CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: How the trembling once terrified teenager has changed his tune over the meaning of Christmas Day
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As a child and young man, what I heard at church about the Second Coming of Christ terrified me, writes John Dempster. Jesus would return!
My parents, as true believers, would be taken from the earth while I would be “left behind” to face desolation and judgement.
I was desperately wounded by talk of this “Advent.”
“Advent” simply means “coming”.
One focus of the Advent season in the Christian Calendar – the four weeks leading up to Christmas – is a reminder of the coming of God among us in Jesus in a unique way.
We think ourselves into the story of the Old Testament people who saw God’s promise of a liberating Messiah fulfilled in the birth of Jesus.
God had spoken! Divine rescue was at hand!
Advent reminds us of this coming of Jesus the rescuer who brings hope, and spiritual awakening to the whole of humanity.
Advent invites us to engage personally with this very Jesus; to discover that God-with-us is not myth, but reality.
But during Advent, Christians are also thinking about that promised Second Coming, when it’s said Jesus will return to judge the world, and to make all things new, creating a new heaven and a new earth, free of pain and darkness.
“The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
Words like these – and the endless speculation surrounding their precise meaning and the timing of their fulfilment – petrified my child self.
But if the surprising manner of Jesus’s birth – in a stable rather than in a palace – teaches us anything, it is that we can’t produce a detailed storyline of God’s actions in the world’s future.
Over the years, I have learned to love Jesus on my better days, and to rejoice in those personal advent moments where I seem to sense the presence of God.
I focus on seeking to live the Jesus way now rather than troubling myself about the future.
I focus on the fundamental Christian conviction that, in the end, all will be well.
I focus on the unwavering divine love to which, as we realise when we open ourselves up to God, we owe everything.
To the extent that we have chosen lives which don’t reflect God’s loving nature, we will fear judgement, yet we may find judgement is a burning mercy which purifies our imperfect hearts. I seek simply to rest in God’s love.
Christmas Day calls for “Hallelujahs”. And if Jesus were to return today that trembling teenager now in a grown-up’s body would run to him, confident of welcome, arms open wide in greeting.