We are Conduits of Christ’s Second Coming

You all haven’t known me too long, but for anyone who knows me relatively well, they know I love the holiday season, and this love (and some would say over excitement or obsession) was the topic of conversation among my family this past Thursday when we gathered together for Thanksgiving.

Every year they think it is so funny how wrapped up and narrow focused I get around the holidays. “It’s so weird that you strictly only listen to holiday music from here until Christmas.” “Can’t you talk about anything other than how this year is definitely the prettiest tree you’ve ever had?”(side note: I’m putting my tree up tomorrow and I have a feeling that this year’s tree is going to be the prettiest) and then the conversation always evolves into sharing the infamous story of how, during a family vacation to NYC over Thanksgiving while on a ferry boat ride back from the Statue of Liberty, I was so taken by the beauty of a Christmas tree on Ellis Island that once the boat docked, I was the first off the boat to get an up close view of the gorgeous tree. All this would have been fine if my family had also planned to get off the boat, BUT I was so caught up—so distracted—by my obsession with everything Christmas (especially Christmas trees), that I failed to be alert to fact that my family not only did not get off the boat, but the boat had undocked and was making its way back to lower Manhattan by the time I even slightly realized something was a little off. I was 8 years old at the time and not much has changed has since.

It is easy, and dare I say natural to get swept up in the magic of this holiday season, but during the season of Advent, we are reminded to be alert in the face of distraction. With all the shopping, decorating, and parties that can easily take our attention, it is no mistake that the Advent season occurs during one of the most chaotic and busy times of the year. It is specifically during this time of year that we hear Advent stories designed to make us reflect on how we are currently living our lives and inviting us to reorient ourselves to the incarnate one who is about come.

The underlying theme of our readings this week is that they all take place during times of extreme chaos. Isaiah was written during a time of intense war, when Judah’s future is uncertain and so was the fate of its people. And in Matthew, this passage comes with a sense of urgency, just before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his impending death. These are stories within the context of unthinkable suffering and fear, but that is not the message we are hearing this morning. Instead, we hear stories of hope, love, and encouragement.

For Isaiah’s audience, their hope came from hearing the promise of war ceasing, where “swords would be turned into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks…where nations would not learn war anymore.” And in Matthew, we hear him give his audience a dramatic account of the coming of Son of Man, what some consider the “second-coming,” when Jesus will finally take up the faithful and righteous and bring them into God’s heavenly Kingdom for their good works. For the audiences Isaiah and Matthew, these visions were viewed as something external—something that God would do to change the world from the outside in. Theses were extreme times and these audiences assumed that these extreme answers made sense. But since we have yet to see swords turn into plowshares—war most certainly has not ceased—and Christ’s “elect” be taken away while others are left behind, I believe the God of today works less externally and more internally.

To use the notion of writer Henri Nouwen, we believe in a God that is not only exterior, but a God that is also interior. “In the Exodus,” Nouwen wrote, “God is revealed as a God-for-us, guiding God’s people out of our slavery. For the audience of the Gospels, in the story of Jesus of Nazareth, God is revealed as God-with-us, journeying with the people of 1st century Palestine with solidarity and compassion. But now, after Christ’s death, rising again, and gift of the Spirit to us, God is revealed as a God-within-us, a God who enables us to breathe the divine life ourselves.”

I don’t know when, or if, the official “second coming” or some say the “rapture” is going to happen. But, knowing that Christ’s Spirit resides in all of us—that every time we are Christlike, in a very real way Jesus comes again in our present day. I believe the real second coming happened in the resurrection and continues to happen as the risen Christ breaks into our lives in the present—in every moment and experience of forgiveness, reconciliation, and connection…every time we gather at this table and every time we see our neighbor as a child of God.
At our best, when we let the Christ inside us show forth in the world, we are the conduits of God’s life-giving and saving power. One theologian says that, “the time of confusion, misunderstanding, unbelief, and fear is over. God is no longer an outsider, or an unpredictable guide…God is the Spirit of the risen Christ who lives within his disciples and fills them with new hope, courage, and confidence.”

But, along with the Christ that resides in us, we are also human, and especially during the chaotic times in our lives, it is easy to forget. Advent reminds us that no matter how hectic life gets, or how bad things seem to be, we can and are called to “keep awake.” We believe in a God that uses us to help Jesus come again into our world over and over, and this season is our time reconnect with that Good News. Matthew calls us to be alert and aware of what connects us with the hope, courage, and confidence to be Christ in this world—to make things new—to bring life. In a world full of fear, uncertainty, and need, the coming of Christ is just as much needed now than ever before.

As tempting as it is to get swept up in the magic and craziness of this season (it takes one to know one), find time to reconnect with the Christ that already resides in you, however that looks for you. But it starts with being alert and putting away the distractions of the day. This work matters—this work matters—because if we don’t believe in a literal rapture, where one is taken and one is left behind, then we have to believe in a God that needs our help usher in Christ’s coming again—to bring the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth then help.

We believe in a God that works through us (God help us), to manifest the day when swords are turned into plowshares and it will be peace, not war, that rules the day. What would this world look like if everyone saw themselves as an integral part of God’s yearning for us to have a better world? Each year when we hear stories of Christ’s “second coming” this is what we are reminded of—that through Christ’s Spirit our loving actions of kindness, forgiveness, understanding, and justice we help to usher in Christ’s coming into the world…even in the midst of chaos and distraction