If you are like me the prophetic passages "predicting" Jesus' coming have long caused me frustration, puzzlement and troubled my faith. When read from a certain perspective one can certainly see how Jesus of Nazareth, as the 4 Gospels presents him as the Christ, fulfills these prophesies. Yet if one sits with these passages for too long one realizes that there are things prophesied that have not happened in history or at least haven't happened literally. Following that path, one then wonders if Jesus himself fulfilled these passages literally. Growing up I was taught that by keeping Advent we were remembering God's coming in Jesus Christ, and so preparing for Christmas, and we were waiting for Christ return at the second coming. There are two advents and we are between these two. Many wait for the second advent in a "left behind" sort of way, as dispensationalism has found its popular expression. One almost can't talk about the second coming of Christ without most people even fairly non-religious types seeing or thinking in terms of Dispensationalism: that is seeking to discern the signs, and a belief in a rapture and an anti-Christ and final great tribulation in which the world is destroyed in wars and plagues. The Gospel for tomorrow this First Sunday in Advent in year A of the lectionary is part of a string of texts used to justify these speculations, we are to be ready after all! But there is that is little thing about jesus saying we cannot know the time, which is often ignored.
Dispensationalism wasn't ever really the focus of Advent in my years growing up, but waiting was, and expectation. I think I have long puzzled over the exhortations to wakeful watchfulness: What are we watching for, and how do we know if we are awake?! The "Left Behind" mentality certainly seems watchful, and these sorts of dispensationalists certainly know what they are watching for. But this makes the incarnation something that is simply in the past. The church itself in this time between the advents is in a time of suspension. We are in the airport terminal, between flights and the next one has been delayed.
There is then the solution to this: focus on the realized eschatology, that God has come and the purpose of the church is to witness and or realize the Kingdom of God and the results of the incarnation now. This has its own issues. Wakefulness and waiting is turned into activism. And our hope begins to be lodged in our ability to realize God's Kingdom, Jesus becomes a moral example we are to copy, and God disappears, the incarnation becomes either a principle or becomes entirely irrelevant a back drop to our activism, an idea we no longer need once we realize that what is really important is the here and now and not the here after.
Yet what if this wakefulness and watchfulness is neither simply waiting for something to happen, and watching for the signs that it is happening, nor a frenetic activism that tries to realize and manifest the promised coming in primarily human terms and based upon human effort? What if these prophetic words are in fact true, and Jesus Christ has fulfilled them,and they are being fulfilled and will be fulfilled? What if our wakefulness is not some solution to the problem of these prophetic words and God come in human form, but a living out of all these things in expectation that God is at work? What if being on guard, keeping watch is remaining awake to God's coming pure and simple, no limbo, no self-sufficient activism. What if God's coming happened and continues to happen in the incarnation of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and will find its resolution and consummation in God?
I posit this is precisely what these calls to wakefulness and watchfulness in Romans and Matthew are about. I also posit that somehow in the last 600 years or so the followers of Jesus Christ, perhaps much if not all of the church was lulled to sleep by having seen the call to watchfulness as a call to resolve the puzzle of the prophessies and the moment between the incarnation and second coming of Christ. We perhaps can read our history of this period in terms of God's coming to us, and we being found wanting, of God coming seeking to rouse us from our stupor. We have become drunk on our certainty that we know what God's coming is: even though we all had differing solutions to the puzzle. I then posit that our disorientation now, our various attempts to gain our bearings, is due to our being awakened from our deep slumber and drunken stupor, and so we are unsure of exactly where we are and what has happened, and we have lost sight of God. Western culture and American Culture were created in our period of these drunken certainties, and the irreligious corners of our culture perhaps first awakened to the truth that we were in fact sleep waking and had no idea what we were doing or saying anymore. We now have awakened but we are like the guard caught off guard who is fearful to admit he had fallen asleep, and was derelict in his duty, and so we are trying to blame everything and everyone else but ourselves.
The hope it seems to me from this perspective this advent as we hear Paul and Jesus' words to us is that the Emergent, or our emergence (from our sleep and drunken stupor) is that we can see that God coming to us as a human, God's presence to us in sacraments, sacramentals and our everyday life, and God's continually coming that will be consummated at the end of the ages, are all of a piece. The possibility of our time is to come to see that the mystery, the contradictions, the uncertainty of all the referents of the prophesies, is not a puzzle to be solved but the reality we are to live into in wakefulness. God's coming past, present or future isn't about knowing: no one but the Father knows the day or the hour. Advent is about a being awake to the reality of the living God, come, present and coming. We fell asleep, we became drunk, we have been roused but are unwilling to admit we fell asleep. Our time of emergence should be a time not only of being awake but admitting we were asleep and drunk. We are lost because we failed to stay awake, and we missed God's coming, thinking we knew what waiting, and coming meant, forgetting that Jesus told us it wasn't about knowing but about living and being awake, attentive. God has roused us from our stupor, but the question is will we simply return again to our drink.
Stay awake accept God come in the flesh, accpet God continually coming accept that God in Jesus Christ will come again, and remain awake to God's continual coming, God's continualy coming and going. We do not know, but we are to remain awake, and alive to the possibilities of God in Jesus Christ.