The season of Advent sometimes has the Christian world standing on tiptoe looking off to the horizon for the arrival of Jesus Christ who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
Christian believers, of course, have good reason to expect that Jesus will burst over the landscape in a triumphant appearance. St. Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jesus’ very own words: “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” Other times Christians respond to Advent’s invitation to reflect thoughtfully on the wonderful arrival of Christ in history, that enchanting moment when Mary gave birth to the anticipated Messiah in the stable at Bethlehem.
This time the Christian faithful have a double precedent for their heartfelt reflection. St. Luke remembers the awestruck shepherds who “…made known the message” spreading their fascination far and wide after witnessing the new born Messiah. St. Matthew for his part confirms the majesty of the moment when he recounts that the Magi from the East “…prostrated themselves and did him homage,” when they encountered the newborn King of the Jews. Then again, preachers often encourage their listeners to discover the coming of Christ in one’s own day – Christ found today in the Church, Christ found today in the challenges of daily life, and, especially, Christ found today in the poor. Again the Scriptures often confirm this honorable Advent effort of seeing Christ in the present historical moment: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me.”
While Christ does indeed come in history, in the present moment, and in glory at the end of time, the Savior’s triple comings are only the first steps in his final mission. When Jesus spoke of the Son of Man coming gloriously on a heavenly cloud, the Master no doubt had in mind a prophecy of the End Times found in the Book of Daniel: “As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, he received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.” The celebrated Second Coming of Jesus Christ is only partial appreciated if believers envision that splendid arrival terminating here on earth. Jesus will indeed come in glory “to judge the living and the dead.”
But his triumph will not end here on earth. Christ will then return to his Father to receive his inheritance of “dominion, splendor, and kingship.” This heavenly legacy will be “an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed.” The ancient Creed confirms the prediction of Daniel: “and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But the glory of the moment does not end there. Jesus himself declares in the Matthean text: And he will send out his angels with a trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” The ever-extending good news is that mankind will also share in the glorious triumph of the Son of Man. The elect will be gathered from around the world and ushered into Christ’s eternal kingdom to enjoy the fruit of their labors and to rest eternally in the presence of God.
It is especially important to note that the triple comings of Jesus Christ at Advent are only partially understood if they are appreciated simply as the comings of the Son of God to mankind in history, in daily life and on the last day. Jesus always comes to human family so that he can draw that human family closer to God. Jesus comes to man so that man can have access to God. Jesus’ coming on the clouds of heaven, no matter how glorious, is incomplete if it ends on the earth’s horizon. Jesus’ final coming is only complete when he gloriously returns to the Ancient of Days proudly to present his elect and humbly to accept his eternal kingdom.
This ultimate focus both on Christ’s heavenly destiny and on mankind’s heavenly destiny is vital to a proper perspective on the Christian life. Christ did a lot of good here on earth and Christian believers are obliged to do a lot of good here on earth.
But the life of heaven, the realm of grace, the eternal kingdom, must always be the paramount Christian objective.
“Thy Kingdom come” is the perennial Christian prayer. And kingdom come is the ultimate Christian goal.