When we take a look at the world around us, at our news media outlets and currents events, it's not surprising that many express a voice of hopelessness and pessimism about the world we live in. On any given news hour we might hear about natural catastrophes, wars and rumors of wars, political and institutional corruption, and imminent destruction brought by human-caused global warming. For some Christians, this news makes them more easily accept an escapist theology: the idea that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that the return of Jesus will save the church from the world that is at the brink of apocalyptic annihilation. Although for some Christians, escapist theology has been a source for renewed holiness, it comes at the expense of dichotomizing our human nature (spirit versus body), neglecting our body, neglecting creation, and denying our full creaturely and human existence (which is not really what the bible teaches). Combine this with the personal and inter-personal struggles we face every day – the pressures from society, the pressure of expectations, the struggles of temptation and sin – the situation does seems grim.
Even so, as we meditate on the meaning of the Advent, hope can be found. This Advent season, let’s take opportunity and practice reflecting on the theological implications of the Advent for the world and for our lives. The First Advent (and second Advent) provides hope in Christian life that reframes our reality and helps us in our journey with Jesus.
The First Advent and the Second Advent
I must note a very important starting point for me before I reflect on the Advent of Jesus: our reflection of the First Advent can never go without reflection of the second Advent. This is because the two are inseparable. Their theologies are really one theology inextricably tied by God’s ultimate plan of salvation for humanity and creation. Even though the hope of the Messiah that had been anticipated in Old Testament promises for Israel and the world (Isa 9:2-7; 11:1-10; Zech 6:12-13; Mal 3:1-6) was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, his work is not yet complete. The Advent of the virgin-born Messiah, and his resurrection, are not the end of the promises of God. In Christian theology, we believe that Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God (Luke 1:30-33; 46-55, 67-79; 2:10-14, 28-32) but has not yet established the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:9-11; 1 Cor 15:24-28; Rev 11:15-18, 19:11-21). At his return, we believe he will finish this work, ultimately bringing justice and peace to creation and humanity.
This Advent hope it not predicated on our wishful thinking or naivety. Advent hope is also not something abstract or distant. This hope is founded on the reality of Jesus: his life and work as seen in the first Advent, the promise of his second Advent, and the new reality that creates to furnish hope in our lives today. It is a hope that matters today and impacts today.
I want to reflect on the significance of this Advent hope from two points: from Jurgen Moltman’s theology of hope, and from Paul’s hope of the second Advent to encourage Christian lives.
A Theology of Hope
Jurgen Moltmann is a theologian who wrote about the second Advent as the defining marker for Christian theology and practice in his book Theology of Hope. Instead of relegating eschatology to an appendix of a systematic theology, he argued that it should be the forefront in theological reflection. In his thought, what happens at the end defines everything else preceding it. In Christian Theology, then, the eschatological hope of the return of Jesus gives hope to our present situation. While an escapist theology deems the current state of the world and society as hopeless, for Moltmann it is precisely because of this future hope of the return of Jesus that we can talk about hope for the present.
Motlmann is working from the assumption that through out most of church history, Christian hope has been reduced to saving of the soul. As a result, Christian hope has been left powerless for any real impact in the present and creation and society have been cast off as hopeless. Rather than reducing Christian hope as merely “opium for the beyond,” Christian hope has the power to give hope in the present and make a difference. In the end, it is the righteousness of God that will triumph, but that righteousness is already at work in our lives. For Moltmann, righteousness is not only a gift, but also the power of God working in the life of the believer. Along those same lines Moltmann writes, “the theologian is not concerned merely to supply a different interpretation of the world...but to transform them in expectation of a divine transformation.” For that reason, the Church should serve the world in view of the coming kingdom of God with its righteousness and peace, as we secure the dignity and freedom of all peoples.
Paul and the Parousia
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote about the significance of the second Advent in the lives of believers. The purpose of the letter is summoned up in 1 Thess 3:13, “may [the Lord] so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Paul wanted the Thessalonian believers to “serve a living and true God, and wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess 1:9-10). Serving God and living in holiness involves abstaining from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3-7; Greek porneia) and loving one another (1 Thess 4:9-12; philadelphia). While 1 Thessalonians 4:3-12 talks about love, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 talks about hope. A key verb is parakaleo, usually translated “encouraged,” but has two nuances that Paul uses: to comfort or to exhort. Paul is revealing something about Christian hope in what it promises (1 Thess 4:13-18) and in what it demands (1 Thess 5:1-11). Believers receive comfort from the grief of loved ones who have passed away. A significant part of the Christian hope is that the dead in Christ will rise, be gathered with the living believers, and meet the coming Christ (1 Thess 4:16-17). The words parousia (“coming”) and apantēsin (“to meet”) – political language used to announced the arrival and reception of emperors or military figures – is being used to announce the coming of the true king and victor, Jesus. Along with providing comfort, this eschatological hope also exhorts and motivates the lives of believers. Our Christian hope drives us to living in faith, love, and hope (5:8), and to encourage and edify each other (5:11).
Hope For The World and Hope For My Life
Reflection on the Advent involves what Jesus did, is doing, and is going to do. First, in the Advent we find hope for our world and society. Jesus is concerned about creation, the nations, their condition, humanity, and society at large. The promise of his second coming does not inhibit or deter us from participating in this hope, but involves us in it.
Second, Advent hope gives me comfort and motivation to serve God and to live in holiness and in mutual love, as I await Jesus’ return. It gives me comfort as we live in an imperfect world with sin and errors, with suffering and death. Despite the trails and temptations I face today, one day we will be gathered together with all believers and with Jesus. Jesus, who has defeated sin and death, will wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4). It also gives me motivation to strive for improvement today, to better myself today, to grow in faith, love, and hope today, to grow and nurture my relationships today, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:4-6).
The Advent of Jesus makes us neither optimistic (denying any faults, errors, and troubles), nor pessimistic (denying any possibility of relief or mending). The Advent of Christ makes us hopeful, knowing that as Christ once came, he will come again, and is also present now in our lives and in our world. This Advent season, let us receive hope as we receive and remember Jesus.
The middle of three brother, Nehemias was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from LABI in 2009, then obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Religion from Vanguard University in 2011, and a Master’s in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2015. He currently works at LABI as Chief of Staff and as an adjunct professor teaching courses such as New Testament, Old Testament, among others. He married Gaby in December 2015 where they live in Pasadena, California. They both serve as worship leaders and Sunday school teachers at New Life Church in Mid City Los Angeles.