Each year the gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent treats “the little apocalypse.” Mark is our earliest gospel, written during the Roman siege of Jerusalem (66-70 ce). As Israel attempted to escape oppressive rule, the Romans besieged Jerusalem, causing starvation and the destruction of both the city and the Temple. Many resisters were executed following the siege, often by crucifixion. Some saw this as a sign of the end. Some hoped that Jesus would return to restore justice. This is reflected in Mark 13. Matthew and Luke copied Mark, incorporating the little apocalypse into their gospels. The little apocalypse acknowledges the longing for the return of Jesus who would make things right. Advent prepares us for the coming of the Christ child. But Advent always begins with the possibility of Jesus returning to restore justice.
All past predictions of the return of Jesus have been wrong. Traditional teaching that Jesus would return soon has led to a credibility problem for the church. Every misguided prediction is rationalized away. The timing of “soon” is repeatedly redefined. But is the fervent hope that Jesus might one day return simply misguided? Why did it persist in the early church of imperial Rome?
The desire that Jesus return was nothing less than the desire expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “… thy will be done on earth…” First century Christians understood the principalities and powers of the world to be corrupt and unjust. The lone super power was crushing ninety percent of people through land grabs, taxation and threat of violence. With a Second Advent Jesus would bring peace with Justice for those abused by the rich and powerful. The hope that Jesus would return may have been misguided but I understand why first century Christians hoped it would happen. If the rule of Rome is oppressive, the longing for God’s rule grows.
As we prepare again for the first coming, think about what a second coming might look like. What John Dominic Crossan calls “the great cosmic clean-up” could be shocking. Jesus might do some house cleaning. But where to start? Washington? Wall Street? Syria? North Korea? The Church? What might say to me? Would Jesus agree with the way we have been doing things? If he did come back would we see less greed and more generosity? Maybe we wouldn’t need so many guns. Or ballistic missiles. Hatred and prejudice might give way to cooperation. Telling the truth might become important again. The health care problem would probably get solved. Politics might become more compassionate. There are real reasons to hope for a Second Advent of Christ.
I doubt that Jesus will come back. But it is extremely hard to prove that something cannot possibly happen sometime in the future. So what if he did come back? What would that look like? What would change?