and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
- Isaiah 9:7
Advent is the time of "now, but not yet." We learn from the past. We inhabit the present. We look forward to the future. And in all three, we assert that Christ has come and is coming. The Messiah is always arriving in every single moment yet still has not arrived.
Another way we talk about this is with the language of "second coming." We say that Christ will return at the end of time to put all things right. Do we imagine Jesus making a sudden appearance and upsetting all the laws of physics to end this universe? That's a popular idea, but I wonder whether that would be in character for the Jesus I know. Another idea, which this passage seems to support, is that the Messiah will reign on earth and establish world peace. Yet that's not what Jesus was about in his first coming, so why would it be in his second?
Still, some Christians bend over backward to fit both ideas into a cohesive literal narrative, and then they argue among themselves about the order of events. I once lived in a town with a Baptist church in which the members got into an argument about which would come first, the "millennium" or the "rapture." The church split, with some of the members going down the street to form "Faith Baptist Church" ... implying, I suppose, that the people they split from didn't really have faith.
It sounds like doublespeak, doesn't it? It sounds like we ourselves don't know what we're talking about and that we need to make up our minds. It's frustrating to people when it appears that Christians can't get their story straight. But this is poetic language; it is meant to express what cannot be expressed. Often the only way to do that is by presenting two or more conflicting stories, holding them in tension, and enjoying the dissonance, not resolving it!
I don't feel that I need to understand this; I just need to experience the longing for it. I want peace. I want justice. I want union with the divine. And God has promised us that these things will be ... in what way, we can't possibly imagine. It's the longing for God that drives us, and that longing is bittersweet.
C.S. Lewis referred to such longing using the German word Sehnsucht, and it was one of his proofs for the existence of God. All the things we human beings long for have real, existing objects. We have hunger, and behold! there is food. We have thirst, and behold! there is water. We have a sex drive, and behold! there is sex. We have a deep longing for union with God, and ...