Thursday, December 19, 2019

Advent and Christmas

Working through the letter of 2 Peter over the last few weeks, one of the things I've noticed is that forward momentum in the Christian life, driven and energised by hope for the second coming of the Lord, is a much bigger thing in the New Testament than it is in much of the contemporary Christianity with which I am familiar.  For 2 Peter, it seems to me, you're either growing in Christian character or you're falling back into the orbit of the corrupt world; you're either straining towards the promise of a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells or you're scoffing at God.

Particularly striking at this time of year, as Advent gives way to Christmas: the way in which you look forward reveals something about the way you look back.

If you're not growing in Christian character (looking forward), you've forgotten that you were once washed from sin (looking back).

If you're scoffing at the idea of Christ's return and the final judgement (looking forward), you've forgotten the Majesty that has already been revealed in Christ (looking back).

It strikes me that if we're not looking forward to Christ's second coming, that is a sign that we've critically misunderstood Christmas.  If we think, with the classic liberal and with many a nativity play, of Christmas as simply a particular example of the everyday miracle of life (i.e., as a myth), we will expect that existence will simply roll on as it ever has done: a series of miracles, the world infused with the miraculous.  No second coming here.  If, on the other hand, we follow some apologists and more conservative theologians and make Christmas all about history - a one-off, uniquely glorious event - we will not necessarily be driven to expect any further events - or if we do, we must confess them to be logically somewhat disconnected from the first.  Maybe a second coming, but what has that to do with Christmas?

But if we see in Christmas the breaking in of the end, the ultimate, into our history - interrupting its flow, bringing into history that which history could never throw up of itself: redemption, salvation, new creation - if we see that in the story of the manger, then we must look for the full and final revelation of that salvation.  Redemption which does not redeem, new creation which gets lost in the old: these are impossible things.  If in the baby in the manger we see - let us get to the absolute point - Almighty God, then we must expect the glory of God to fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.  We must, therefore, look forward to his return, his full unveiling, the judgement of all the earth.

Which is more or less what I was trying to say about this time last year!

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