What would happen if everyone looking for the coming of Jesus would mimic his character?
Today’s Advent readings are Isaiah 19:18-25; 2 Peter 1:2-15; and Psalm 126. While the prophet’s passage is full of surprising implications, linking Egypt, Assyria, and Israel, it is the text from Peter that is the focus of today’s thoughts.
For many Christians, the passage is not new. It is familiar as a text encouraging something we like to refer to as “spiritual growth.” It does this, of course. It is possible that we limit its potential impact, however, by our perception of spiritual growth. Too easily do we fall into the trap set for us by a culture which maintains a sharp separation between “spiritual” and “real” life. Spiritual things are removed from the everyday world; they are perceived as things belonging to some private sphere, where we operate on the basis of personal preferences, non-rational choices, and whatever suits our fancy. It is in contrast to our public lives which operate according to rationality, scientific verifiability, and subservience to the cold hard facts.
The coming of the Son of God into our physical world will not allow that dichotomy. The Incarnation is, among so many other game-changing characteristics, a definitive denial of the proposition that sacred and secular worlds exist with no contact or cross-over between the two. God is with us—in the world. In life as it actually occurs. His goodness is the conclusion one must arrive at when evaluating his actions as much as it is his divine attribute. And in his coming he has called those who believe in him to receive his own glory and goodness.
Did you catch that? It is on this basis, and this basis only, that we are encouraged to “make every effort” toward moral excellence, knowledge of God, self-control, patient endurance, and godliness. These qualities can only be affirmed by living and acting in the same human history as that into which the Son became incarnate. Differences in time and culture from first century Palestine to 21st century America, Europe, India, Liberia, or anywhere else pale in comparison to the similarities of encountering flesh and blood people. Life in any time or place requires interactions with others, interactions which are ripe for the display of goodness, of moral excellence, patient endurance, and love. To this we are called; and for this we are equipped.
Today’s encouragement is for Christians to put on Christ, to “wear” him, as Paul put it. If we truly look for his coming, we will be about the business of imitating him until it happens. This means interacting with people who are not like us and possibly do not like us; it means living in a world of need where we demonstrate the goodness of the coming One. It means that spiritual growth is personal growth into the character of Jesus, and not some private affair, safely cordoned off from the cold, cruel world. It means acting more, not just studying more. So when he comes, we’ll be ready, anxious, and well-prepared.