He will come back !

Do you find yourself sometimes saying the responses during our services without actually thinking about what they mean?

(Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to put your hands up if you agree with this statement!)

Ok, here’s a response will we be saying shortly:

“Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ will come again.”

“Christ will come again.” Think about that for a moment.

And here’s a statement from the Creed:

“He will come again in glory, to judge both the living and the dead.”

And from today’s Collect “O Lord, raise up we pray, your power and come among us….”

When we respond to the prayer at the lighting of the Advent wreath, we say “Come, Lord Jesus”

And in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he refers to “The day of Jesus Christ” not once but twice.

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

and later:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless

This morning I want us to reflect on these phrase, “The Day of Christ” and “the Second Coming of Christ.” St. Paul refers to the “Second Coming” often. It’s important that we understand what he meant and it doesn’t mean.

Thinking about Christ coming again is something we don’t do very often.

What I don’t think it means is “the end of days” and a time of punishment.

There are some churches who peddle a message of destruction and judgment, those who are in and those who are out. To me this is not a gospel message because it doesn’t contain much good news. And it seems completely foreign to the loving Jesus who told the parable of the Prodigal Son and spurred on by compassion, undertook miracles. It is completely contrary to Jesus who said: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

In the words of the theologian and former Bishop of Durham Nicholas Wright, this belief in rapture is a “highly distorted interpretation” of what the Second Coming as described by St. Paul, is.

It is St. Paul who has told us that Jesus will return. So what might he mean and what does his prayer for the Philippians mean for us today.

First, we need to dissect a Greek word parousia which crops up a lot in Paul’s writings. It has been mistakenly translated as “coming” but the literal translation is “presence.”

In the time of Jesus, parousia was used in two ways.

First, when describing a sense of the mystery of the divine – a sense of the divine presence, particularly when the power of a god was manifested in healing.

Its second meaning relates to the arrival of a very senior dignitary. So when an emperor or senior member of the Empire made a visit to a colony, when they were there, they are there not by reputation, but by their physical royal presence. OK, they had come but to translate this as “coming” is mistaken. And note, there is no hint of destruction or imminent collapse.

What we are talking about with the “Second Coming” is Jesus, this most royal of persons, the true Lord and emperor rather than Caesar, being fully present, not just in the form of the Holy Spirit, or in the Eucharist, but being fully present in physical form and when that happens, the transformation of the world will be complete. “Thy will be being done on Earth as in Heaven.” –  in the words of NT Wright, “two worlds integrated completely and  fully visible to each other.”

What form might this radical healing take?

Malachi uses the simile of “like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” But in today’s world, maybe anti-virus software might be a better analogy, that whatever is wrong with the world will be cleaned up.

It is a paradox of Advent that as we prepare to celebrate God coming to earth in human form in the person of Jesus, we are also directed to consider Christ’s second coming. So much of our emphasis is on celebrating that Christ was born 2000 years ago.  

Advent reminds us that we dwell in this “in-between era” an era that is “already,” given Christ’s resurrection, with all the joy that this has released. But it is also a time of “not yet” as we await the second coming or “the Day of Jesus” as Paul describes it.

So let’s try to pull together what St. Paul is saying.

First, regarding the “not yet” era which is to come, do not be fearful of it. Do not be fearful of the Second Coming. Rather look forward to it, a time when all that is wrong will be put right..

Second, regarding our current “already” era, Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is also our prayer for the United Benefice.  That as we play our part in the coalescing of Heaven and Earth, bring about the amalgamation of the two in our daily lives, that we may abound in love for each other, and grow in knowledge and insight, that our love and church is one that values individuals –that reflects our membership of Inclusive Church, a love that is joyful in the Lord with our emphasis on the word and singing. We also desire insight and knowledge. We undertake this in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement, holding events such as our study courses and during Lent, our series of “Why me?” talks.

Shared encouragement founded on the Gospel is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on each other.

Shared encouragement. Let us put it at the forefront of our Advent prayers and celebration.