We have just entered the time of year that the Christian church calls the season of Advent. It begins on the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day and ends on Christmas Eve. For many people, including Christians, it is merely a time to get ready for and do some early celebrating of Christmas. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, that’s not the real purpose of Advent. The real purpose of the Advent season is not to look back to the birth of Jesus, but to look ahead with hope to the time when a powerful but loving Jesus will return to fully establish the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
There are various passages of the Bible which suggest how this “second coming of Jesus” will take place. And down through the ages a lot of people, including Christians, have announced that they had it all figured out as to just how, when, and where this will all take place. The interesting thing is that all of their predictions have been wrong. As for me, even though I’ll be 72 years old in a few weeks, studied the Bible for almost 45 years, graduated from seminary, and served as a United Methodist pastor for 22 years, I really have no idea exactly how, when, or where this “second coming” is going to take place. I do know that Jesus said that it’s not for us to know the time. In fact, He says that even He, in His human form, doesn’t know the time. Only God knows. And that’s ok with me.
I also know that Jesus said we are to spend our time getting ready for His coming. And I understand that as an invitation to participate with God as He continues to work in the present and future to fully develop the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, which will ultimately and eternally be completed and ruled by Jesus when He does return – whenever, wherever, however.
As far as I’m concerned, the question of when, where, and how Jesus will return doesn’t matter. Trying to answer that question is a waste of time. What does matter is what will be the results of His return. To put it another way, in broad terms, what will this kingdom be like? The good news here is that the Bible is filled with very essential insight and vision as to the nature of this kingdom. For example, we can read the God inspired messages of the prophets, first spoken and then written, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. One such example can be found in the Biblical Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 2:2-5). These words provide me with a vision of the kingdom which looks like this::
* God is going to be exalted. In other words, God is finally going to get some respect
* Many people from all nations will come to God to learn how God wants us all to live
* The people will take God’s word with them and proclaim it to the world.
* Disputes betweeen nations and people will be arbitrated by God.
* The result of all this will be peace. Not just peace in the form of the absence of violence and war, but shalom, where all persons care about and provide for the well-being of all others, and there is no reason for anyone to fear anyone or anything. There will e nothing but love in it’s ultimate form.
* One more thing. After offering God’s vision of peace, Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! ” It seems to me he is saying that while God can accomplish all of this without any help from human beings, He invites us to participate with Him in fully esablishing His universal and eternal kingdom, as we also wait for Jesus to come again and complete the work.
I must admit that the idea that there will one day be universal and eternal peace, as described by Isaiah and others, will ever become a reality. In order to believe that, I have to first believe that God not only exists, but has the power to intervene directly in human history to assure that at the right time in history, this plan will be fulfilled. And that is what I do believe, however impossible it seems.
I believe because I hear God speaking to me through the Bible. I believe because I hear God speaking to me through the spoken and written words of other people. I believe because I sense the breath of the Holy Spirit speaking to my spirit. I also believe because God has given me evidence that He has been and is moving the universe in the direction of total and universal peace. The kind of evidence that the law courts call a “preponderance of evidence”. Evidence which is “beyond a reasonable doubt”. And God has made that evidence available not only to me, but to anyone who will bother to take the time to look for it. Here are some historical examples of the kind of evidence I’m talking about.
* In the 15th and 16th centuries no one believed that Protestants and Catholics, who were intent of killing each other, could ever live in peace. But I am just one of many Protestant pastors who have preached in Catholic churches, and the Protestant churches I have served have been among many who have invited Catholic priests to preach in their sanctuaries.
* In the 18th and 19th centuries no one believed that France and England and other Western European nations could ever live in peace. But now those nations live peacefully with each other. Most have joined together in the European Union, making it possible for people of any of those nations to travel and ship goods between them, just as easily as people and goods can move from one state to another in the United States of America.
* During most of the 20th century no one believed that legal racial segregation in parts of the United States would ever end, but today the laws that provided for this no longer exist, and we now have a black president of the United States.
The list of evidence that God has been developing peace in the world could go on and on, starting at the beginning of recorded history right up to the present. Therefore I have hope and faith that it will continue until that time, which only God knows, will be fulfilled.
The Advent season is a time to get ready to celebrate Christmas. But more important is that Advent is a time to renew, strengthen, or even begin to have hope and faith in God’s ability to continue to fully establish a world of universal, total, and eternal peace through Jesus. Advent is also a time to ask yourself if you are ready, willing, and able to accept God’s invitation to proclaim and work with Him toward fulfillment of the vision that He has provided. Of course, you can do that anytime, but Patty and I invite you to join us in that endeavor during this season of Advent.
Grace and peace,
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.