Coming in Glory - Advent Reflection - Week Five

These reflections can used in a variety of ways, by individuals or groups, please amend as necessary. The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.advent

Someone read aloud: Rev. 21.1-8

Reflection: Preferably read by one voice .with everyone having a copy to follow.

I grew up in a house on the coast. From my bedroom window I could look out at the sea. A bus-ride away were some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, (not that I’m biased, of course!) So why, when Christ returns to earth and his glory is abounding, will there be no more sea?

This is an example of having to know what the code words mean, in order to understand the passage. In Old Testament thinking, the sea was the origin of the unknown, the mysterious, which could terrify. It was where evil and threat lurked.

In Genesis, the sea had to be separated from the dry land, which was the place of safety, of confidence and clear visibility. Land and sea meet at the shore-line. In his book on the parables, Michael Ball points out that Jesus did much of his teaching from the shore-line:
“Somehow or other that place between land and sea, the shore, speaks of a joining, an exploring of both the reality of the land and the mystery of the sea’s depths.”

Jesus stood in that in-between place for us, to make mysteries known to us in a way which did not terrify; to keep back the monsters of evil from us.

Here’s another word: Glorify. This week’s passage describes the coming of the new Jerusalem, out of heaven, prepared as a bride for her husband, who is sitting on the throne of Heaven. It is a glorious image, full of extravagant detail: at last the bride is to be presented to the bride-groom, Christ himself. Yet in John’s Gospel the word ‘glorify’ has another meaning as well:
“Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.””, (John 12.23-24)

John uses it to mean ‘to be killed’. For John, Jesus’ death for us on the Cross is the most glorious thing. It is the means of our Salvation and the demonstration of Jesus’ complete obedience to the Father, which is glorious.
Both these words, -‘sea’ and ‘glory’, -put Jesus in that in-between place: he is God, yet he is one of us; he is to be worshipped for his glory, yet the most glorious thing about him was his sacrifice, for us.

This rich language and imagery feeds us deeply with a wider view of our God. The illustrations on our Christmas cards this year will have reminded us of the simplicity of Jesus’ birth, but I’m sure, in the background, will have been images of wealth and worship from the Magi and of angels and the glory of God, to set the balance. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come to us as a vulnerable child. When he returns to earth it will be as the glorious Son of God. First and Second Advents are manifestations of God’s glory.

And what are the components of this final glory? The book of Revelation gives us many a picture of worship, with songs and trumpets and prostrations. In today’s passage, however, what it describes is God’s receiving of us with tender loving care. The bride is beautifully dressed; heaven is coming down to earth; God is to live with his people. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away. After judgement, has come this glory, -the glory of new beginnings. “I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End”, says Jesus, - or in today’s common parlance, maybe: I started, so I’ll finish.

Revelation was written at a time of great suffering for the early church, in this community. Perhaps many were falling away under threat or temptation. The writer is urging them to hold out against these things until Jesus returns. We, too, live in the ‘1st Advent /2nd Advent’ in-between time. Are we holding on? Are we being faithful? If Jesus regarded his obedience to God as glory, how much more should we work towards that same sort of glory?

This Christmas, economic difficulties abound to add to all the usual challenges of life and faith. Sickness and bereavement don’t stop for Christmas, nor do violence and crime. In the middle of all that, God offers us a gift: his Son, -Himself. And with him he feely gives us all things. One day there will be no more sin, sickness, death or tears. Until then, let’s glorify God for his love and faithfulness to us.

The complete series on PDF including introduction is available here.

E. Christine Bailey, 14/11/2008