Have you ever noticed how confusing it is waiting for something that’s already arrived? That’s right, you heard me correctly, “waiting for something that’s already arrived”? It is a curious characteristic of modern life.
What about standing at one of those bus stops that have display screens telling you which bus is about to come? Many are the times they’ve said a bus is due, only for me to find I’d just missed it by a few seconds before I got there. And I stand there in expectation not knowing whether anything will come or not.
Or what about in the underground when the display boards there are on the blink. They can tell you all sorts of fibs about trains you think are coming but aren’t, which have been and gone, and you’re left there standing on the platform waiting for something that’s already arrived.
And what about Amazon and the vagaries of the postal service? More than once I’ve had a parcel disappear in the post only for Amazon to claim it had definitely already arrived, and I’m left there wondering what to do.
Waiting for things that have already arrived is puzzling, frustrating, disorientating sometimes. And yet, we learn today doing just that is a fundamental thing that lies at the heart of the Christian faith.
What I mean is this. Every year when we begin our keeping of Advent, the church sets as our readings, portions of scripture that speak about the End of Time and the return of the Lord. Our Gospel reading today is no excetion. The point is that thinking about Christ’s First coming, his being born in Bethlehem, prompts us to think about his Second Coming as well, his returning at the End of Time to gather us to himself.
The technical word used by the Church for Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem is the Incarnation, the idea that God became man for us in a little baby. The incarnation tells us a lot about what it means to be human. It shows us God fundamentally loves us because he was prepared to be born as one of us. It shows us every human has a God-given dignity as a child of God because God himself shared our flesh, our humanity.
But one of the most important things it also shows us is this. The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus, shows us what our end will be like. Where we’re heading, what we should expect about the end of time itself.
One of the most repeated parts of Jesus’ teaching was the fact that he would come again at the End of Time, when the earth as we know it will fall away, and a New Heaven and a New Earth will be revealed. When he comes again, he will sit in judgement to condemn all that is sinful, and harmful, and evil, and reward all that is good, and loving, and creative. The point of his coming again is so that we can live with him forever.
So in a way, we’re waiting for something that has already arrived. We are waiting for Jesus to come again, who has already inhabited our human nature, has already been born as the son of Mary, has already come a first time in our flesh.
But the good thing is that it’s not as if we’re standing at a bus stop or a tube station wondering if something is about to come or not. The point about Jesus’ first coming, is that it gives us the concrete assurance that we know he will come again.
If Jesus is who he claims to be, if he rose from the dead and ascended to his Father, then his interest in us is not passing or temporary. God’s love for us is permanent and abiding.
If I had to say one thing about Jesus’ birth at Christmas it would be this. That in that stable, we see God giving himself for us. If that is what God is like, then surely he will never rest until he has gathered the whole of creation to himself in love. He will not leave the job he started in Christ half done. Jesus may come at an hour we do not know, but we can know in our hearts that come he certainly will.
Fr Peter Anthony