An Eschatological Advent
This Advent I’ve thought about the usual theme for Advent – the second coming of Jesus – more than usual. It’s probably because of the Daily Common Lectionary plan I’m subscribed to (shameless plug).
Growing up I was always told that Advent is about remembering Jesus’ incarnation but even more about about preparing for his second coming. In that church, we didn’t really talk much about Jesus’ second coming, or the parousia to use the biblical term. There were occasional hints that the pastor probably did believe in the Rapture, although I also remember some suggestions that it was not pre-tribulation so not escapist Left Behind theology. Even in seminary, when we had to drop a topic in systematic theology because of a snow day, we unanimously chose to drop eschatology. My general assessment was that it was not the most important topic.
In some ways I still think that way, but there is one big point I’ve come back to whenever I think of eschatology. To use Brian McLaren’s terminology, it is the idea of a 3 dimensional eschatology, that is to say that what we believe about the end point for the world affects how we live now and therefore what will be the end point of the world.
In a “Social Justice in the Bible” course I audited at McMaster Divinity last year, I was surprised to see an entire week’s topic was early church eschatology. Once we started looking, though, it was clear that this was in play for them. They deemed their justice work in part through the lens of preparing the way of the Lord.
For example, we could look at Matthew 25 where Jesus identifies himself as like a shepherd dividing sheep and goats. That text is in more strictly judgement terms, with the deciding factor being how you treated those with less societal privilege than you, which has something to do with eschatology no matter how we frame the idea of God’s justice. I would move toward a restorative view of God’s justice rather than simply retributive based on the criteria given, in part because of other texts that point beyond that judgement to the end goal.
Revelation 21 puts that end goal this way:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.” He also said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “All is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will freely give water from the life-giving spring.7 Those who emerge victorious will inherit these things. I will be their God, and they will be my sons and daughters. (vv 1-7 CEB)
2 Peter summarizes it this way:
But God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where justice will rule. We are really looking forward to that! (2 Peter 3:13 CEV)
I don’t really know what the parousia will look like, not in the kind of detail that we usually want. I do know that it will usher in a new heaven and a new earth. I do know that all will be made new. Not only will there be restoration of humanity but even of the animal kingdom and the natural order. I do know that this new creation is beautiful and just, with no more death, no more mourning and no more pain. Like Peter, I am really looking forward to that, which encourages me to want to live into this new reality now. That is what Advent is meaning to me this year.