Lenten blog | March 25, 2020
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Wednesday, March 25th: Psalm 146; Isaiah 60:17-22; and Matthew 9:27-34. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
We have absolutely no idea about what day is Jesus’ birthday. Only half of the Gospels tell us Christmas stories, and they don’t even agree with each other. Convention has led us to celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Convention would then also lead us to the date of March 25th as the day the angel Gabriel announces to Mary (or Joseph depending on which Gospel you read) that she will conceive and bear a son. That’s today.
The prophetic expectations associated with the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour, are of a dramatic and immediate divine intervention. As we read today from the third prophet who uses the name Isaiah: “I am the Lord; in its time I will accomplish it quickly.” When the Messiah comes, there will be no questions or doubt. The Messiah will manifest God in convincing fashion. Again, from Trito-Isaiah: “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”
These prophecies of the coming Messiah are what Christians have postponed to the End-Time. When Jesus’ first-coming obviously did not fit into the prophetic mold of the Messiah, we spoke instead of His Second-Coming. At that time, there will be a spectacular display of the supernatural. In Matthew, we read: “‘The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’” (24:30) This is the Old Testament prophetic expectation transferred from Jesus of Nazareth to the End-Time Son of Man “coming on the clouds of heaven.”
I wonder if this is necessary. We have misjudged the time of the Second-Coming for as long as there have been Christians. Paul thought that he would still be alive when Jesus returned (1 Thessalonians 4:15), and Paul died around 65AD. In this time of pandemic, people are once again speaking of Jesus’ return as imminent, just as people in troubled times have done for 2,000 years.
Maybe we need to re-think our relationship with the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah – because they proved inaccurate – and with the New Testament prophecies of the Messiah’s Second-Coming – because they too have proven inaccurate. Maybe the actual, and sometimes hard and harsh, reality of Jesus of Nazareth’s lived revelation is God’s fulfilled and complete coming into the world as our Messiah-Saviour.
Maybe the biblical calls to imitate Christ are the saving consequences of God’s intended intervention in the world. Maybe God come to us in the humbleness of Jesus, with a grandeur of a gospel message, and the promise of empowering grace so that we could work together to change the world. Maybe it’s not in the cards for God to do it for us as if we were perpetual children. Maybe God thinks more of us that we sometimes do of ourselves. Maybe God treats us as adults prepared to make a difference if we choose. Maybe this is what our church calls postmillennialism, that Jesus will come again only after we have established God’s reign.
The prophecies of the Messiah did not expect Jesus and definitely did not foretell His crucifixion, but this is the harsh reality of God’s lived revelation. Our “everlasting light” went to the cross in complete submission to this Way. It’s not as easy as expecting God to do it for us, but salvation is about us living in imitation of Christ, glory and hardship together.
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