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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Come

The final nine verse of Revelation are a part of the Revised Common Lectionary, but they fall on the 7th Sunday after Easter in year C. This past year was Year C, so these verses, Revelation 22:12-21, would have been one of the readings for May 16, 2010. I don’t think that means we’re 7 months too late. I find that the final verses of Revelation make a most appropriate Christmas time reflection.

Advent is a season of anticipating the coming of Christ. Note how the theme of his “coming” is central at the end of Revelation. “See, I am coming soon” (22:12).

Also, in verse 16, Jesus declares his identity. “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

And note the response of faith in verse 17. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Finally, the author of Revelation finishes his testimony saying, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus” (v.20b)!

The desire for the earthly return of Jesus is clearly expressed. The communities of the seven churches (see 1:11 and chapters 2-3) were living under severe persecution as the letters in the second and third chapters show. Many died because they refused to renounce Jesus and acknowledge the deity of the emperor. For their faithful witness, they underwent torture and in some cases death. John himself, the writer of Revelation, was exiled on the island of Patmos for his testimony. These Christians wanted Jesus to return and finish the victory that was won at the cross and in the resurrection. They desperately wanted the promises we see throughout Revelation to come through quickly. John did too. So, though he writes informing his churches of the Lordship of Jesus, he finishes with a flourish of cries. “Come Lord Jesus!”

Also, in this conclusion to the great apocalypse, an invitation is issued to the weary followers of Christ. They (and we) are invited to the waters of life (v.17). This is where I think Revelation meets Christmas. We wait for Christmas to get here (shopping, presents, the tree, the decorations, the Christmas Eve worship service, the two weeks from Christmas to New Year that the kids are out of school). The entire season is one of waiting, anticipating, and then arriving.

It can weigh heavy on person. Vibrant faith gets crowded out in the hustle and bustle. We hear so many country, jazz, pop, and rock stars do radio versions of our favorite hymns – worship songs, we miss the message. “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come Let us Adore Him,” and so many other Christmas hymns are proclamations of the Gospel. But all we hear are the same cheesy versions of the same songs we hear every year at this time. I am not saying it is always this way for me or anyone else, but it can be. Some of the most sublime worship experiences I have had have come with these songs. Other times, I hear them from late October to January 1, and I think, “Enough already.”

For those who are holiday-weary, the invitation in Revelation 21 is especially poignant. “Come Lord Jesus.” It’s a prayer for Jesus to come at the judgment, the Last Day. But it is also a prayer for Jesus to come into my life in a reviving, fresh way today. Maybe the establishment of the Kingdom of God won’t be completed in 2011. Maybe the End Times will not reach the final end any time soon. But, the Kingdom has been inaugurated. That happened on Easter Sunday when the tomb was discovered empty.

The Jesus is in the manger is the same Jesus who walked out of the grave. He is the same Jesus who spoke in the pages of Revelation. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He invites us to his kingdom rule and to his boundless grace today. So, as an act of worship, and as a needed rescue from the blur of the season, and as a necessary spur to your own spirit, ask Jesus to enter your life in a new way today. Center your life on your relationship with Him. Sing the song of Revelation 21. Come! Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

God's Home

Revelation 21 is a favorite chapter for many Bible readers, even the many who aren’t generally that interested in reading the apocalypse and the grand and sometimes mysterious visions in it. Why? The answer is clear. Look at what is promised in the first seven verses of this chapter.

The first heaven and the first earth have disappeared. The sea which comes between man and God has vanished (see Revelation 4:6; for more on the sea, see my blog, http://honesttalkwithgod.blogspot.com, June 3, 2010). There is nothing to come between humanity and God, and there is a new (untarnished) earth and a new heaven. Also in chapter 21 we are promised that there will be no more pain, no more tears (tears of grief, loss, and suffering), and no more death.

Of course Bible readers are drawn to this text. Anyone who struggles in life would want to know that the next life promises something better. That’s a reason this is such an often read funeral text. People take great hope for their lost loved ones and for themselves in believing that Heaven is so perfect. But it is not only funerals. This chapter provides hope any times discouragement threatens to break the will of a Christ follower. We receive the promise that we will be “made new” and that we will freely drink from the spring of the water of life (vss. 5, 6). Who wouldn’t want this?

Looking at the promises of these first seven verses, I wonder which one speaks to you most powerfully? In this season of Advent, as the church lives in the hope of ‘Immanuel,’ “God with us,” I am drawn to Revelation 21:3. "Now God's home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God.” The other promises are beautiful and wonderful and at other times in my life, I might be drawn to the new earth or to “no more tears.” But, with Christmas in view, I am taken by the idea that God’s home is where I am. God is at home with me, and I with Him.

I think the wonder of this promise is that it is relational. It is personal and intimate. I have flaws, plenty of them. There are things I can well, better than most people. I know areas where I need to improve. I know areas of weakness that will always be difficult for me no matter how hard I work at them. I am in touch with who I am as a person. Yet, God knows me better than I know myself. God “formed my inmost parts” (Psalm 139:13), and knows the number of the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). With all that God knows about me, God loves me and promises to make His home with me for eternity. That’s what I see in Revelation 21:3. It’s something that gives me great peace and strengthens my heart.

Chapter 21 also tells the implications of this promise. John says, “I did not see a temple in the city, because its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (v.22). Also, “The city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God shines on it, and the Lamb is its lamp” (v.23). A straight literal reading of these promises would be that in Heaven it is always a church service and it is always day time. That reading misses the depth and richness of this poetry. John uses images his readers can understand in order to describe this wondrous place where there is nothing to fear and the fellowship is perfect.

This picture is a beautiful one to ponder during Advent. In Advent, we celebrate the love of God that is so powerful and far-reaching that God is willing to come and dwell among us in human form, Jesus of Nazareth. That’s the Advent story – a story of God’s love. The end times story is the Advent story reversed. We are invited to be at home with God – with God for eternity. In celebrating the coming of Jesus during this season, it’s a true blessing to know that his time on Earth is a foreshadowing of our heavenly home with Him.