Yesterday, I abruptly ended Part 1 of this Advent Adventure by suggesting that Advent might not happen to humanity all at once, sometime in the future of our collective story, but instead, speculated that Advent happens to each human separately, at the end of his or her individual story.
That might help shed light on what Jesus meant in Luke 21:32, when He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.’ He said that about 20 centuries ago, so from a literal, objective perspective, that generation and dozens more have passed away – and yet these things don’t seem to have taken place.
And for me, it also puts a new angle on 2 Peter 3:9, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’
And maybe no one knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return – as He said in Matthew 24:36 – simply because none of us knows when we will die.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that this non-literal view of Jesus’s second coming is a new idea. It’s pretty intuitive, and it’s actually a lot closer to the notion I had of Advent when I first came to Christ. Back then, I saw these prophecies as symbolic, metaphorical, or maybe allegorical. Probably not true, but definitely containing many truths.
But as I’ve become immersed in doctrine and study – and more importantly, come to experience Christ in a much more real, personal and powerful way – I came to regard this liturgical season much more seriously, and that seriousness manifested itself as literalness.
Now, though, I think it’s time for me to think a little more abstractly again – but with a slightly different emphasis. Not that the prophecies about the Second Coming are merely folklore or fables, but acknowledging in humility that interpreting prophecy is tricky business, and we shouldn’t assume that the most obvious reading of an ancient text is the only one worth paying attention to.
Not that I’m saying I’ve completely abandoned the literal interpretation of what the Bible says about the End Times. But I would say I’m starting to hold it a little more lightly.
Now, it’s probably worth noting that I’ve never been terribly fixated on the End Times anyway. I haven’t spent a lot of time on comparing biblical prophecies with today’s headlines, for example. Answering the question of whether World Event A is the fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy 3 or not doesn’t help me understand how to love more, equip me to serve better or give me a fuller knowledge of God, so I have trouble seeing the value in most End Times conversations.
Unfortunately, this recently renewed non-literal approach to these prophecies really bursts the bubble of those cathartic and therapeutic Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus Moments.
Like that sweet, sad scene in The Jerk when naive Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) realizes he’s a white person adopted by a black family: ‘You mean I’m gonna stay this color?!?’, I awakened to a similar duh-tastic moment of horrified clarity, ‘You mean Jesus probably isn’t gonna come back to fix all this?’
But if we can’t cling to the notion that Jesus is going to literally come to earth in power and glory to set all things right, what are we to do with these times that look so terribly bleak and hopeless that a visit from Cylons and Klingons starts to sound kind of appealing?
Maybe we rethink our definition of the word ‘literally’.
Could coming to terms with the idea that Christ isn’t coming back in bodily form to save this world from the frailty of humanity actually strengthen our resolve to let Him use us to save this world from the frailty of humanity?
Our humptydumptian efforts to put the world back together again do seem to be making things worse, not better. But what if we stopped trying to do it on our own steam? We want to use our strength to build a better world, but His power is made perfect in our weakness.
Maybe with God’s help, we’ll even learn how to stop fighting with our neighbors and get onto God’s business of fighting for our neighbors?
As Christian rock artist Matthew West sings in his recent hit Do Something …
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of people living in poverty
Children sold into slavery; the thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven, said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did. I created you!”
Building a little on what I talked about in The Game, maybe God does have eternity covered, for every person who ever lived. But maybe God delegates God’s work in the here and now to you and me.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, indeed.
Peace be with you.