What is the future you want to come home to?
During the season of Advent I suspect most of us can call up some of our very best memories of coming home to a place of festivity and welcome by those who love us. Unfortunately that is not true for everyone.
I just came back from the bank on a beautiful brisk sunny day. For the first time I sensed that the teller, I will call Tamara, was troubled. She told me today that she is from Syria. Tamara, with evident concern, admitted that she is not sure if her parents are safe or not. I left the bank with a sinking feeling that she has no idea if she will ever come home again or if her parents will survive the ongoing violence.
As we celebrate Advent 2013 there are over 2 million Syrians who are not only refugees but many of them are at risk because of the ongoing war. At least 600,000 Filipinos are homeless this Christmas and countries all over the world are rushing to their aid. 172.000 Haitians are still in temporary shelters after the earthquake that destroyed their homes some time ago. Finally, there are still around 1.5 million Palestinians living in 58 refugee camps on the West Bank, Gaza, Jordon, Lebanon and other countries in the region for decades that have little hope of coming home.
As followers of Jesus how we respond to the urgent needs of our many homeless neighbors will be determined in part by notions of the future we believe Jesus invites us to come home to.
I was not raised in the church. I was converted into an evangelical faith. I was taught that coming home to God’s eternal world was all about my disembodied spirit going up to a non-material world in the clouds. Many people nurtured in this faith are still singing a song that I believe has more to do with the writings of Plato than the teachings of Jesus….”This world is not my home… I am just a passing through.”
Doesn’t popular eschatological literature of escape invite us to imagine going up at the rapture… leaving our clothes behind on airplane seats and leaving all the suffering behind? My first concern with this view of God’s purposes for the human future is that I am convinced it isn’t biblical. My second concern is that people who hold this view often seem to have very little concern for those that are left behind or even for the urgent needs that fill our world today.
Don’t most of the songs that Christians sing about coming home seem to be about us going up instead of Jesus coming down? We urgently need song writers to help us find some new images about coming home to this good world being restored and not destroyed.
In Surprised by Hope NT Wright invites us to re-discover a biblical vision of coming home that is not to a disembodied existence in the clouds. Instead he reminds us that the scripture teaches that that Jesus is coming down, the New Jerusalem is coming down…we are not going up. He argues convincingly from 1st Corinthians 15 that we will come home to a restored creation as a great bodily resurrected intercultural community…real bodies but different bodies just like our risen Leader.
One cannot read the Gospels or the prophets without realizing that God’s loving purposes are not just about changing us spiritually… as important as that is. God in Christ intends to make all things new. I am looking forward to coming home to a future in which the blind see, the deaf hear and lame run. I am looking forward to coming home to a future in which the broken are healed and all the refugees find their way home. I look forward to a future in which justice finally comes for the poor and oppressed and peace comes to the nations. I look forward to coming home to a future in which God’s good creation isn’t destroyed but restored with great celebration.
So Advent for me is always a great celebration of our best memories of coming home. But it is also an anticipatory celebration of the return of Christ when all things are finally made new.
Can I suggest this is not only a season of anticipation and celebration but a season of calling. Aren’t we called during this season of Advent to follow Jesus by making God’s purposes our purposes? Aren’t we called not to seek life but to lose life in service to God and others? Shouldn’t we as followers of Jesus to recommit our lives to God’s loving purposes for a people and a world?
I come to this season looking forward to Christine and I cooking and celebrating with friends old and new. It is my favorite season of the year. I am already planning the meals I plan to prepare.
But this year I feel nudged to find an intentional way to be a bit of God’s good news in my community every week. I made a call before I wrote this blog post to find a place I can make a little difference locally.
How is God inviting you during this season of Advent to not only celebrate the great homecoming but also to give expression to it in your neighborhood or God’s larger world?
Let us hear how you plan to both celebrate God’s great homecoming and seek to more actively advance it where you live.
Have a great celebration of Advent as homecoming with those you love.
Tom Sine is research guy at Mustard Seed Associates and hospitality guy at the Mustard Seed house. He has worked for many years as a consultant in futures research and planning for both Christian and secular organizations. His latest book is The New Conspirators
Tom, I come from an Evangelical background and it saddened me that you broad brushed an entire group of God’s church to advance your view. As this is my first time observing Advent I can take what I see as rich from your article but must admit it has quenched my joy a bit as I seek to avoid issues that have the ability to divide. I have a gut reaction to enter debate in defense of many godly evangelicals but that would diminish Advent for me. If this is seen as inappropriate you may remove it but I could not remain silent. Thank you for the work you do. Allan
Thanks for taking the time to respond. The last thing I wanted to was to quench anyone’s joy, My intent was not to start a debate but to offer a fuller vision of our biblical hope in Christ.
I too come from an Evangelical background. That is why I was so grateful to discover in Surprised by Hope, written by an evangelical theologian NT Wright, offers a much more hopeful biblical view of God’s loving purposes for a people and a world.
I am looking forward to coming home to a new “heaven and a new earth” as a great bodily resurrected people of God. I am not only looking forward to being transformed personally but to society being transformed as well.
I am looking forward to coming home to a future in which healing finally comes to the broken, sight to the blind, release to the captives and peace to the nations…and God’s good creation being restored as a part of all things being made new in Christ..
Allan, do take a look at Surprised by Hope and see if you find his biblical analysis of God’s resurrected future as hope giving as I and many other evangelicals and other Christians do.
Wishing you a joy and hope filled Christmas,
Thank-you, Tom! And i speak both as an old friend, and a Christ believer who has experienced homelessness on several occasions. Methinks, in case it makes a diff what a formerly homeless guy thinks, that i preferthe more hopeful vision you teach than the same ol’ pop-evangelical prognostications, vis a vis The whole Left Behind series. I’d even confess i read a couple of them before giving up on it as a poorly written story. But enough of my digression; thank-you again, Tom for this and for your kind hospitality, here in the Emerald City!
Thanks for this. I have been trying to find some stimulating reading for Advent and was getting fed up of the usual platitudes. It was refreshing to find someone else who gets as frustrated as I do with the message of “we’ll put up with the mess the world is in because we’re going somewhere else soon”. I started attending the Salvation Army when I was eleven and have continued there ever since. We have a song from way back that has a line that always stays with me – “he has no hands but our hands”. So when we pray “they Kingdom come on earth…” we are essentially committing ourselves to getting out of our comfort zones and putting some effort into changing the world.
I also get frustrated with the misreading of the Bible with the addition of folklore to create an image of heaven and hell that some churches erroneously teach as Biblical. No doubt in the past it has served as a means of spiritual manipulation (“you do as you’re told or you’re going to hell” – surely no one would do that today??) but, if we are to claim legitimacy and relevance in today’s society, we must start to teach what the Bible actually says and not what we think it says.
So, thanks again for a thought provoking start to my day.
Great to hear from you friend.
Coming home is all about hospitality isn’t it? Check out the homecoming feast pictured in Isaiah 25:6 -9…”the best of food and finest of wine” with our risen Christ and all those we love.
Wishing you and all those you love a joyous Christmas and a new year filled with much feasting and hospitality.
You summarized clearly what I was trying to say… we need to wholeheartedly give our prayers and lives to see something of “God’s kingdom com on earth as it is in Heaven!” Thanks for the helpful reminder.
With appreciation and best wishes for a Christmas filled with hope.