That’s what Jesus is talking about today as he tells the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Therefore, “Keep awake….be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
But modern folks like us don’t know what to do with such talk: Many, unfortunately, dismiss this language as crazy, because it conflicts with their worldview that only matter is real: there is no Spirit holding together all things and directing creation toward its divine purpose. Life is only the meaningless motion of mindless molecules in empty space.
But for religious folks who imagine there is more to life than meets the 5 senses, there are three general ways of dealing with the image of the Second Coming of Jesus:
First, if we come from a conservative faith-tradition we may take this second-coming language literally. When I was in Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Georgia, we were told that because there is worldwide television, when Jesus returns, descending on a literal cloud, into Times Square, everyone around the world will be able to see it. Let’s call this the supernatural perspective. Jesus coming into our world from outside it.
A second view, prominent sixty years ago in the liberal faith-tradition, translated this imagery into an existential key, so that the second coming of Jesus is the day a person dies and faces the meaning and non-meaning of their lives. Jesus is not coming to us, we are going to Jesus. Let’s call this the Existential Perspective.
A third view in the progressive-faith tradition conceives of the second coming as that point in history when the Kingdom of God emerges from within people and communities, creating a new world of universal peace, prosperity, non-violence, and radical acceptance.
Let’s call this the Emergent Perspective, because the Risen Christ emerges from within people of good will, who are open to Spirit’s transformation, no matter what religion they practice. The Lord’s Prayer—“thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” comes from the inside, not the outside and creates that world we hear from Isaiah this morning: “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
I’m not here today to talk you out of or into any one of these: the supernatural, the existential, or the emergent.
Rather, I want us first to take seriously what all three of these views have in common: each perspective points to the arrival of God’s judgment.
This judgment from the Supernatural Perspective is depicted by the image Jesus uses today: “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left”.
Conservatives say this means the one taken is taken by Jesus into heaven and the other one is left for suffering. It’s more likely what Jesus means is the opposite: when the Romans finally decide to crush Israel the one taken is the one killed and the one left can sneak off into hiding.
Either way, there is a judgment that separates the good from the bad.
In the Existential Perspective, judgment is popularly pictured as having one’s life pass before our eyes as we die. Here we will see our life, not as we have always seen it, but as Christ, the True Judge, sees it. Our lives will be turned upside down as Christ shows us how wrong many of our assured assumptions about life have been. Not to condemn us, but to life us into wholeness and peace.
In the Emergent Perspective judgment comes when we may realize God is on the side of prisoners and peaceniks and not on the side of a prejudicial Law and Order and a never in the wrong National Defense. Or we realize God supports immigrants however they get here, more than God supports my pampered all-white existence.
But now here’s the thing—and I know I’ve been all over the mountain on this—the Second Coming of Jesus, no matter which perspective we take, derives its meaning and power from the relationship we have with Jesus in his first coming.
If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus now, then you will be like those servants who are asleep when the master returns.
Or if you have a relationship with Jesus, but it is with a Jesus who condemns you and others day in and day out, then the Second Coming will not be something to look forward to, but something to fear. The Second Coming will not be good news unless the first coming is good news.
But if we nurture our relationship with Jesus, as we see him in the gospels, the Jesus who loves us and gives himself for us, then we will forgive others and give ourselves to him here and now; give, as we say, our time, talent, and treasure—notice I didn’t say “time, talent, OR treasure”, as if it’s a multiple-choice exam in which we get to keep our money if we give some of our time. Or as it powerfully says in the Holy Eucharist: Rite One, that we pledge to give “our selves, our souls and bodies.”
Then, we will be able to see the connection between Baby Jesus away in the manger and Glorified Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead and make manifest the Realm of God.
Then, we will be like those faithful servants whom the Master finds working whenever and however he shows up.
The Season of Advent calls us to wake up and get to work, to “cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light in this mortal life”.
To live as the refrain from Godspell tells us: “Day by day, O Dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day”.
Then the Second Coming of Jesus will be the best news ever, no matter the manner of his advent.