A lot of us got a bit of a shock last Sunday. Actually it happens on the first Sunday of Advent every year. We show up ready to get ready for the Babe in the manger, and what do we get?
The Gospel readings for Advent 1 in the Revised Common Lectionary sort of back their way toward Christmas. Advent 1 starts now, in our present day, looking forward to the end of time. It is Advent and we are thinking about Jesus coming — but we start by thinking of the next time he comes.
We’ll get to Bethlehem eventually, but it takes some spiritual effort to bring our attention that far back in time.
The Heidelberg Catechism has zippo to say about Advent, but it does draw our attention to the second coming of Christ. (I’m reflecting on this widely used and much-loved Reformed summary of biblical teaching this Advent, as I have been doing throughout 2013, its 450th anniversary year.)
Here is how the Catechism frames the question.:
52 Q. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?
Notice that this is not about scaring you into good behavior with threats of being left behind. This is about “comfort.” It doesn’t hang great tribulations over your head, any more than it threatens someone is making a list of who’s been naughty or nice.
As Christians we start with the confidence that Christ is always good news for us. Of course the teaching of Christ’s second coming is intended to be a blessing.
I think it is quite beautiful, so I’ll quote the answer in full:
A. In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head, I confidently await
the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place
and removed the whole curse from me.
Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.
Here’s the key bit: The Christ who returns to judge has already settled the judgment for us.
Too often we slip into thinking nice Jesus was born and died for us, but now scary Jesus is going to return. No: It is the same Jesus in Bethlehem, on Calvary, and at the final judgment. So as we contemplate the great mystery of this world’s final chapter, even this is in the good hands of Jesus.
The Catechism assumes we are worried enough about salvation already. From the first question onward the point is to bring us, as the Christmas carol puts it,
“tidings of comfort and joy.”
This week may you take comfort that the one returning at the end of the age loves you more than you dare to imagine.
Watch. Be ready. Something very good is coming.
What do you think and feel when you read the Gospel passages about the second coming of Christ? I hope you’ll leave a comment by clicking here.
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