The Return of Christ Rev Dr Durrell Watkins Advent 1 (2015) A well educated person named Luke, a disciple of the Apostle Paul decides sometime between 50 and 90 years after the execution of Jesus to write an account of the stories that had been floating around for all those decades. He doesn’t claim that […]
The Return of Christ
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Advent 1 (2015)
A well educated person named Luke, a disciple of the Apostle Paul decides sometime between 50 and 90 years after the execution of Jesus to write an account of the stories that had been floating around for all those decades.
He doesn’t claim that an angel dictated the words to him in a cave, he doesn’t claim to have discovered mysterious tablets buried somewhere, he doesn’t claim that a power somehow took possession of his body and wrote the words for him, he doesn’t even say that he was an eye witness to anything that happened…What Luke says is that he DECIDED to write an orderly account, after investigating the stories for himself.
Luke 1.3-4 says, “I decided, after investigating everything carefully, to write an orderly account…so that you may know the truth about the things you’ve been taught.”
Luke redeems the sacred stories by investigating them for himself, and by choosing to discuss them, to write about them using his own imagination, creativity, and intellect. For Luke, it isn’t about just parroting back what others have said; it’s about deconstructing and reconstructing the traditions so that they may be relevant and useful to him and his community in their own lives.
Luke then writes a gospel and a sequel to it. We know the two books as the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Luke and Acts are a set and are best read as such.
Now, I want to explore the shell of Luke’s two volume set:
Luke 2 is one of only two places in the entire bible that talks about Jesus’ conception and infancy. So, he starts from the beginning.
In fact, in chapter 3, he backs up to the beginning of time! He creates a genealogy for Jesus that goes all the way back to the mythical first couple: Adam and Eve. But Adam means “earth-being” (or, human).
So, to go back to the literary character of Adam and his companion Eve is an attempt to go All The Way Back.
Humanity is the family of Jesus, and so for Luke, the Jesus story is the story of human dignity, potential, and worth.
Jesus’ genealogy is our own.
Luke moves on to Jesus’ baptism where a Voice affirms him as a child of God.
Baptism, then, symbolizes for each of us that we are the children of God.
Luke then shows Jesus facing and overcoming challenges, as we all must.
Luke shares stories of Jesus’ ministry, helping people who felt hopeless, lifting up people who had hit rock bottom, showing care and concern for people society had discarded.
And, of course, such activity gets Jesus a fan-base, and any charismatic person with a following is a threat to the status quo, so Jesus gets in trouble.
Eventually, Luke tells us, Jesus is accused of disloyalty to the empire, is arrested, tried, convicted, and executed by the form of torture known as crucifixion.
But, Luke insists (as do the other gospel writers and St Paul) that execution is not the end of Jesus’ story, nor was it the end of his significance. And this Jesus experience beyond death is what we know as Resurrection.
Finally, at the end of Luke’s gospel, people are still experiencing this Jesus who, like Obie Wan Kenobe, seems to be even more powerful after being killed, but they must let him go. He can’t do their work for them. They can follow his example, they can be inspired by him, but they must live the truth they know. And so he ascends into the heavens, as if to say that even beyond physical existence, we continue moving onward and upward, deeper and deeper into the everlasting Mystery that we call God. We are all part of an eternal evolutionary process.
But wait, there’s more! The book of Acts, or the Acts of the Apostles.
Acts begins like a soap opera from the 1960s, replaying the last scene we saw in the last episode. Acts begins with a Resurrected Christ ascending to the heavens, but before he disappears he tells his friends that in just a few days a spiritual power would fill them and they would move out doing what Jesus had been doing, but they would do it throughout the known world.
Then Acts 2 shows a spiritual power, like a mighty wind, filling the house where they were, power like heat generated from fire hovering over every person, energizing the group and giving them the ability to speak in new ways that would include more and more kinds of people. And the rest of Acts is this newly empowered, energized movement acting as if they are collectively the resurrected and returned physical presence of Christ, the body of Christ, moving through the world to affirm the sacred value of all people, that is, to let them know redemption is at hand, in their hands!
Previous writers had said Jesus would return in their lifetimes. But it’s been close to a century since Jesus died and a couple of generations of people waiting for his return have died as well. People are starting to get discouraged about it. So Luke offers a new way to think about it.
When will the Christ come again? Luke says it has already happened. The spirit that enlivened and empowered Jesus, the spirit that gave him wisdom and compassion and healing grace, has now filled the new church. The spirit that anointed Jesus has now anointed them…they are now to be Christ in the world, the body of Christ. They were the return! Stop waiting, it’s already happened, now live it! (Luke seems to be saying).
And we who read Luke two millennia later are the continuation of the story!
WE are now Christ in the world. We are the hands of God comforting the sick, the voice of God encouraging the oppressed, the incarnation of God working for justice and peace in the world. We are now the return of Christ and we are, therefore, meant to do the work to establish an egalitarian way of living that Jesus called the kin-dom of God.
Knowing Luke’s intent and broader context, let’s hear again the words that were read earlier by our deacon today:
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations…the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Human One coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Celestial images, sun/moon/stars represent political power…governors, kings, high priests…when the power keepers are rattling their sabres and threatening war and violence and injustice, it will seem like the world is coming apart. But they will notice fully human ones who have found power and enlightenment rising above their fears, as if riding on clouds.
So raise up your heads, because your redemption, the affirmation of your sacred value, of your innate goodness is at hand…it’s in your hands.
That passage from Luke’s gospel is referring to the destruction of the Temple…something that had already happened before Luke was writing. Zealots tried to force Rome out of Jerusalem in the year 66, and in 70 the Empire struck back, destroying Jerusalem and its Temple. The world where Jerusalem was safe and its Temple could be a pilgrimage destination had ended. Political powers and military conflicts had left only destruction and sorrow. And those who lived in the wreckage are being encouraged by Luke to lift up their heads, throw back their shoulders, and get to work trying to heal this hurting world. That was Jesus’ mission when he was alive. It was the early church’s mission in the book of Acts. And it is our mission even still.
In a world of Islamaphobia, misogyny, heterosexism and homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, jingoism, and racism…in a world where youth are routinely killed in our streets and immigrants are used as political weapons to generate fear and division, in a world where religious freedom is distorted to mean a license to discriminate against other religions or gays, in a world of abundant resources that allows people to be hungry or homeless or lacking medical care, in a world where the powers are in constant conflict trying to achieve dominance…the message today is: lift up your heads, reclaim the power of hope, and get to work to make a difference. Spirituality should help us be more fully human, and when we are fully human we will rise up to be a healing force in the world. We will redeem religion from being a weapon of oppression and transform it into a tool of liberation. We will redeem human souls by declaring over and over to every person who will dare listen, YOU ARE GOD’S MIRACLE AND NOT GOD’S MISTAKE. We will help all people lift up their heads and live with hope and joy.
Advent is the season of waiting for the coming of Christ, and as we learn from Luke, we are it! And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
In all circumstances, I will look up.
I am a person of power and purpose.
I am filled with goodness and grace.
I am blessed to be a blessing.
And so it is.