by Shelley Curtis Weaver | 10 May 2023 |
Into every Pathfinder’s life a ten-mile hike must fall. When I was in sixth grade we had one in mid-July, the time in Wyoming when the snow was most likely to have melted from the old highway on the shaded side of Ten Sleep Canyon.
Even at that age, I was a meanderer. I liked climbing my grandparents’ apple trees or making forts between fallen logs in the woods. But marching through the mountains? Not so much. But it was a requirement, and requirements must be fulfilled.
A few of the Pathfinders nearest me in age formed a small band, and we made our way together down the winding switchbacks. We picked wild roses, kicked rocks, and harvested chokecherries for a tart, puckering mouthful of astonishment.
Meanwhile, many of the younger campers, earnest about finishing the hike in a competitive time, raced and urged each other on to the finish line where our families had a picnic waiting.
The more we walked and talked, the slower my group became, until even the adults accompanying us had moved ahead, assuming we were not far behind them. They—the timely hikers, the Pathfinder leaders and the parents—reached the goal and then watched and waited for us.
Finally our Pathfinder leader grew worried and suggested launching a search party back up the road to find us. Our parents (who clearly knew us well) reminded her that there was no traffic, and no diverging paths we might have taken, but she was anxious, and insisted.
Now, as a person who’s since taught high school and raised children of my own, I’m a little appalled to remember that we decided it would be fun to hide from those searching. Finally our leader’s increasingly worried calls touched our consciences and drew us out of hiding. But at the time, it was the highlight of our hike. We giggled and hushed each other as we hid behind a massive roadside boulder, delighted by the power uncooperative children possess.
It’s an odd little tale tucked into my many Pathfinder memories, but it sprung to mind when I read Ervin Taylor’s commentary, “A Question to Paul of Tarsus: Why the Delay?” We of the Advent Movement have found ourselves waiting and waiting for Jesus’ “soon return.” We’ve studied carefully and crunched the numbers, rehashing the “signs-and-wonders” and the “wars-and-rumors-of-wars” running across our eschatological finish line as proof that Jesus is almost here.
When Jesus didn’t appear as planned back in October of 1844, we sent out metaphorical search parties to find some answers. We visioned, and envisioned different interpretations. We reassured ourselves that Jesus had actually done something that day: instead of returning, he had started the investigative judgment.
But once we’d been wound up for Jesus’ return, we found it hard to wind down. We’d saved our “the end is near” sign boards and we put them to use. How long, after all, could it possibly take for the sanctuary to be cleansed? The signs we’d charted from Revelation and the natural phenomena Jesus described had already happened, by our reckoning. We could wait a little longer.
When the delay grew long enough that it was clear Jesus had “tarried,” we increased the volume of our alarm. The shortness of time was the message, and also the fuel for the message. If we had waited this long, we must really be near the end now. We held meetings and camp meetings.
I can still remember when we adopted a particular hymn as our rally and theme song: “We Have This Hope.”
Now, there’s something powerful about our corporate singing of “We have this hope.” It’s so moving that I hesitate to make the point that needs to be made in this honest discussion of Adventist tradition and culture.
Still, there’s no avoiding that the lyrics themselves hit at the heart of the problem. “We have this hope that burns within our hearts.” Hope. . . in what? “Hope in the coming of the Lord.” Now, that’s not a bad hope to have. That’s a bold hope, a heartening hope.
But it is a secondary hope. Our primary hope is not in the coming of the Lord. Our primary hope is in the Lord himself.
Already with us
Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, told us that date-picking and speculation was misguided. Only God knew the time of the end. Jesus knew the significance of walking with God in the meantime. He communed with God in expectation. He modeled seeking God out in the real world. Whether praying in solitude or in the company of his followers, he bowed his head in total expectation that God was there.
If there’s one “meantime” message that resonates, it’s Jesus’ living and teaching the kingdom-at-hand, the reality of Emmanuel, God-with-us. In harmony with this, Jesus himself described his abiding presence as “the kingdom.”
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21 NIV
Even with our great hope that his physical return will end suffering and death forever, we are not genuinely following Jesus if we do not expect him to be actively in our midst, here and now. He abides in our prayer, in our study, in our interactions with others, in the outpouring of the Comforter: every day with us. Our hope and confidence lies in his promise that he will never leave or forsake us.
It’s time, well past time for a complete understanding by expanding and embracing the full concept of advent. Five generations in, I am so deeply, culturally Adventist that I was bewildered as a child to encounter my first advent calendar. Didn’t “advent” mean Jesus’s second-coming? Broadening our teaching and terminology might open a door to a wider, richer Advent Movement.
Enlarging our Advent-identity doesn’t mean losing our eagerness for the return of Jesus. It mainly means to temper it with perspective. After all, “Thy kingdom come” is a near neighbor to “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Receiving the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and pouring out God’s love into the world is a real way to ensure the two phrases are fulfilled. When we live out these prayers, God is in our midst and the kingdom has come. We actually become more completely Adventist by embracing both the first and second advent, and this is good news.
Redrawing our plans
We are far from the first humans to grapple with delay, with our identity and purpose in the “meantime.” We can benefit from considering the advice given to Israel in exile.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:4-7 NIV
What good might we accomplish with this perspective? In our rush-to-the-finish-line urgency, we have neglected some of the things we have known since the garden of Eden.
- We’ve neglected the stewardship of the land in our flippant view that the earth would soon be destroyed anyway.
- We’ve neglected the obligation of being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
- We’ve failed to work and pray to ensure they prosper as our nation prospers, and that our laws protect their safety and wellbeing.
- We’ve taught the body/mind/spirit wholeness of humanity, while often neglecting the whole-person concerns of hunger, homelessness, abuse, and suffering.
- We’ve leaned heavily on “the poor will always be with you,” leaving that to be a problem Jesus will solve because the “sweet bye and bye” was supposedly drawing nigh.
Home building and vineyard planting
What if Adventists started focusing on some home building and vineyard planting? What if our love and compassion for ourselves and others showed that Jesus abides with us? What if our Advent message focused more on connecting the branches of humanity to the vine of Jesus? What if all of this was genuinely the way to reject the beastly anti-Christ dominion which insists God is far-away and distant from human need? Wouldn’t such an advent movement bear more fruit than a constant harvest effort on fields that have never been nourished or even planted?
With our hope and confidence resting not in large offices, high stations of power, or far-flung mission fields, we could nurture and tend the intimate ministries in our own backyards. What if our gates were open to conversations with people of other denominations, faiths, or no faith at all?
Friends, strangers, even enemies look different to us if we have Jesus among us. We recognize he knocks on their hearts, and abides with them as well. Perhaps this realization helps us relinquish the white-knuckle zeal that only we and our perfect lives and testimony can facilitate an advent perfectly timed by God alone.
I wish to be clear. The second-coming is a precious hope. I’ve stood in a cemetery with my mother, viewing the grave where she would rest a mere three weeks later. I clearly remember her looking at the hills to the east, remarking on her certain hope of seeing Jesus appear as she arose from that very spot. I cling to that promise, and the promise I made to her that day— the same promise I made at various times to the grandparents resting near her now.
But I also remember that the larger hope of the second advent is made possible by the significance of the first. And I am reminded by Jesus daily that he longs to keep me, to keep all of us, company in the meantime.
Shelley Curtis Weaver lives in coastal Washington state. She is a clay-artist, writer, wife, mother, grandmother, and a frequenter of Columbia River crossings. She has edited and contributed to The Journey to Wholeness Addiction Recovery curriculum from AdventSource.