As a college student, I took an elective course titled "The New Testament and the End Times." I took it because, while others appeared as if they knew exactly what the Bible said about the future, I felt thoroughly confused about it. My sense of confusion about the Bible and the future began as a teenager when, during the Gulf War, I remember feeling intrigued and overwhelmed with how people in my church and the media were tying the political events of those days to prophecies in the Bible. I can remember the evening when President Bush announced Operation Desert Storm. I went to my room, opened my Bible, and came across some verse which convinced me the world was going to come to an end that night. As you might guess, it took me a while to fall asleep. I eventually did sleep though, and woke up the next morning with the world still in existence.
I was thankful to wake up the next day and realize that the world did not come to an end that night, but that didn't stop my confusion from increasing. Christian bookstores seemed to have an ever-increasing supply of books that deepened my sense of being on the outside of those who understood. It was like there was a code in the Bible which others had a secret key to unlock, but I hadn't yet figured any of it out.
So I took the elective course in college in hopes that it would help resolve my confusion. After being given the assignments of reading several books on the subject and studying the relative passages in the Bible––I still felt throughly confused about what the Bible taught about the future. My consolation from that course was to learn that I came away convinced that things weren't spelled out in the Bible quite so directly as other people had seemed to think. The best memory I have of that semester is observing my professor, who knew the Bible thoroughly and had studied it diligently for decades, and seeing how he refused to speak to the issues with the "this is obviously what is going to happen" kind of confidence I had seen in Christian books and videos over the previous years. I didn't come out of the course with any answers, but–instead–enjoyed observing a New Testament scholar who had so many questions too.
I am attempting to make a point by describing all of this, but before I do, I'll acknowledge what may be going through some of your minds as you read this: "Why is he talking about the end of the world when these are supposed to be devotions about Christmas?" When we began last week, I described how Christian tradition teaches us that we will be better prepared for Christmas if we have the discipline to wait until it arrives, and it still isn't here yet. While the culture around us in into its Christmas season full-swing, many of Christ's people through the centuries have insisted that what we can best do during this time is to wait, because it's Advent.
Last week we considered how we can wait on God in our lives now, and this week we explore one of the main themes of Advent: we need to wait, always living ready and watchful for the day when Christ will return. Identifying that as our theme for the week may pique the interest of some of you, while for others it might create a knot in your stomach and make you want to skip this week's readings. If you'd rather read about, well––almost anything than what the Bible says about Christ's return, please hang in there with me. What I'm going to say about it is almost surely different, and better news, than what you've heard.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of interest in the topic, Christ's return is simultaneously one of the most confusing and most popular topics among Christians today. How are we supposed to wait readily for it when it proves so difficult to understand anything about it?
I'm going to spend the rest of the week passing along guidance which I've found to be very helpful in considering what the Bible teaches about the future, but first I'll give you fair warning: some of what I'm going to say will likely meddle with your understanding of parts of scripture. Before the week is over, we will cover ground that gives us very good news, but in order to get there, we will need to evaluate some of the things we assume the Bible says.
In addition to the practices of waiting that we covered last week, to set this week's stage for the way that Advent trains us to wait on what God has in store for our future, I invite you to join me in praying as often as you think about it the simple prayer that is the exclamation point at the end of the book of Revelation:
Come, Lord Jesus!
A Prayer for the Day:
O God, you make us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of your Son our Lord: Give us this day such blessing through our worship of you, that the week to come may be spent in your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary.