I am typically reluctant to talk about the second coming, that moment when Jesus returns to earth to set everything right. I guess it could have something to do with the fact that I very often think that people that talk about the second coming are whackos. They conjure up images of driving around in RVs and carrying signs. They often have a complex set of calculations that tell them when the world will come to an end. This line of thought also seems to attract bad haircuts, something I never want to be associated with.
However, if we are to take the Bible at its word, I believe that Jesus is coming back again. I don’t claim to understand everything about that climactic moment in time and I most assuredly don’t know when it will happen, but I do know a few things. First, no one knows when it will happen (Matthew 24:44). Second, while I don’t know the exact means or sequence of events, I know that the grand finale to all of this is that Jesus is victorious and that the entire earth is put under the rule and reign of God (Revelation 21-22). Finally, I know that this end of time event is inexorably connected with the event of Christmas.
The Third Advent
We tend to think of Christmas as a unique, singular event, but consider this: Christmas was the second time that humans and God shared the earth. Remember, at creation, God and humans walked in the garden together and everything was as it should be. At the end of time, God and humans will live together and everything will be as it should be. Christmas is the middle coming of God to earth. At Christmas we like to think and sing of “Emmanuel” or “God with Us,” but maybe we should be thinking of it as God with us again or perhaps as God was with us to remind us that he will be here again. Christmas is the middle of three interactions between the earth and the Divine.
The Beginning of the End of the Beginning
One of the ideas that I love the most in the Bible is the now/not yet aspect of what Jesus did on earth. Simply put, Jesus won at the resurrection, but the battle is not over. All of the promised things we hold to, the Kingdom of God, peace on earth, the defeat of death, eternal life, etc. (and that is a very big and awesome etcetera), those things all came into being at the resurrection. The resurrection created them. Jesus - 1 evil - 0. They all were finalized in that moment, but we don’t experience them yet. Think of it as an elected leader, they are inaugurated, but don’t take office until later. The time between when Jesus came at Christmas and when Jesus will come again is like the time between the inauguration and when he takes up office and residence on earth. We are living in this period.
So, Christmas was the beginning of the end which leads to the beginning which will lead to the end which we know is only the beginning. Let’s try that sentence again. So, Christmas was the beginning (birth of Christ) of the end (death of Christ) which leads to the beginning (resurrection and inauguration of the Kingdom of God) which will lead to the end (end of time/return of Jesus) which we know is only the beginning (eternity with God).
Ok, so this is an interesting, if convoluted, thought, but what does it mean about Christmas?
1. Christmas is not an end unto itself.
Christmas is not an event to be celebrated as a conclusion, but the middle of a great book. To say this, I do not think that it takes anything away from Christmas. In fact, it adds to it eternity-fold. Christmas shifts from being a day we celebrate when something really cool happened, to a day when we remember that something infinitely better is coming. So this year, instead of praying to “sweet little baby Jesus in his crib,” why not thank the loving, conquering king for being born on earth and for coming again? Sit your kids down on Christmas day after all of the presents, candy, and chaos and say, “Wasn’t that fun? One day Jesus is coming back and it will be better than the best Christmas you could ever imagine!”
2. The second coming may not look like we expect.
One of the things we churchy-types love to do at Christmas is some ancient-Israelite bashing. We love to talk about how silly they are for missing that the Messiah is right there in front of their faces. In honor of Christmas, I want to take a moment and give them a little grace. Prophecy is hard. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God coming to fruition almost exclusively in metaphor and don’t even get me started on Revelation. I just hope some of that is not metaphor because it sounds pretty interesting. All in all, I think we should prepare to be surprised and we should keep a careful, open-minded eye out looking for it. In fact, that is what Jesus tells us to do (Matthew 24). Maybe that is why we love surprises at Christmas.
3. We should look forward to when Jesus returns.
We tend to fear the second coming. It is partly because of Hollywood and partly because from Daniel to Revelation, there are some pretty terrifying images. However, if you follow Christ, there is no reason to worry. Jesus says this multiple times, but one of my favorites is when he is talking to his disciples and he says, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). So don’t let Christmas only be the wrap party for an event that happened 2000 years ago; let it be the pre-party, the warm-up for the ultimate party at the end of time and the beginning of eternity.