On Longing for Christ's Return: An Advent Reflection

Today’s post comes from Savior’s ministry intern and youth ministry coordinator Ellen Vosburg.

I have never desired the second coming of the Messiah quite like I did during the three months before I took my graduate school comprehensive exams. The urgency of the end times was palpable. I could feel it in my bones — Jesus would definitely come soon and rescue me from my time of trial. I remember repeatedly hiding under my bed covers during the middle of the day and praying, “Lord, what are you waiting for?”

Clearly, this was not a pious longing, but I can still remember how this felt. This was a feeling full of anxiety and fear and uncertainty that is natural when faced with an exam that would not only affect the future but that also had the power to validate or invalidate two years of my work. But this feeling was also colored with something I had not yet experienced when contemplating the Second Coming: hope and excitement and desperation.

Before, when I thought about Jesus’ return, I was a child who was excited about the prospect of my earthly life. Jesus’ imminent return would put a huge wrench in my dreams of fame, fortune, and success. But during my second year of graduate school, with all my twenty-four years of maturity, I felt a new feeling; it was a strong desire to live fully in the presence of God and the glory of his Kingdom. I could almost taste the freedom. Instead of parsing the apostle Paul’s grammar for a grade, I would simply be able to ask him over the dinner table, “Paul, is that genitive in your letter to the Galatians subjective or objective?” Not only would my nerdy heaven fantasies be fulfilled, I would not have to face my fear of failing my exam.

While it seems silly now, the crisis of potential failure powerfully shaped my desire for the coming Kingdom of God. In the moment, I did not feel like I was being overly dramatic (I probably was). But years later, after I passed the exam and Jesus did not return, I am continuing to realize that God used that agonizing wait before my exam to shape how I wait for him today.

Every year during Advent, I am reminded of this time in my life. If Advent is a time when the church, traditionally, focuses on judgment, death, heaven, and hell, then Advent is a vitally necessary season to prepare us for moments of desperation. The intent of Advent is to shape us into a people who know how to wait because we know what’s coming — and we really want it. Advent can teach us how to orient ourselves away from the world and its fleshly longings and toward God’s Kingdom and its heavenly longings.

Fleming Rutledge put it this way: “Advent calls for a life lived on the edge, so to speak, all the time, shaped by the cross not only on Good Friday, but wherever and whenever we are, proclaiming his death to be the turn of the ages ‘until he comes’ (I Cor. 11:26)” (Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, 7). While my eschatological longings were selfish, they led me to a place where I knew that my only possibility of release and rescue from my pain was Jesus Christ. I was on a precarious edge, and I responded in the way the church and Advent had taught me: I longed for Jesus’ return. He is our only true Savior.

I’d venture to guess that many in our church are experiencing the kind of suffering that makes us excited and hopeful and desperate for the return of Christ. We want Jesus to heal our wounds, raise our dead, and free us from our tests and temptations. We can readily read the news and ask, “Lord, what are you waiting for?”