parousia : noun \ˌpär-ü-ˈsē-ə, pə-ˈrü-zē-ə\ physical presence; arrival, the second coming of Jesus Christ
The return of the Season of Advent gives me the opportunity to reflect on something that God has been working in me over the last few years: the virtue of patience. In the New Testament a couple of words are translated as patience. One has the sense of a patient, steadfast waiting for something. The other connotes patience and forbearance with other people. Taken together these meanings have particular application for the Season of Advent.
We all know that Advent is the annual reminder that we should always be prepared for the Jesus’ return in power and great glory at the end of the age. For me, this year this season means waiting for the Lord to sovereignly and independently act. As God’s people patiently waited for him to act by sending the Messiah at the first Advent we are similarly placed in a posture of humility and submission as we wait for God to act again in Christ’s Second Coming.
The people of God could not make the first Advent happen. Likewise we stand in a posture of expectation and longing for the return of Christ, but we don’t make it happen. Yes, the Scripture infers that we can “hasten” the Lord’s appearing (2 Peter 3:12) but we aren’t really given any metrics by which we can measure this hastening. The result is that we have to wait patiently.
This kind of patience means that I trust that God is at work in the world today, guiding history to its fulfillment in Christ even though our epoch is described as “this present darkness.” (Eph. 6:12) I confess that when I consume a steady diet of the news as it highlights natural disasters, crime, religious persecution, and lawlessness among leaders and nations I am tempted to the sin of despair. But this is not the story of Scripture. The Bible never shies away from the reality of natural and human evil, but it does point us to a deeper truth that “though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.”
So Advent patience is laced with hope and confidence in the goodness and faithfulness of God. By God’s grace this Advent I choose to believe that, “The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.” (Psalm 145:13 NIV)
I have also seen God work a new patience regarding my disposition towards people. This is especially true in my vocation as a priest. Years ago I was much more keen to “fix” people – to “straighten them out.” I wanted to force crisis moments where people would come to their senses and repent of sinful and destructive patterns and behaviors. I am just as ready to confront people as I have always been, but in recent years I have become much more comfortable with letting God work the outcome.
One reason for this is that I have witnessed God’s great patience with me over the course of my life as he has gently moved along his gracious work of sanctification in me. There have indeed been moments of crisis in which God called me to repentance for a particular sin. But the process of changing my character continues to be a protracted (and often painful and frustrating) work of the Holy Spirit.
If God deals with me with this kind of patience and mercy, what kind of arrogance would it take for me demand higher standards from others? God has been so patient in incrementally dealing with the “log” (maybe even cordwood!) in my eye how I can demand an apocalyptic moment of sanctification in others?
And when I am frustrated with the slow pace of sanctification in my own life, I am reminded in Advent to take a step back and look at the trajectory of God’s work in me over time. God really is conforming me little by little into the image of his dear Son. (Romans 8:29)
In the same way I can trust God to use the slow and messy process of forming disciples in the community of the local parish to continue his redeeming work in the lives of those I serve. A friend of mine once said that the art of ministry is knowing how to tell people just enough truth so that they do not run away.
I think I know what he means: We can be patient with people as we help them take the small steps of holiness that lead to a lifetime of progress towards theosis. We don’t have to dump the whole load of our expectations on folks in order to “fix” them all at once. Instead we can trust that our sovereign, promise-keeping God is doing an Advent work seeing to it that Christ appears in their lives as well as ours.
As a pastor this means that, as St Paul says, part of my work is to bear the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in those I serve. (Galatians 4:19) But the reward is that there are frequently glimpses of the Lord Jesus in faces of those to whom I minister. And each time that happens, it’s a beautiful glimpse of Christ’s second Advent.
Longing for his appearing,