We’re ready for Christmas. Oh we’ve got gifts to buy. There’s a house to decorate, parties to throw, and cards to send. So we still have lots to do before the big day arrives. But I had something else in mind when I said that we’re ready.
The past year and a half has felt like a decade. At least. We’ve been anxious, lonely, angry, and weary. Pandemic exhaustion is a thing. We’re tired from political conflict, racial reckoning, climate disasters, and economic uncertainty.
The persistent sense of impending doom has made life feel at once fragile and heavy. We need more than just a long nap. We could use a break. An existential, soul-renewing break.
That’s what Christmas promises. Things are going to be okay. All will be well.
Strange as it may seem, this is why the Church begins the Advent season with a reminder of the Second Coming. Unfortunately, many of us assume that the Second Coming can be distilled into this simple phrase: the end is near.
This sounds like a warning. A big calamity is on its way. Terrible things will happen. Those disasters will be a sign that the final reckoning is just around the bend. God will judge the wicked. So clean up your act while there’s still time. And if you’re not on the naughty list, you can rest assured that this will all be over soon.
But the message is something else entirely. God is near. We can get through this together. No matter what. That’s been Jesus’s message from the moment of his birth straight through to his resurrection.
We don’t have to go back in time to Bethlehem to imagine that God was once near. Neither do we have to wait around for God to finally come down and clean up this mess. God is near. Now. Always. Healing and reconciling. Making things new.
What’s missing is our awareness of God’s redeeming presence.
Strictly speaking, Jesus deserves some of the blame for our confusion. I mean, he did tell his friends that scary, rotten stuff would happen. And then we would see the Son of Man descending in a cloud. (Luke 21:25-36)
Worse yet, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.” (Luke 21:32) Did you get that? “This generation.” Tons of readers have taken him to mean that his contemporaries would see him come again and make things right once and for all.
Well, it’s been about 2000 years now. That generation has passed away. And the next one and the next one. Things are just as messy as they’ve ever been.
If we’ve been assuming that the Second Coming is all about Jesus making life tidy and stress-free, it’s no wonder that plenty of us only vaguely acknowledge that Jesus will come again eventually. And since that “eventually” is so delayed, it sort of feels like “never.”
Well try this on for size. When Jesus talks about “this generation,” he has in mind more than just the people in first century Palestine. He means each and every generation. You know, yours. The very one each of us inhabits. Boomers, Gen X, Millenials, and Gen Z.
Life is not going to be smooth sailing for any of us. On the contrary, terrible and scary things happen no matter who you are or when you live. We will know wonder and tragedy. If life is going to be worth living, we will need to learn to sing in sun and rain alike.
The key, says Jesus, is to stay alert. Watch. Wait. He doesn’t mean by this that God is around the bend and will show up at some as yet undetermined moment. No. God is not missing. God is in our midst. Here. Now.
What is missing is our awareness. To be ready for Christmas is to be aware. To be ready to hear and to respond to the life-changing, life-defining question posed by God to you and to me. The very question asked of Mary two thousand years ago. Will you bring Jesus into this world?
The lesson of the Second Coming is to be ready in our ordinary, every day lives to say yes. To say yes to bringing God’s love, God’s justice, God’s forgiveness, God’s healing into this world. To be always ready for Christmas.