By Rev. Kathryn Ray
During Advent, we read a lot of texts about the Second Coming of Jesus. There is invariably something about every one of these texts that utterly defies any attempt to fit it into in my brain or my sense of reason. Take Revelation 15:
“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, or with them the wrath of God is finished. And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire- and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.”
That texts is as powerful as it is mind-blowingly incomprehensible.
Yet there is something so undeniably compelling about this vision of that which is to come, a world brought about by God in which true justice reigns. And, in a way, it is fitting that that vision is incomprehensible. Because we do not see true peace and justice in this world, except in brief flashes.
Every day, there is more work to do. No relationship fully heals all wounds, no plan of action cures all woes. This is perhaps why I find myself compelled to lift my eyes to a vision of justice that defies understanding. Though we may- though we must- strive to build a world that is better, the fullness of God’s dream is always beyond us. Which is another way of saying, we will never fully arrive there in our own lives.
Psalm 85 is no less about the future redemption of the world. The text says that
Kindness and truth meet, justice and peace kiss,
Truth from the earth will spring up, as justice from heaven looks down.
And The LORD indeed will grant bounty and our land will grant its yield.
Justice goes before God, and orders God's steps.
This psalm imagines a future time of redemption in which we are returned to Eden before the Fall. Don’t let the beautiful poetry fool you; this is no less radical than the sea of glass and fire.
Many early theologians envisioned the Fall as a tearing apart of the divine unity of God, where people fell into division amongst themselves, and between themselves and creation. It wasn’t just humanity, but the whole cosmos that was ripped apart.
This psalm imagines redemption as a grand uniting. Justice comes down from heaven to meet truth coming up from the earth. The division that had ripped justice from peace is no more. They come together to share a kiss,that most tender of actions. It is a vision that is at the same time cosmic and intimate.
This family reunion of peace, truth, justice, and kindness restores the natural world to life, causing it to be fruitful and abundant. After all this, God again walks upon the earth on a path forged by justice, just as God walked in the coolness of the garden of Eden. The joyous reunion of the Creator and the Created in a paradise made manifest here on this earth.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this vision is it pours forth from the lips of one sitting in darkness and crying out for rescue. Like so many after, who found comfort-and even founded their very survival-on a vision of the reign of God descending to earth to bring its final justice.
Do I believe that the day will come when the clouds break, and Jesus descends? When justice rains down from the sky and truth rises from the earth, when the lion lies down with the lamb? I don’t know. The vision of that day defies the limits of my mind and every logic it contains. And even so, I still long for it.
I long for a day when the mighty are brought low and the humble exalted. When justice and peace kiss, the land is healed, and yields its abundant harvest. I long for the arrival of a justice that exceeds every logic of this world, and a peace that truly and utterly surpasses my understanding. That longing is the central thread that pulls me toward God.
Longing is not unlike hoping. It calls us toward a future that is always slightly beyond our reach, keeping our eyes focused on a vision of heaven and pulling us toward it by hook or by crook. Longing is like hoping, only with an anguished heart. A heart that is weary of long nights and heavy with a thousand griefs. Full of the pain of this world, I long for the reign of God to come.
So where do we find peace?
Where in the midst of the journey toward the most impossible of visions, do we find peace, whose candle we lit this week?
Last week, Pastor David told the children that hope is like a river pulling us toward God, and towards God’s dream for us. If hope is the river, or even if longing is the river, peace is the rocking of the boat. Peace is the steady movement of a heart and a people drawn inexorably, impossibly, toward a reign of love and justice that is always just beyond the horizon.
This Advent, may we hope for a future that we can scarcely imagine, and as we journey onward, may we feel its peace.
This blog is the second of a four-part Advent series. Read Pastor Yuki's reflection on hope and Pastor David's reflection on joy.