Living with hope and contagious expectation of the soon second coming of Jesus the Messiah.
In December of 2020, The Washington Post asked its readers to "sum up the year in just one word." In analyzing the more than 2,000 responses they received, they found that the top three answers given by their participants, from top to bottom respectively, were: “exhausting,” “lost,” and “chaotic.” I am sure many of us can think of events in the previous year where one or all of these would rightfully apply.
If it's politics, it is no secret that the political airspace in 2020 had concerning turbulence. If it's the social playground, that too was plagued with racial landmines, to which many lost their lives. Our collective health was and continues to be terrorized by an enemy that no military defense budget can deter from destroying our communities. And finally, the religious community had to rearticulate its essence after many of its beloved traditions had to be put on hold.
A Vision of Hope
Societies, ancient and modern, understood that the community would begin to tear at the seam if there is no hope. And so, in times of great social upheaval, the leaders would always cast a vision of better days to come.
During the Jewish exile in Babylon, tradition tells us of a similar vision of hope that was embedded in the Passover celebrations. After an elaborate Seder meal and an articulate retelling of the liberation story from slavery in Egypt, the Jews in Babylon would end the Passover Seder by emphatically declaring, "next year in Jerusalem!"
This declaration stirred the hearts and minds of the Jews in exile and rekindled their aspirations for a homeland return. This declaration psychologically bridged the seemingly yawning gulf between the aspirations of home and the reality of exile.
As Christians, we are looking forward to an eternity without the presence of sin with all its complications. Those aspirations are embodied in our understanding of the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21-22), whose builder and King is Yahweh of the Angel armies.
Therefore, as we collectively take this step into the unknown, as we begin our journey through 2021, I pray you will find encouragement and strength to keep keeping on in the basic understanding of the reality that this could be our last year on this side of eternity.
The "Next Year in Jerusalem" idea ought to remind us of the fact that we are much closer to the second coming of Jesus the Messiah than we were in 2020. The singer and songwriter, Andrea Crouch, articulated it well in his song, "It Won't Be Long," when he said, "Any day now we'll be going home."
The Hurdles We Build
As energizing and spiritually invigorating as this idea might be, it's sad to realize how we have mapped out and developed a theology that governs the second coming of Jesus.
A few days before His crucifixion, Jesus made it clear that no one, except God the Father, knows the day or the hour of His second coming (Matthew 24:36). He went on to teach that His second coming will have an element of surprise to all humankind. Just like “a thief in the night” (Matthew 24:42-44), it will catch many by surprise.
Today, many Adventists hold an eschatological idea that Jesus will not come before the national Sunday Law is enacted, or the Mark of the Beast becomes commonplace. Whenever we take our personal convictions and interpretations of the future and teach them as certainties that anyone should bank on, we run the danger of repeating the mistakes of the Great Disappointment of 1844.
If you firmly, and sometimes with the use of verbal violence, dismiss the possibility that Jesus can come as early as tonight or tomorrow morning, at that point, you are in danger of the second coming taking you by surprise. The fact of the matter is that no human being or a created divine being is privileged to know and determine when Jesus can or cannot come back to receive His own.
In 1848, four years after the Great Disappointment, a hymn by H. L. Tunner was published. The hymn seemed to capture the theological misunderstandings that led up to 1844, the theological lessons learned, and the joyful expectation of the second advent of Jesus.
In his hymn, "It May Be at Morn," Tunner warned that the second coming of Jesus might happen in the morning, midday, twilight, and perchance during the blackness of midnight; When we "Will burst into light in the blaze of His glory, When Jesus receives His own."
And so, with spiritual anticipation and hope that is anchored in Jesus the Messiah, let us confidently tackle 2021, knowing at the back of our minds that — next year in Jerusalem!
Notes & References:
1. Eliza Goren, Shefali Kulkarni. "'Exhausting,' 'Surreal,' 'Dumpster Fire': How Our Readers Described 2020." The Washington Post. WP Company, December 18, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/lifestyle/2020-in-one-word/
2. Crouch, Andrea. "It won't be long." YouTube. Accessed January 01, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLIJbNYpktg&ab_channel=TheInspirationalCorner
Thandazani Mhlanga is a pastor, educator, orator, and author currently serving in the Osoyoos Church in the B.C. Conference. Pastor Thandazani and His wife Matilda have been blessed with three beautiful girls who are the joy of their lives and their highest calling. (www.themscproject.com)
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