The 23rd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 28) | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin |13 November 2022 | Isaiah 65:17-25 | Canticle 9 | 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 | Luke 21:5-19

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God who calls us amid crisis and creates the world anew.

Today’s readings find the people of God awaiting various crises. In our reading and canticle from Isaiah, the prophet anticipates a new and better world that God will create—the end result is beautiful, but it will take drastic change to get there.

In Luke, we have Jesus being apocalyptic—he’s describing the terrors of a chaotic time to come, which is partly the destruction of Jerusalem and partly the end times. And in Thessalonians, we overhear a conversation with folks who expected the end of this world to come a lot quicker than it did, and need to figure out what how to keep on living when the world is not ending yet after all.

These readings on change and crisis and anticipation hit close to home for me these days. We are also living in a world that’s in flux in so many ways, and we are not sure what happens next. So many things hang in the balance—the state of democracy, the future of our planet, the lives of indigenous children, and the freedoms of many, and the impact of the next COVID wave. Many of us have had more personal crises on top of the shared ones in the news. It seems like the last few years, we’ve just been moving from one crisis to another, always in anticipation of the next one.

And there are moments of relief and moments of joy and connection, but for some of us, it’s just been a long time since we’ve felt safe enough from major threats to fully relax and let our guard down for very long. Some of us tend to feel like we’re always bracing ourselves for the next crisis. It makes sense that we would be, given the state of things—and it’s also a really difficult way to live. Our brains and our bodies aren’t built to be in crisis mode for this long.

And this is where the second letter to the Thessalonians comes in. This letter is also addressed to people living in perpetual anticipation of crisis. It’s addressed to people under threat from persecution. It’s addressed to people who are not sure what happens next.

Whenever we read the New Testament letters, we’re always doing some guesswork because we’re only hearing one half of the conversation. But it’s pretty clear from the rest of this letter that there was confusion about the second coming of Jesus in this community. We think that many early Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes, and when he didn’t show up, they weren’t sure what to believe.

In this community some people thought that Jesus had already come and they’d missed the signs. Some people thought that they were either already living in the end times or else they were just about to be, and so there was no point in continuing to do their regular work and build community and keep on holding things together in this world.

And that’s the context of our reading today. When the writer warns against idleness, it’s for a specific reason. It’s not about people just being lazy, it’s about people misjudging the nature of the crisis they’re in. It’s about people thinking it’s already over when actually there’s a long ways to go yet.

This saying “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” has been taken out of context and used for harm. Some Christians have used this verse to speak against giving help to folks in need, and some have used it to label all people who struggle as lazy, and to justify letting God’s children suffer.

But this letter isn’t about what causes poverty or how we should respond to it; it’s about how to discern our calling in the midst of crisis. It’s about learning how to recognize when we’re in a marathon rather than a sprint, and pace accordingly. Because even in the midst of crisis and chaos and uncertainty, it turns out that there is still life to be lived and labor to be done and hope to be found in this present world. So we need to find our work and find what sustains us.

Our world and our people need us not to be weary in doing what is right. Amid ongoing crises, there is work to do—on the one hand, we can’t ignore that work, and on the other hand, we can’t throw ourselves into that work so frantically that we burn out. Even though some of the crises we’re facing might seem like the end of the world, we can expect there’s a long ways to go yet. And so as we keep doing whatever work we’re called to do, we also need to keep eating and breathing and praying and reflecting and resting together.

At Diocesan Convention last weekend, Bishop Jennifer charged the people of this diocese to rest. She acknowledged the exhaustion of these past few years and the difficulty of the work that’s yet ahead of us. And she called on us in this coming year to claim whatever rest and recovery we can. Because we’re going to need it. The crises will continue—but if we stay in crisis mode every day, we might become too weary to meet them with the compassion and conviction and clarity to which God calls us.

And so we could turn the letter’s phrase around: “Anyone who cannot eat cannot work.” We need to claim nourishment and rest in order to do the work we’re called to do. We need to pay attention to what feeds us, and seek out whatever that is. We need to claim time for rest and rebuilding as we’re able, and we need to come together and help make that rest and rebuilding possible for those among us who are overwhelmed and can’t see the way to restoration.

We need to give our bodies and our brains time to come down from crisis mode sometimes, even if not all of the actual crises have gone away. Time in quietness and prayer can help with this, and so can taking a long walk, and so can spending time with people who help us feel safe and connected. This is how we stay steady in anticipation of crisis.

And through it all, we are not alone. Jesus says it’s not all on us to prepare what to say. When unpredictable things happen, the Holy Spirit is with us to give us the words and the strength and the call to meet that moment as it comes.

And through it all, we hold onto Isaiah’s hope: Another world is possible. Another world is on the way. God is making all things new. We are being re-created for God’s delight and our own. Our prayers will be heard. Our divisions will be healed. Our labor will not be in vain. All creatures can flourish together in peace and plenty.

We will draw water with rejoicing from springs of salvation. The lion shall lie down with the lamb. God’s love will draw all creation together in joy.

And even now, friends, in this broken world, we see glimpses of the new heaven and the new earth that God is creating. We see people standing up for what’s right with their words and their money and their actions, and we find our call to follow Jesus boldly. We discern together amid crisis, and we find our quiet bit of work to do amid the chaos. We become part of God’s love transforming love when we care for each other and our neighbors. We claim the peace and flourishing and rest God offers whenever we find it.

We follow a vision of hope. We labor to make this world even a little bit more like the world God creates anew. We rest to sustain our work and ourselves, knowing that we are created for delight.

So may we trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among us to inspire our vision of hope, to strengthen our hands as we labor for what is right, and to give us rest and delight along the way.


The beginning of 2 Thessalonians in Greek from the 10th-century Egerton Manuscript (accessed through the British Library online).

The Seventh Sunday of Easter

St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 29 May 2022 | Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God of resurrection hope and possibility.

Good morning, friends. Welcome to the seventh and last Sunday of the Easter season. Easter is a season of hope and joy in Jesus’ resurrection. And yet, this time around, Easter has also been a season of mourning, a season of violence, a season of uncertainty. How do we celebrate resurrection when the world is on fire? Where can we find a word of hope in times like this? 

Throughout this season of Easter, we’ve been reading snippets of the book of Revelation. Our Gospels and Psalms and readings from Acts have had so much to offer these weeks that we haven’t really dug into our readings from Revelation yet.

I’d like to do that today, and see if we can find a word of resurrection hope in this strange last book of the Bible.

Sometimes churches like ours avoid talking about the book of Revelation, and sometimes for good reasons. It’s a really strange book filled with visions of destruction and re-creation. It’s confusing. There’s a lot of violence in it. Some of us grew up in churches that used Revelation to support political conspiracy theories, or to justify wars, or to say that certain groups of people were going to go to hell.  

Some of us are wary of the book of Revelation because we’ve seen it used for harm, and we don’t want to see any more of that. Some of us just don’t know what to make of it, if we even come across it. Even St. Jerome, that deeply scholarly church father, says that this book “contains as many mysteries as it contains words.” So, if we’re not sure what to do with this book, we’re in good company.

But I think we need the book of Revelation today—for some of the same reasons the very first readers of Revelation needed it. Like them, we live in a scary, violent world. Like them, we face uncertainty for the future. Like them, we need hope that with God, another world is possible.

The book of Revelation uses imagination to challenge the world that exists, and the powers that rule it. The book of Revelation says that the way things are isn’t the way things always have to be.

It’s full of vivid, sometimes haunting images: a stone inscribed with a secret name; a rainbow like an emerald; a sea of glass; a pale horse whose rider is Death; the sainted dead crying out for justice from underneath the altar; seven thunders speaking unwritable words.

There’s a celestial woman fleeing from a dragon, and the earth itself helps her get away. There’s a terrifying beast. There’s a war in heaven, and a tree whose leaves will heal the world; there’s a city that never closes its gates.

In today’s reading, right at the end of the book, the people and the Spirit call on Jesus to come and bring a new world into being. And everyone is invited to come and claim a gift of water from the very river of God to quench all thirst.

Our readings over the past six weeks have hit some of the highlights of the book, and have left out some of the more disturbing parts. Some of the images in Revelation are honestly horrifying, and some of them are strangely beautiful, and some of them are just strange. This is a book that requires care and discernment, and sometimes a strong stomach.

Even some of the early Christians who decided what got to be in the Bible weren’t always sure about Revelation—one of them (Dionysius of Alexandria) said that it has to be read allegorically in order to be in line with the truth of the church’s teachings.

That is, we have to use a creative lens to see the deeper truth behind the images rather than taking them as a literal description of either the past or the future. There are references to the Roman Empire and the realities of power and suffering and hope that early Christians faced at the time the book was written, but all of it is told through double meanings and mysteries.

This is a difficult book. And I think it’s a deeply necessary book in this moment we face now. Y’all, the world is on fire. It’s bad out there. Kids and teachers were killed at their school this week in Uvalde, and the people who should have protected them didn’t. The week before that, Black moms and dads and grandmas in Buffalo trying to feed their families were killed, targeted because of their race.

It’s a violent, wildly unfair world. And we’ve let the most vulnerable bear the worst of it. It seems like the people with the most power to make a difference are doing the least. A lot of us are grieving, and a lot of us are angry.

Sometimes it’s hard to even imagine how real change could happen from here, now that we’ve let it go this far.

And this is where Revelation comes in. It turns out, we aren’t the first ones to feel this way. It turns out, the world has been on fire before. These early Christians who first heard and read the book of Revelation lived in an empire that didn’t really want them to live at all. They lived in violent times. They faced deep-rooted injustice. They didn’t know what the future would hold.

The powers that existed seemed so total, so final, so crushing. And the book of Revelation gave them hope that someday all those powers that oppressed them, all those evils that seemed so obvious and all-encompassing—someday the whole thing would come crashing down.

Someday the dragon would fall from the sky. Someday the all-powerful beast that had hurt so many people would fall into the ocean like a boulder. Somehow, the earth itself would help the faithful to survive.

Revelation gave them a vision of a new world where miraculous trees flourish, and the martyrs are gathered under the altar, and every cry for justice is heard, and every tear is wiped away. And in that world, everyone who is thirsty can drink the water of life that flows from God as a free gift.  

Another world is possible. The evils that exist in the world we know aren’t inevitable, and they aren’t forever. Transformation is coming. In Revelation, we learn that it’s possible to fight the monsters.

It’s like what the English writer G.K. Chesterton says about children and fairy tales. When people worried that these stories would be too scary for kids to read, he said dragons and monsters aren’t new to most children. Young people already know about those forces in our world that are deeply cruel and frighteningly powerful. (He said that before kids even had to do active shooter drills.)

Chesterton says that what fairy tales do, though, is teach young people the truth that all of these scary things they already see can be fought. That there are heroes who can take on the dragons. That even the biggest monsters can come crashing down when we stand up to them together. 

That’s what the book of Revelation can do for us, whatever our age: It can show us that the monsters in this world, the systems that grind people up, don’t have the last word. It can show us that God’s beautiful dream is wider and deeper and richer and stronger than the ways this world can hurt us.

And I think that might also be why the book of Revelation has so often been hijacked and used for small projects of exclusion. Because the message that another world is possible is a dangerous message, and a lot of us aren’t ready to hear it.

Sometimes I’m not ready to hear it; sometimes it would be easier to think that all the broken systems are immovable than to actually start figuring out how to move them. Some of us think we’re doing okay in world as it is, and we’re not sure where we’d fit into this other world that is possible. Transformation can be scary.

So sometimes it’s been easier for churches to read Revelation as a book about who gets excluded, or a book about wars on the other side of the world, or a detailed schedule of the End Times—instead of a book about hope, instead of a book about how no evil is inevitable, a book about how resistance is possible, a book about how God’s love changes everything.  

That’s a lot. I’m not always ready for that. The church isn’t always ready for that kind of transformation, even though it’s what we signed up for. We sign up for transformation every time we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  

But a lot of people and groups and structures in this world are actively against transformation if it’s a threat to the way things are, a threat to making money, a threat to the same people staying in charge. It turns out that the folks who want to sell $8 bottles of water at the concert don’t like it when there’s a water fountain, much less a whole river of life flowing from the throne of God as a free gift.  

And the sad truth is that there are people who make a lot of money from the same setup that leads to school shootings, and they spend a lot of money to keep it that way. And there are people who only get to be famous and powerful by stirring up white people’s fear of everybody who’s not white. And sadly, even those of us who mean well sometimes hold onto the way things are because we’re afraid of what we might lose if another world were possible.

And the folks who do well off of these violent systems want us to think that the alternatives are too scary, and that the world we know is the only option. But it’s not.

Much like the conquering society called the Borg in Star Trek, the powers that oppress in this world would like us to believe that “resistance is futile.” But it isn’t.

Revelation tells us that we will not be assimilated. Revelation tells us that the inevitability of harmful patterns is a lie. Another world is possible. Another world is on the way. And imagining that world is our first step toward living in it.

The author of Revelation dared to imagine a world where the Roman Empire itself would fall into the ocean like a boulder. That must have seemed almost unthinkable at the time. No one knew any system except the Roman Empire. Sure, it was bad for lot of conquered peoples, it even crucified people, but the Empire built the roads and wrote the laws and ran the whole world’s economy.

What else could there be? What would the world even be like without it? And yet, it didn’t last forever; the Empire fell, and another world grew in its place.

So, I wonder what it would be like for us to be this bold in our imagination. Can we imagine a world without mass shootings?

In a video message about the shooting in Uvalde, the theologian Kelly Brown Douglas asked: “When will we be able to expand our moral imaginary enough so that we can imagine a world where all of our children are safe?” She challenges us to stretch and imagine what that would be like.

Douglas writes more about the importance of imagination in her book Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter. There, Douglas says that one of the reasons why our country has so much trouble moving toward racial justice is that we haven’t yet learned out to imagine it.

Our country has a warped “moral imaginary” where judgments about race are embedded. We have to learn how to tell our history in a different way and learn how to imagine our future in a different way to reshape that moral imaginary and make change possible.

She says that we are accountable to God’s future. We see glimpses of God’s future in Revelation and in the prophets and the saints. We see it in Jesus’ life and teachings. God draws us onward toward that future, that possible world, where we feast together and live as one in God’s love.

And maybe sometimes we don’t agree on what kind of world would meet God’s dream, about how God calls us to act in this moment—and then we can talk about that, and we can work to strengthen each other’s imaginations. I hope that you’ll tell me when you notice I’m dreaming too small or acting out of fear instead of love, and I’ll try to do the same in this community. We learn as we go, and we hold each other accountable to God’s future as best we can see it.

Kelly Brown Douglas is doing this kind of accountability. She calls on us, and specifically those of us in mostly white churches, to expand our imaginations about what’s possible. She invites us to join with her and other Black theologians and visionaries to see the world differently.

Douglas invites us to imagine a world where Black lives matter—and not only matter, but are treated as sacred.

Like the author of Revelation, Kelly Brown Douglas invites us to challenge the patterns of our world that seem most obvious and inevitable. She calls on us to become part of the resurrection hope God brings by imagining differently.

So, I wonder what kind of worlds we can imagine together.

Can we imagine a world where Black lives are held as sacred? Can we imagine a world where children are safe in school? Can we imagine a world where we find some other way to solve our problems besides more guns and more prisons and more locks and more walls?

Could we dare to imagine a world with no prisons or police at all? Could we imagine a world where everyone has enough and some to share?

What about a world where transgender youth are embraced as the radiant creations of God they are and supported in being fully themselves, wherever they live?

Could we imagine a world without the military industrial complex? Could we imagine a world where we don’t burn fossil fuel, and we help the earth heal?

Could we dare to imagine about a world where no one is overworked and everyone has all the time they want for rest and creativity and play?

Maybe it seems impossible right now, but I wonder where it could lead if we dare to imagine a different world. I wonder where it could lead if we tried to dream God’s dream together in faith that transformation is possible.  

I wonder where it could lead if we told our neighbors and our senators and our council members and our children and our parents and our friends and our enemies about the worlds we dare to imagine. I wonder where it could lead if we acted as if another world were possible.

Friends, let’s find out.

Let’s find out what happens when we carry the wild and wonderful hope of Revelation with us: that another world is possible.

Let’s find out what happens when we are accountable to God’s future, and we hear each other’s dreams.

Let’s find out what happens when we drink deeply from the water of life that God gives us in love, and when we offer that water of life as a gift to anyone else who is thirsty in this world.  

Let’s find out what happens when we come into our own as the keepers of a God-breathed, precious, fierce, dangerous, hope that empowers us to face down the dragons of this world.

Let’s find out what happens when we ask God to raise our imaginations from the dead.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

The image is a medieval (ca. 1330) illustration of the scene in Revelation where a celestial woman is given wings and aided by the earth to escape the dragon. (You can see more amazing illustrations of Revelation from this manuscript here: )

Advent 1 (Year C) | St. Paul’s, Evansville | Joanna Benskin | 28 November 2021

Jeremiah 33:14-16 | Psalm 25:1-9 | 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 | Luke 21:25-36

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God who comes near to us in love.

Good morning, friends! Happy Advent! In the church, we start our new year today with Advent, the season when we prepare for Christmas and for Jesus’ arrival.

It’s that festive time of year: Gingerbread, presents, and if we look at our Gospel today, also signs of impending apocalypse. Hot chocolate, carols, and “signs in the sun and moon, foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” You might notice some tension between our readings today and the celebratory spirit of getting ready for Christmas.

And that’s because in this season of Advent, we’re preparing for Jesus’ arrival on two different levels at once. We’re preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. And at the same time, we’re preparing for the Second Coming, for a time someday in the future when Christ will return and the world as we know it will be transformed.

So we have a melody line and a harmony line—the melody is the part where we’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, and the harmony underneath that is how we’re getting ready for Jesus to return again. And we’ll hear both of those parts weaving in and out with our readings and our music and our practices through the four weeks of Advent.

We see them both in our collect for today. That’s the prayer we say near the beginning or the service, and you can see it on page 2 of your bulletin. If you’re curious, you can also find all the collects for the whole year in the Book of Common Prayer. This one is on page 159 / 211. Let’s read it again:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.  

We are now getting ready to celebrate “the time of this mortal life in which Jesus came to visit us in great humility”—that’s Christmas, when we tell the story of how Jesus was born as one of us, born poor and weak in a stable. That’s the first coming.

And at the same time, we also prepare for the day “when he shall come again in glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead.” That’s someday in the future. That’s the Second Coming. We’ve got these two different levels going on at the same time: preparing for Christmas and preparing for Christ’s return and the Last Judgment.

In the melody line, we’re getting ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas. It’s time to get out those nativity scenes. We’ll even make a nativity scene here at the church next week. It’s time to tell stories and bake cookies and light candles and pray prayers.

Maybe you have an Advent calendar at home, or an Advent wreath. Maybe amid the busyness of getting ready for Christmas we can make time for a practice of prayer as we prepare our hearts to meet Jesus at the manger—Holly or I can help if you want ideas for how to pray. Maybe when we get gifts for our friends and family, we can also think to be generous with folks in need. Maybe we make special treats. Maybe we take joy in decorating for Christmas.

It’s a season of listening and getting ready. We listen for good news of great joy for all people. We get ready to meet Jesus when he comes in great humility to be born. We watch. We wait. We pray. We lean forward in the dark to see the light coming over the horizon.

All of these things can be part of the way we prepare our hearts for the mystery of God becoming human that we’ll celebrate at Christmas.

It’s a momentous, world-changing mystery to prepare for—God the creator of the universe is born of a woman and becomes one of us, a vulnerable little baby in a manger. In this season, we do whatever we need to do so that we’re ready to receive that mystery, ready to meet God at the manger.

In Advent, we practice joy generosity and wonder in small ways to get ready for the great joy and the great gift and the great mystery that is God becoming human.

And meanwhile, in the harmony line of Advent, we’re also preparing for another great mystery: how Christ will come again in glory to judge and save the world. Now this part is a little harder to deal with, for me at least.

It’s harder because this promised return is someday in the future, and there’s a lot we don’t know about it. Scripture uses a lot of different images and metaphors to talk about the mystery of Christ’s return, and sometimes that’s confusing. It’s hard because with this one, we’re not as sure what exactly it is we’re waiting for.

It’s also hard because there’s this language of judgment around Christ’s return, and a lot of us carry deep hurt around the idea of God’s judgment—sometimes the idea of God’s judgment has been used for hateful and controlling purposes.

Sometimes the idea of God’s judgment has been used to prop up very limited and limiting human judgments about what we should be doing and who we’re allowed to be. And sometimes the ideas of the end times and Christ’s return and the Last Judgement have been used to crank up the fear rather than inspire us to love.

And sometimes that’s meant that here in churches like this where we’re trying really hard to be about love and not about fear, we just don’t like to talk about divine judgment at all, or about the Last Judgment when Christ comes again. And I understand that. There’s so much hurt around these topics that sometimes it’s helpful to just give them some space and focus our energy elsewhere.

But this Advent, I’d like to invite us to try working with the idea of coming judgment and see what we can do with it. It’s going to be here with us this season in our prayers and our readings.

So I wonder if we can find an understanding of the Last Judgment that’s in line with our hope in God’s love for us, and not about fear and control.

I think we can start to do that by remembering who it is we’re waiting for. Even if we don’t know what exactly will happen at the end of the world we know, we believe that it’s Jesus who will return, and we know that Jesus loves us. We know that Jesus comes to help us and save us and love us.

We might also look to our scriptures, where it often seems like people are longing for and looking forward to a time when God will judge the earth. In Jeremiah, the people look forward to a time when the Lord will “execute righteousness and judgment on the earth.”

The Psalmist hopes that God will step in to uphold the ones who trust in God and to stop treacherous people from getting to finish their schemes. Other Psalms also speak with deep longing and hope that God will come near in order to judge evildoers, vindicate faithful people, and make things right.

You can listen for this longing to see God’s justice and help come to the earth in our readings from the prophets and the Psalms through Advent, and in some of the songs we sing this season.

In the Gospel, when Jesus speaks of the apocalyptic times to come, he tells his followers they should stand up and raise their heads, because their redemption is drawing near when they see the end times are coming. When Paul writes to the Thessalonians about Christ’s coming again, he prays that God would make their love abound to prepare.   

When we read these scriptures and others, it often seems like God’s coming judgment on the earth was something these people really wanted to happen. It seems like a lot of our ancestors in the faith didn’t dread the coming judgment—they longed for it.

And I think that’s because they knew who God was, and they trusted that God’s judgment would make things better. It seems like they saw a lot of things wrong with the world, and they believed that God’s judgment would be about setting things right.

The people who longed for God’s coming judgment knew that they weren’t perfect, and that was okay, because God’s coming for them wasn’t about God looking for faults to criticize. God’s judgment wasn’t about tallying up blame, but about setting right what’s deeply broken in the world.

God’s judgment is about healing what’s injured. If you go to a really skilled and compassionate doctor after an accident and the doctor says that your arm is broken, that diagnosis is a judgment about what’s wrong. But that judgment isn’t about blaming you for getting hurt. Instead, being able to say clearly what’s wrong would mean that the doctor knows what to do next to set the broken bone and help you recover.  We might think of the last judgment as Christ returning to examine the patient and then set the broken bones of the universe.

And we do what we can now to work for hope and healing, but we know we fail sometimes. Sometimes we’re not able to set all the bones that break. Sometimes the treacherous succeed in their schemes and we’re not able to stop them or hold them accountable.

Sometimes we fail to protect the innocent, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes the systems we hoped would bring justice end up doing the opposite of that.

And we try with all our might to make these things better—and we should, because they matter to real people, and it’s part of how we love each other in the time we have. And at the same time, we trust that Christ will come again to make the world right, to bring healing where we couldn’t. And that is good news.

And if we see Christ’s return as that kind of good news, then maybe we can see how getting ready for it fits in with getting ready for Jesus’ birth. Both times, Jesus is coming to the earth with love and transformation. Both times, Jesus is coming to heal and save.   

And so we can see how we might prepare for both Christmas and Jesus’ return at the same time. The one who will come again in glory to set the broken bones of the universe is the same Jesus who was born in a manger and let himself be broken for us. Both times, Jesus comes to us in love, and we await him with hope. Both times, Jesus’ coming is good news of great joy for all people.

And so as we prepare for both Christmas and Christ’s return this Advent, let’s get clear about the one we’re waiting for. Friends, we are not here waiting for the creepy version of Santa in that song who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake and keeps a list of your good and bad deeds so he can see if you get presents of a lump of coal.

We are waiting for Jesus who already loves us. And Jesus is not making a list and checking it twice to see if we’re good enough. Jesus loves us so much that even on our worst day Jesus sees more goodness and beauty and glory and wonder in each one of us than we can see in ourselves even on our best day. We are waiting for Jesus who comes near us with boundless compassion.

So a time of getting ready for Jesus’ return doesn’t mean a time of working hard to be good enough. It’s not a time to get out our checklist and make sure we did everything right this year. It’s a time to make room in our hearts to love others and to be deeply loved. It’s a time to pray (with St. Paul) that our love for each other and for all may abound, as Jesus’ love for us and for all does.

This time of preparation is not a time for perfectionism, but a time for vulnerability and honesty. It’s a time to uncover our wounds—both personal ones and in our communities, and look for healing. This is not a time to do it on our own, but a time to realize that we need God and we need each other. It’s a time when it’s safe to acknowledge our need because more clearly than ever, we can see our deliverance coming, right around the corner, just over the horizon, so close.

This season of Advent is a time to prepare our hearts and homes and lives anew to meet the God who loves us and who chooses to come close to us. We prepare in the melody line for Christmas and in the harmony line for Jesus’ coming again.  

We follow the signs we can see. We stay watchful for the Spirit’s movements among us. We lean forward in the dark; we look over the horizon and see glimpses of the light that’s coming near. We tell the stories we know about this good news of great joy for all people. We wait. We pray. We hope.

And may we increase and abound in love for each other and for all, as the God who loves us draws close to us this season.


Natalya Rusetska (Ukrainian, 1984–), “First Day of Creation,” 2017. Egg tempera on gessoed wood board, 11 13/16 × 11 13/16 in. (30 × 30 cm). Tags: hovering over the waters

“First Day of Creation” by Natalya Rusetska — thanks to the blog Art and Theology ( for introducing me to this painting and making the connection with Advent!