Today is the first Sunday in Advent.
Traditionally a time of pentitence, Advent affords us the opportunity to look ahead to the second coming of the Christ, before we celebrate His first. As my priest pointed out this morning, the earliest epistles of the New Testament are full of hope and expectation of Christ’s imminent return. The later epistles (contra some current Pauline scholarship) do not lose this focus. One need only spend a few hours reading Phillipians before noticing the overwhelming presence of eschatological language.
Christ came the first time proclaiming, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Even his disciples managed to misinterpret Him by expecting Him to overthrow Rome. The Kingdom is unlike any Kingdom yet seen, for now it remains unseen. The fulfillment, though is yet to come:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
The notion that this King will establish, through violence, His Kingdom over the earth is offensive to our most sophisticated sensibilities. It is the same revulsion one feels when reaching the end of Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. It is impossible to not wonder along with Mrs. Dimble whether the brutality of Merlin was a bit too uncompromising. In similar fashion, the notion of a King remains too unsophisticated, too archaic for our democratic, egalitarian ears. The presence of a King means the presence of an authority which cannot be challenged, a difficult doctrine to those trained in the art of questioning authority as a means of escaping it.
Yet the Kingdom is among us, and it awaits its fulfillment. Logres and Britian stand in tension with each other–the Kingdom of God is not, and cannot be the Kingdom of Man. Neither can the Kingdom of God merely baptize the Kingdom of Man. The Kingdom of Man must be undone, and so the King must come again. It is His Kingdom, He alone can establish it. The King of the Gospels, the Dying King, is the same One who is given authority over all things.
So what is left for us? As Joshua spoke to the people of Israel, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve.” We have the opportunity to join in the Army of God, and to fight the forces of Britian and of Evil here and now, in the battles that precede the end. Yet we are not ready for the end. Instead, the work left for us is to obey and wait, to watch and pray.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
–The Book of Common Prayer