Jesus' return is the second part of our advent focus. Over the past four Sundays, we’ve mostly looked back to Jesus’ first coming, today we’re looking at the second part of what advent is all about and look at what it’s going to be like when Jesus comes back. It's about new hope and renewal, about victory over sin and death, and about heaven and earth coming together again; a reversal of what happened in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. History begins with chaos before creation. Genesis 1 and 2 is all about God entering into the chaos and creating life and order and beauty and wonder through his creating power. But chaos reappears with Adam and Eve’s fall into sin and the rest of Scripture is all about God working with his chosen people to bring order once again out of the chaos that sin creates.
Christmas can be one of the loneliest times of the year for so many people and many of us didn’t notice because we got caught up in celebrating Christmas with our families and friends. It’s easy to forget to see those around us who are lonely and alone. Christmas can also be a really painful time for many people as the hurts of the year seem to get emphasized during this time of peace on earth and good will among men, especially when we’re living in broken relationships.
Jesus’ healing begins right here with us being aware with each other of those who are alone, who are less well off and reaching out to them and enfolding them into our own lives and celebrations. Christmas dinner at the LMC on Christmas Day was a wonderful way of seeing and reaching out to those who struggle at this time of year or may simply be lonely. The challenge is to not forget them as we go back to our own families and friends and to continue to see them and enfold them into our lives and our church family, inviting them to accept Jesus who is Immanuel, God with us. Faith in Jesus shapes us, changing our lives in every aspect, giving us eyes that see the world through God’s eyes, and hearts that interact with the world through God’s heart.
This passage is rooted in the promise that God will live with us again and we will be his people. There’s this wonderful promise that there will be no more tears, death, mourning or pain. Within our churches, there are still tears, mourning, death and pain, yet we’re still able to offer hope and healing, compassion and love because we know that whatever we’re going through is not the end of the story, that Jesus brings new life and overturns the effects of sin that brings brokenness and hurt into our lives. Most importantly, we offer our presence and our friendships as a sign of what God’s kingdom is like, what it is going to look like when Jesus returns with the new Jerusalem. Our faith equips us to change the world around us, often one person at a time as we reach out in love and caring towards them, looking to enfold them and walk with them. We accomplish this by keeping our eyes on Jesus; allowing Jesus to shape us, fill us, and use us in his name to be his presence of hope and healing in each other’s lives. In the craziness of this time, slow down and allow Jesus’ presence to be his gift to you and our gift to those around us.
Jesus enters into our world as a human being to bring order and peace into our chaotic lives and hearts, chaos that Satan loves to create. Jesus goes to the cross to wash away our sin and make us clean as part of bringing order again out of the chaos of our lives due to sin. This is the context of our passage this morning. Jesus’ return fills us with hope, knowing that everything that’s broken will be renewed, that our hurts will be healed, that life can start new again. John’s given this vision to offer hope to all the believers who are being persecuted, who are experiencing death and torture, to people who see little to hope for in this world.
Now, in spite of all the chaos that John’s living in, peace and order enters. John sees something remarkable coming down from heaven, a “new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there’s no longer any sea.” John uses some specific words here, words that point to renewing, to fresh life arising out of the decay and wreck of the old world. This isn’t about new geography, this is about a new kind of a world arising out of the ashes of the old, of a new people, a new way of living coming. This is about order coming out of chaos, about peace coming out of war, of hope and joy coming out of the persecution and poverty.
The sea’s a place to fear for the Israelites; a place of chaos where monsters rule, the place where the beast that fights Jesus comes from. The Jews were a desert people, firmly anchored to the earth. John himself is on a prison island called Patmos, an island battered by the sea during storms, a place far from family, home and friends. A world without a sea for a Jew is a picture of safety and order. What John sees here is an image of peace and safety.
John sees the Holy City come down, a city deeply different from the city of Babylon which has been defeated and destroyed. Babylon’s all about personal power, lust and greed, and becoming a god rather than following God. Here the new Jerusalem, God’s chosen city, is coming down from heaven, sent to earth by God to take its place in his new world order. It’s a gorgeous city built with precious jewels and gold and shines with the glory of God. Inside the city is a river filled with the water of life lined with trees of life whose leaves are filled with healing. The curse that came into the world with Adam and Eve’s sin has been wiped away, the effects of sin washed away; the city and the people are pure again, free of sin and the affects of sin, free of death, mourning, crying or pain. The only tears found in the city are tears of joy and love.
There’s a lot going on in this vision; echoes of creation, the prophets, acts of salvation in the past all pointing ahead to Jesus’ return. It’s gives hope to all people, especially those going to carry the words of this vision to the churches in the Roman Empire going through persecution. Through John, God’s talking to all his people through time, telling us that there’s hope, that the time is coming when Jesus is coming back to claim his people and his kingdom. It’s a picture of us being made new again, of all our hurt and brokenness being left behind as we move forward into an eternal future with Jesus healed and forgiven. Jesus' name Immanuel, God with us, will now be completely fulfilled and lived out in Jesus' return.
Until Jesus returns, there is much for us to do to prepare for his return. We are called to make disciples, to invite others to join us in following Jesus. As followers of Jesus, we work towards establishing the values of heaven here in our communities, values of justice and righteousness where we care for those who need a little extra help, we build on the good already here, we protect those who are oppressed, we create places of safety for those needing hope and someone to love them as Jesus loves them.
When Jesus returns, there’s still going to be work to do. We get to continue the task of discovering and releasing the potential that God has placed in creation, a task that got sidetracked by the fall into sin, but will be renewed again, but now with the entire creation open to us. Looking at how Jesus’ body was changed after the resurrection, how he’s able to go through walls and travel great distances quickly, what is that going to mean for us and the huge universe that stretches out across light years all filled with potential? Can you imagine the entire universe that’s waiting for us to continue that first call on our lives to fill the universe and subdue it by discovering and developing the potential that God has placed into it at creation, to work alongside God in this amazing task? As Jesus says, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”