Maybe it’s because we’ve given up on the Second Coming of Christ.
I hadn’t thought about that before yesterday, but as I was looking at all the references to the Second Coming in the New Testament (some 57 of them) I was reminded of those funeral services I’ve been to where people want to “celebrate the life” of the deceased rather than “mourn the death.” They want to focus on the positive, that is, and so they focus on all the happy memories of a well-lived life.
That’s not a bad thing to do, but we Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. We believe that death is not the end of life, but in so many ways only the beginning. The old preachers had a way of pointing us forward—toward that hope—and not only back.
I think the old preachers used to do that with the Second Coming, too (and I mean the really old preachers, like Paul, and Peter, and some of those others whose writings ended up in the New Testament). Some of them were so excited about the return of Christ that they didn’t spend much time “celebrating his life.”
They just kept watching the skies.
But that was 2,000 years ago, when it was a little easier to believe that “this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Now we are almost embarrassed to mention it. It’s been too long. Surely, if he were coming, he would have come by now. And so, instead of looking forward to the Second Coming, we look back to the first one, and celebrate it as if it were all we would ever have.
Have we given up on Jesus? Do we no longer believe that one of these days he will come back, and the Kingdom of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever (Hallelujah! Hallelujah!)? Is that why we go crazy at Christmas, and rush around buying presents for each other? Is that why we crank up the Christmas carols and talk about Santa Claus coming to town?
I preached at First African Baptist Church yesterday and ended with a true story about a P.O.W. who came home after seven years in a North Vietnamese prison camp to find his wife waiting for him. Although friends and relatives had suggested that he might never come back, and that she probably ought to move on with her life, she had never given up. He had told her he would come home and she believed him.
She was there waiting for him when he got off the plane.
He said later that she wasn’t the same girl he married; she was no longer a blushing teenage bride. In the time he had been away she had become a strong, confident, capable woman.
She’d had to.
New Testament scholar Hans Conzelmann used to say that this period between Christ’s ascension and his return is “the Church’s time.” It’s our time to fulfill the commission Christ gave us, and to do everything in our power to bring heaven to earth. But Jesus himself said he was going to come back some day. When he does I hope he will find what that prisoner of war found:
1. That his bride has waited for him, and,
2. That she has become strong, confident, and capable.