The phrase stuck with me out of Sunday morning’s sermon – “the trajectory of Christianity.” So too did the lectionary passage read for the day – Matthew 24:36-44. Those who follow the lectionary constantly encounter the juxtaposition between advent – the coming of Christ, God with us in the flesh – and the second (or more properly the return of Christ in His final coming). In Christian thinking the two are linked. Advent is theologically yoked to the return of Christ and the consumption of human history.
I must confess that I am uncomfortable with this. I struggle with its implications for faith, witness and proclamation. Yet this insistence is built into the most basic affirmation we make in the communion liturgy. At the culmination of the “Great Thanksgiving” is the adamant confession: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.”
As I wrestle with the why of this affirmation amid my Advent preparations, in the reflective moments of my quiet and contemplation, the risen Lord speaks to me again. When I am caught in despair with what appears to be the downward spiral of people and things I hold dear, the Lord God is in charge working into the greatness of a divine culmination that I in my best moments cannot fully see and only dimly comprehend. That which is dying – nature, the church, people! etc. – is being reborn. Christ shall return in glory and triumph. This whole hurting world and all of us in it will be surprised in hope and joy. The Lord whisperers to me in my doubt and timidity of faith of the Lord’s triumphant glory “on earth as it is in heaven.” This strange almost bizarre connection between the birth of Christ and the return of Christ offers incredible hope in the trials of the present! My faith is tested here as the Lord leans over and says, “trust me, trust me, I know what I am doing!”
Unlike other religions, the Christian faith is not cyclical. We live in a linear faith with a destination in mind – the Kingdom of God under the rule and reign of Christ. This is not something to be meekly spiritualized nor should it be lightly slid over as unimportant. Rather the preaching of this season, the songs of hope and faith, are distant calls to a triumphant culmination that offers us a profound, deeply profound, hope that triumphs over sin and death, cruelty and injustice. We assert such a truth when we affirm in the Apostles Creed “from thence he shall come to judge the quick [living] and the dead.” Karl Barth reminds us: “In the biblical world of thought, the judge is not primarily the one who rewards some and punishes others; he is the man who creates order and restores what has been destroyed” (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, pp. 134-135; taken from Give them Christ, by Stephen Seamands, p. 172).
The trajectory of Christianity is a hope-based, joy-filled triumph for all! We close Sunday worship with a great old hymn whose 5th verse directs our preparation for both the Savior’s birth and for His final return in glory!
Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.
(“People, Look East” written by Eleanor Farjeon)