There is a type of optical illusion which is known as ‘anamorphic art’ (do a Google search to see some examples!). It’s a fascinating kind of art because seen from various angles the picture appears jumbled up and unclear. Many of these types of drawings seem strangely chaotic and almost random collection of shapes and objects. Until, that is, you look at it from one specific angle. Seen from the correct perspective, everything fits into place and the image comes completely into focus.
We are about to enter the season of Advent, the time in the church’s calendar that leads us up to Christmas Day. Advent is a time of preparation, and for most of us it is a time of preparation for Christmas. There is much that needs to be done before the Christmas celebrations: presents to buy, food to prepare, cards to write, and so on. We might have an advent calendar to help us count down the days until Christmas, with perhaps a chocolate hidden behind each door to inject a bit of sweetness into the franticness of preparations.
Traditionally, however, advent has been a time of preparation for another day as well: the day of Jesus’ return. Across the years Christians have used this season not only to prepare for celebrating Jesus’ coming as a baby in Bethlehem, but also to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ second coming.
That is also what the apostle Paul does for the church in Thessalonica in the first century. As he writes his second letter to them, he encourages them to be prepared for Jesus’ return.
This was vital for this young church because they were experiencing persecution and suffering for being known as Christians. In order to cope with these trials, Paul encourages them to remember Jesus’ return and to change their perspective as a result:
“among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering … This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4–7)
Paul encourages us to change our perspective. Like a piece of anamorphic art, we need to look at the correct angle to see the image come into focus. That correct angle is the perspective of Jesus’ return. It is only by looking at life through the perspective of Christ’s coming in power and great glory that we will be able to endure trials and suffering for Jesus.
One of the reasons we find it so hard to suffer for being a Christian is that it seems so unfair and not right. If I’m the one being obedient, and trusting in God, why is it that I’m getting unfairly treated? At the same time the ones who mock us as Christians seem to be successful and respected. This seems far from the life of victory and blessing that we feel we were promised! It’s unfair!
That’s true. Suffering is unfair in the here and now. But it not unfair when seen from the return of Jesus. On that day ,when Jesus is revealed in glory as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, everything gets turned around. Those who have been troubled will be comforted, and those have been troublemakers will experience trouble themselves. Those who are downtrodden will be revealed as holy and those who are persecuted now will be turned into princes and royalty. The tables will be turned. What seems now to be unfair will be transformed into being fair and right and just.
Advent is a time to change our perspective and train ourselves to see things in the light of Jesus’ return. It should spur us on to work for righteousness and against injustice now, since that is where the world is heading. And it will give us great patience and endurance to stand up and be counted as belonging to Jesus. Let’s ask God to prepare us for that this Advent and beyond.