“Coming in Glory”: The third side of Advent

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

Painting of the Last Judgment

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, ad the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. … That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Lo! he comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of his train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Now redemption, long expected,
See in solemn pomp appear;
All His saints, by man rejected,
Now shall meet Him in the air:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
See the day of God appear!

The past two weeks, we’ve looked at two sides of Advent, preparation for Christmas and reflection on the preparation of the world for the First Advent and God’s visiting his people in judgment throughout history. Today we come to the last “side” of the season: the “Second Coming” for which we wait.

During the long millennia before the coming of the Christ, God’s people waited for him to fulfill his promises, with very little beyond his word to assure them that their trust was not misplaced. God had given the Land as he had promised, and had brought judgment as he promised when the people disobeyed, but (as far as I can see from centuries upon centuries later) the evidence for the trustworthiness of God was the promises he had kept to their remote ancestors.

But the Incarnation changed everything: First, Jesus’ coming in the flesh fulfilled many, many of the promises for which the people had been waiting for so long(though not necessarily in the way they had hoped), giving greater weight and credence to the ones that still remained. And second, Jesus was a surety that could be felt, and after he ascended to heaven he gave the Holy Spirit as the similarly palpable “down payment” and “seal” for the remaining promises, including those he himself had made, to every believer. No longer should our conviction of God’s trustworthiness center primarily on the knowledge, handed down over generations, of his faithfulness to those who went before us; rather, we have his “down payment” with us always. (And we can see his promises of redemption and regeneration being fulfilled before our eyes!)

Still, many promises remain. Many of these center on the Christ’s promise that he would return to take his followers to be with him, and on the long-promised general resurrection of the dead, and other texts describing what that will look like. We don’t know when this will be, other than “at the end,” but we have a few hints (as I said) of what it will be like: glorious and terrible, a day of wrath and of great joy. Like a wedding, only infinitely more so, it will be both the end and the beginning of all things—the point for which every previous and lesser advent has been intended to prepare us.

As usual when dealing with “God things”—and perhaps even more so—ordinary words fail us. So I’ll leave you, as I began, with poetry and Scripture.

The King beneath the mountains,
The king of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!

His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.

The woods shall wave on mountains.
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.

The streams shall run in gladness.
The lakes shall shine and burn,
And sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king’s return!

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine–
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Maranatha!

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