Advent is about the preparation for the coming Lord. The Lectionary reading from Matthew’s gospel says: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. . . . Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” [24:42, 44]. Yet the Lord was standing right in front of the disciples telling them that they must prepare for his coming. This is the tension of Advent. The Lord has come, yet we wait for his coming. The Lord set things right in the cross, yet we wait for the reconciliation of all things.
To resolve this tension I have heard preachers talk of Jesus the servant and Jesus the Lord. In the gospels we read of Jesus the suffering servant and in the Revelation of John we read of Jesus the Lord—as though Jesus goes through a transformation of character or personality. The Jesus in the gospels that has already come must be Jesus the Lord, otherwise what good is the crucifixion or the risking of your life to defy an empire.
The early Christians clearly identified the Jesus they followed as Jesus the Lord. Their claim that “Jesus is Lord” was a theopolitical claim. This claim spoke of a gospel that sought to rearrange our social identities and structures around Jesus, the Christ. Michael Gorman reframes the word ‘politcs’ for us by saying that it is not primarily “government structures and political parties but rather the more fundamental reality of a public, common life together. The ‘body politic’ relates on a variety of levels, both within itself and toward other political bodies, and the good news it embodies challenges every dimension of life together” [Reading Paul, p.41.] Further he says that to describe the gospel as theopolitical, is to talk of a “narrative about God that creates a public life together, a corporate narrative, that is an alternative to the status quo in the Roman Empire, the American empire, or any other body politic” [Reading Paul, p.45]. So in the context of the early Christians to say “Jesus is Lord” was also necessarily to say that “Caesar is not.”
In our 21st century American context, maybe we could call it a postmodern context, I don’t think we necessarily arrange our identities around an empire such that the ancients would have. But we could possibly make the argument for the formation of tribal identities within the paradoxical movement of globalization. But there is definitely a postmodern self that finds its identity within its self, and navigates the rough terrain of reality from the fixed yet fluid point of its self. This self proclaims: “I am all in all; I dictate my reality; I dictate my destiny.” The early Christian claim that “Jesus is Lord” now necessarily means that “I am not.” In a movement of embrace, Jesus de-centers and re-centers our self in him. And the “in him” is not an isolated individual, but a communal “in him” as the body of Christ—the church.
The tension still remains, “Jesus is Lord” but the world is fucked up.
And so we wait. We prepare. We “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” [Isaiah 1.17].