ADVENT 1: YEARNING FOR CHRIST’S SECOND COMING
(Sermon at St. James Episcopal Church, 84-07 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY 11373 on Nov. 30, 2014.)
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word, Adventus, which means “coming.” At Advent, we are waiting for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I say “second” because He had already come 2,000 years ago. He has promised to come again.
What will happen when Christ comes again? Will he find the world a better place than when he first came? Or will he find the world, no different from when he found it in Bethlehem and Israel? Will he find more faith, more hope and more love among his people? Or will He find them no better than those who rejected him, spat upon him and crucified him?
And what about us, His Church? Do we yearn for His coming? Do we even think about it?
The gospel this morning (Mark 13:24-37) reminds us “to keep awake,”meaning to be mindful, because Christ may come at any moment.
Therefore keep awake, for you do not know when the Master of the house will come: in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake.
I very well remember during my student activist days. We were under martial law in the Philippines and we students would demonstrate by night and sleep by day. We would spend the whole night discussing about “the revolution,” planning our pickets, writing our manifestoes and printing our leaflets. Then we would go home by dawn and catch up on sleep. Fr. Porfirio dela Cruz, the priest who “adopted” me, woke me up one day and said, “Fred, if the revolution comes in the morning, you are going to miss it!”
During the time of the early Church, the Christians were very serious about the second coming. They were very mindful that when Christ comes again, He would find them better, wiser and holier. They repented of their sins, reformed their character and transformed their lives. They did not want Jesus to find that His sacrifice was in vain.
Although they were not numerous, their witness to the Christian faith was extraordinary. The quality of their lives and relationships made a huge impact in the world around them. Many communities were drawn to them, wondering what makes them behave that way. They were known as Christians by their love and they witness to their faith by their words and deeds.
And the power of God was manifest in their works. Miracles were performed, healings happened and they worshipped God with glad and generous hearts. They shared their wealth unselfishly to the effect that no one was in need. More than that, they yearned for the Lord’s coming? Their mantra was “Maranatha---Come Lord Jesus!” But why were they longing for the return of Jesus Christ?
First, it the second coming will mark the completion of our salvation. What does it mean? When Christ died on the cross, he paid the price for our sins. When he rose from the dead, He opened the way to eternal life. So when He comes again, this eternal life will be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven. John 6:39-54 says, ”Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” The word “last day” means the Day of His second coming.
Second, the second coming will mark the final solution to suffering. John 10:10 says “I come that you may have life and have abundantly.” But we know that up till today, so many people do not enjoy abundant life. Many people continue to suffer poverty, sickness and oppression. As you know, I will soon undergo radiation treatment for my prostate cancer. I am amazed that there are new technologies on this treatment. But I know that no matter how advance our medical science, there are still diseases that continue to plague us. After we’ve done with old viruses, new viruses tend to emerge. After HIV, SARS; after SARS, Ebola. Meanwhile, we thought we’re done with racism but lately, we see racism re-emerged in Ferguson and in other cities. Social injustice continues to be a problem. The coming of Christ again will mean the healing of all diseases, the end of calamities and the mending of all broken relationships.
Third, the coming of Christ again will mark the harmony of all creation. Romans 8:18-24 gives the image that “the whole creation has been groaning until now.” In other words, during calamities such as the tsunami, earthquakes and hurricanes that cause death and destruction, Nature also suffers. That is the reason why we must take care of the environment. But with the coming of Christ again, “the mountains and the hills shall break forth in singing and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). You see, even Mother Nature is excited about the second coming.
Finally, the coming of Christ will mark the completion of the Kingdom of God. When Jesus came 2,000 years ago, He inaugurated the Kingdom of God. This is revealed in the prayer He taught His disciples. This prayer, which we now call, the Lord’s Prayer says in part: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Does it mean, we don’t have to die in order to experience heaven? Yes, the Hebrew word “shalom” means not only the absence of war but the fullness of life. It is the Kingdom of peace, justice and righteousness. The prophet Isaiah envisions such Kingdom when he prophesied that “the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion will be together.” (Isaiah 11:6-7)
How can that be? In the world that we know the wolf destroys the lamb; the leopard eats the goat; and the lion ravages the cow. Isaiah further says, “The infant will play in the hole of the snakes, and the young child shall put his hand in the nest of the cobra.”
What? How can it ever happen? Only when the nature of the beast has been transformed; only when the earth that we know has changed because it has been transformed into a heaven. Isaiah finally said, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”