Over the last few weeks, I read through The First Christmas, by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The book didn’t live up to some of the hopes I had for it, but the end brought an insight that made me glad I stuck with the book.
Borg and Crossan ended the book by looking ahead at the “end times”. They describe two different ways people understand how the Bible speaks of the end. The first is the dominant idea (in my background anyway) that Jesus will return to whisk the “true believers” away to some better place and the world that we know will be destroyed.
The second option, and the one that matches up with Scripture, is that God joins a renewed heaven and earth together in a final act of repair and restoration. Borg and Crossan describe it this way:
We call the second one “participatory eschatology,” or “collaborative eschatology.” Put simply, we are to participate with God in bringing about the world promised by Christmas. Rather than waiting for God to do it, we are to collaborate with God.
Their idea of eschatology is not new to me, but I like the way they define it as “participatory” or “collaborative”. Even better, I like some of the added language they use to describe this understanding of what is to come:
We affirm the second option, participatory eschatology. Participatory eschatology involves a twofold affirmation: we are to do it with God, and we cannot do it without God. In St. Augustine’s brilliant aphorism, God without us will not; we without God cannot.
Why does all this matter? I strongly believe that what you believe about what is to come has to affect what you think of today, and even of yesterday. Christmas is all about the incarnation, the arrival of God in creation in a grand restoration project. God with us. This is not a temporary work, to be carried on until God finally destroys it all. The birth of Jesus was not a short-term fix until God could really do the job right.
Christmas is a new beginning without end. The incarnation continues. God arrived in this still broken creation, never to leave again. And yesterday, today, and tomorrow, we are invited to join the re-creation project, all the while anticipating when God will complete this project once and for all. That’s a Christmas I can celebrate everyday.