But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.-2 Peter 3:13
‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.” For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’-Luke 7:31-35Few things in Christian teaching are as confounding, easily misunderstood, abused by those who don't understand it, and mocked by those outside the faith than the promised return of Christ and the fulfillment of the work of the Kingdom begun with Jesus' resurrection from the dead. I am alternately amused and frustrated by the ways it is either denied or stretched to incoherence either by those who would prefer it no longer be part of Christian teaching, or those who, knowing little to nothing, make of it an enormous landscape filled with horrors for their pet hates all the while promising rescue for like-minded fellows.
I think I may well be one of the few self-professed liberal Christians who actually buys in to the whole idea. I don't know, maybe not. Yet, we Christians affirm that, Christ being raised from the dead inaugurates a new era, the time when the Kingdom of God both is and is not, Christ will return to make all things new, bringing the Kingdom of God to the new creation. When we United Methodists say, in our mission statement, that we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, it is this new reality of which we speak. We live between the times, in a well-worn phrase; between the resurrection and the final consummation when, as the reading from Peter's epistle tells us, creation will dissolve to be replaced by a new Kingdom of righteousness.
In between, however, far too many of us are like those described by Jesus. Recognizing that you can't lose for winning, Jesus makes clear that, like John the Baptist before him, he faces nonsensical criticism from those who, apparently, are far more interested in getting these same folks they publicly despise to endorse them and their work. Why do they say John the Baptist has a demon and Jesus is a drunkard and whore-monger? "We played the flute and you did not dance." In other words, the religious and political and social elites wanted some kind of endorsement for their efforts at piety. What they received was contempt or worse, apathy. So, they turned on John the Baptist and on Jesus.
We want some kind of endorsement, don't we? We want the stuff in our faith to make some kind of sense, after all. I make fun of creationists without ever once denying that all that is exists because of the Word of God. I confess the centrality of this ridiculous idea that Jesus died on that Roman cross, yet not only came back to life - not just resuscitated but raised! - but is still, even now, alive and with us. Most contemporary Christians repeat this, give some kind of more-than-lip-service to it, all the while refusing to confront how ridiculous a claim it really is.
The Second Coming, though? Isn't that the stuff of The Omen movies and Hal Lindsay? Do we really need to confess belief in such insanity?
First of all, that the doctrine of the New Creation has been hijacked by popular culture on the one hand and an idiot like Lindsay on the other only makes it all the more important we affirm the reality of Christ's promised return as part and parcel not only of our faith, but also of our hope. Second, as the Scriptures tell us, these folks, whether movie makers wanting to make a quick buck on our fears of "Satan" or fools like Lindsay who see in human history the key to understanding what God is doing in the world, are little more than flute players and wailers, wanting some kind of attention for all their efforts.
Jesus reminds us that Wisdom - that part of God celebrated in the book of Proverbs - will vindicate her children. Which means, quite simply, that holding fast to our hope in the promised return of the risen and living Christ we shall see that God's promises are not the promises of human beings. Waiting and watching, as the writer of St. Peter's Epistle reminds readers, is something we are called to do in faith because it is in the new heaven and new earth that righteousness will have a home. It is indeed, breaking forth even now around us, to be sure. Yet here, as we know all too well, it is homeless, an orphan, outcast by those very flute-players and wailers who want some recognition for all the work they've put in, some reward for their efforts.
So, I confess with a light heart and a loud voice this Advent season, in the words of what the United Methodist liturgy for the Eucharist calls "the mystery of faith": "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." I have neither the time nor energy to "prove" a promise that has yet to be fulfilled. I do, however, invite anyone who would join with me to praise a God who has not left us, a God who will not abandon us, a God who offers us the promised fulfillment of God's creative love and joy. Confessing hope in the coming again of Christ and all that offers for all creation is not a silly or odd idea. It is nothing more or less than continuing our confession of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I'll let the flute players demand attention, and wailers demand that others rend their garments in sympathy. Me, I'll take St. Peter's advice, and wait and watch in faith and hope.