Sunday, December 4, 2011

Preparation for Advent

At church this morning, the theme was Advent, the first and the second comings of Jesus Christ. The pastor talked about how the Jews yearned for deliverance and relief from God and waited hundreds of years for it, as we desire relief in the midst of our wilderness experiences. When John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, he urged the people to repent in preparation for what God was about to do. The pastor said that repentance is an unpopular word these days because we prefer to live as we choose, and yet we should repent in preparation for Christ’s second Advent, when Christ will bring forgiveness. In the children’s service, the pastor told his puppet Jake that Christ could come in our lifetimes, or a hundred years from now, or even five hundred years from now. We don’t know. But we should be ready for Christ’s return as we become clean of the things that displease him.

I’m not sure if I will ever be “ready” for Christ’s return, assuming that the second Advent will even happen. I’m me, with all my flaws, and I can’t just wave a magic wand and cleanse myself from them. This morning before church, though, I was thinking a little bit about repentance. I was in a “nobody loves me” sort of mood, and, when that happens, there is a temptation for me to become cold and callous towards the rest of the world, to think “Who cares if someone needs my help? People don’t even like me!” But I got a feeling that this was not the way to be. Granted, what is often defined as “God’s rules” appears to me to be a straitjacket (i.e., feel this, think that, don’t feel this, don’t think that, etc.). But, at the base, I believe that there is a moral standard beyond myself, and it requires me to love other people. How can I love a world that angers and rejects me (not that all of it does, but there have been days when I have felt that much of it does)? Perhaps prayer and trusting in God’s love for myself and others are ways.

I was also thinking about the second Advent before I went to church. The church that I attend now is the Presbyterian Church (USA), and it is not a church that focuses on the end times. But I grew up in and have attended churches that do have an eschatological, apocalyptic sort of focus. We expected for a dictator to arise who would persecute and kill God’s people, for example, and so we’d better be on God’s side in the midst of this or we’ll experience God’s wrath. Nowadays, it’s easy for me to ask why I should even believe that this will happen. Why worry about what a religion says about the future? How do I know that idea’s from God, or is merely a human opinion? Perhaps Jesus expected the Golden Age to come in the first century C.E., it didn’t, and so the church tried to explain that away (i.e., God is giving us time to repent, a day in God’s eyes is as a thousand years, etc.). Maybe the Book of Revelation is about what the church believed would occur in the first century, not a book that concerns our future. After all, Nero’s name and title add up to 666! Moreover, people have predicted the end numerous times and it has not happened yet. Why should I assume that it will happen?

But some of my relatives believe this world and its systems are so hopelessly corrupt that the only hope they have is in the second coming of Christ. I can sympathize with them, in a sense. I don’t agree with them that voting means I trust this world’s system rather than God, which entails that I will follow the Beast of Revelation 13 when he comes along. But I do recognize that there is evil and corruption and suffering in the world, and I hope that there will be a future that is more positive than our present.

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