The new church year begins with Advent – a four week season that looks to the coming of Christ. The season works “backwards to front” in that it begins with the “final” or “second” coming of Christ, before moving towards our celebration of Christ’s birth or “first” coming at Christmas.
In this Sunday’s chapter from the prophet Isaiah we hear a cry that God tear open the heavens and come down again to the people. This lament reflects the belief that God has turned away from them as a sinful people and has handed them over to the destruction of Jerusalem and exile to a foreign land. They hope for relief and a return of God’s favor.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples in the language of “end times” – when indeed the “heavens are torn open” (as Isaiah and others such as Daniel 7:24 describe) and the Son of Man comes in power and glory. Rather than speculate about when this time might come, Jesus points out that the time is not known. Instead, his followers should live in a way that shows they are faithful servants of God always prepared for His coming.
Paul speaks to the Corinthians with great thanksgiving and hope, because Jesus is not only coming again, but is present through the Spirit now, and sustains and forgives his people. They need not fear the coming of Christ again; they can rejoice in expectant hope!
Comment: We all experience times when it seems God is far away. Sometimes it is the normal but difficult “hard knocks of life” that make us feel this way. Sometimes this distance is self-generated by our own “hardness of heart” when we are turned away from God’s presence through distraction and busyness. Advent season invites us to remember that Christ has come into this hard world to bring the light of salvation, and that he will come again. When I feel abandoned, disillusioned, or empty, I cling to the promise that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, who continues to be among us in the Spirit, will come again to renew our world and restore me and you along with it!