Wesley in the World Today
By Hal Knight
In the season of Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus. Advent anticipates two comings of Jesus: his coming at Christmas, and his second coming at which there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Even when we are reminded of this, the truth is our focus is resolutely on Christmas. After all, we live in a culture in which the Christmas season no longer begins even with the Thanksgiving Day Parade but the day after Halloween. This makes it harder for us to relive the expectant hope for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, much less his return.
Charles Wesley helps us anticipate both comings of Jesus. For the coming at Christmas, he wrote:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the world thou art;
dear desire o every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
[United Methodist Hymnal, 196]
There is a yearning in these verses, but also hope and finally joy. We may live after the coming of Jesus at Christmas, but we still find ourselves in a world yearning for peace and joy and wondering if there is any hope for something better.
Wesley speaks of the second coming of Jesus this way:
Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Halelujah! Halelujah! Halelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.
[United Methodist Hymnal, 718]
Here we are reminded that it is the one who was crucified and is risen who is coming again to reign in fullness. The glory of this new creation that Christ brings was envisioned by John Wesley as a “state of holiness and happiness far superior to that which Adam enjoyed in Paradise.” [“The New Creation,” 18] This is not simply a recovery of a lost Eden but something much more: a world transformed and governed by love, the same love that led Christ to the cross for our salvation.
But the Wesleys would remind us of a third coming we can anticipate, a coming of Jesus Christ in between Christmas and the new creation. That is the coming of Jesus into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. “Spirit of faith come down,” Charles would write, “give us eyes to see, who did for every sinner die hath surely died for me.” [United Methodist Hymnal, 332] “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down” he would pray; come dwell in our hearts and fill us with your love. [United Methodist Hymnal, 384]
For the Wesleys the coming of Jesus to reign in our hearts and transform our lives is a present gift we can anticipate and receive. May this Advent be a time we anticipate all three comings, and be open to receive even more of the new life which Christ brings.