas.
It keeps us in the here and now of each day –
with its encounters and its connections.
For unless the Son of Man is present here and now,
in this most practical of contexts,
there is no Kingdom of God.
His Kingdom is not an abstract shimmering mirage –
some vague entity we look for
or wait for impatiently:
but, rather, it is the quite
and unforgivingly specific
rule of God in the lives of his people.
It has to be real in my heart
and in your heart –
or else hypocrisy becomes
the name of the game.
And we recognise that
this idealised picture is realised, made actual –
only as God’s will is done
in the lives of men and women,
and as his Spirit is welcomed into real people’s stories
to breathe healing and mercy
and build new relationships.
The Coming of the Son of Man …
a manifesto for a new world!
But, that world remains just a dream
as long as we hang back –
hedge our bets,
refuse to feel the sharpness of the vision:
waiting for it
but not really meaning it
Like St. Augustine with his famous prayer:
‘Give me chastity – but not yet!’
we say ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’
but out there –
in someone else’s changed life – not mine.
‘Your will be done
in some non-specific way –
but one that leaves
my life essentially undisturbed.’
Come Lord Jesus but …
over there – at several removes from my story.
Establish your authority
But I would prefer to be left alone, thanks all the same.
To wait for the Coming of Christ
a deliberate opting for his presence
in our life
in our experience.
Otherwise, it’s just words.
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