He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead that we may rise to the life immortal
What difference does this Cinderella of Christian truth make to us?
I say Cinderella because the doctrine of the Second Coming must be about the most neglected of doctrines. It gets eclipsed by Christmas, which now covers Advent and beyond, and is tinged with such sentimentality that many preachers get scared off attending to the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell.
The first benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is it puts us in our place!
What you are before God - that is what you are and no more. The doctrine that He shall come again in glorious majesty to judge us warns us to avoid the error of valuing ourselves overmuch by what others say about us.
No one can take away or enhance who we are before God.
This is a very difficult truth to take on board and get into our hearts of hearts. The blame or praise of any other human being is of no matter compared to God's praise or blame. If what we find others think of us inflates or deflates us overmuch we’re not fully centred on the Lord.
Fear God and there’ll be no one or nothing else to fear!
The second benefit of the doctrine of the Second Coming is the reminder it gives that once we accept the love of Christ there will be no need to fear his judgement. As St Paul writes to the Romans, 'There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8.1).
The universe will be ended by Jesus Christ and he is the one who first came to reveal ‘the Love that moves the sun and the stars’ in Dante's immortal phrase.
If all through our Christian lives we have been looking to Jesus his appearing in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead will be consummation not condemnation.
Bishop Tom Wright, former Bishop of Durham, writes about the Second Coming in his book Simply Christian. There he encourages us to see the Lord’s return as less about our being snatched up into heaven than about the New Jerusalem coming down in which Jesus will reappear as King of Heaven.
Bishop Tom sees Jesus now as present, I quote, hidden behind that invisible veil that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture and our work with the poor, where the veil seems particularly thin....one day that veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place.
If the first benefit of the doctrine of Christ's Second Coming is to put us in our place and the second is to remind us that place is one of being loved, the third benefit is to open up a vision of the purpose of all things so as to spur us on.
This world isn't just here! It’s God's world made for God’s purpose! The kingdom of this world is to become the kingdom of our God and of Christ, his Son.
Almighty God made the universe to put in the centre of it his Son, Jesus Christ. The first Coming of Jesus was into the womb of a holy woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, demonstrating that we human beings are no mere compartment of the animal kingdom but are capable of union with God.
His second Coming will occur when human beings, drawn to Christ and his Church in the Spirit, have completed the divine plan 'to bring all things together in Christ'. (Ephesians 1.10)
As Christ waited for the holy woman to be his Mother he now awaits a holy people to be his Bride so that as heavenly Bridegroom he can one day embrace his church so that we may rise to the life immortal.
Christ awaits the purification of his church for this consummation just as he had to await a woman for his conception.
In Advent season we provide a number of occasions for deepening repentance, our sense of need for God such as making available the sacrament of confession. You can approach either priest after this Mass to make an appointment for confession before Christmas. Anglicans have a quite relaxed attitude to confession - all may, none must, some should - but there’s a strong tradition of preparing for Christmas and Easter by such an act. If you’ve never made your Confession you could again talk to a priest or more experienced church member you know about what’s entailed.
In our own individual private prayer and bible study we can also engage with the wonder of Advent season as it speaks to us of the love and judgement of God in Christ and his purpose for the church and the world.
It is a glorious truth that no one can take away or enhance who we are before God - the love he has for us is will be everlasting! As we welcome that love in Holy Communion this morning let’s hold in our hearts those we know who know not the Lord Jesus praying they too will open their hearts to him and experience the love of the Lord!
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.