Future or Advent?

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend! Back we go, and here’s some Moltmann Monday Advent goodness to help ease you back into the week. I should say: personally, I’m a fan of keeping Advent about the incarnation and proclaiming Christ’s return the rest of the year. But I know some of you just LOVE to blend them together (as does the lectionary) so if you do, this one’s for you. This passage comes from The Coming of God¬†where Moltmann discusses the differences between future and advent. It’s an important difference.

European languages generally have two possible ways of talking about what is ahead. Futurum means what will be; adventus means what is coming. The two words go together with two different conceptions of time.

Future in the sense of futurum develops out of the past and present, inasmuch as these hold within themselves the potentiality of becoming and are ‘pregnant with future’ (Leibniz’s phrase). Only that can become which is already implicit or dormant in being, and is heralded in the trends and latencies of the historical process…The future offers no special reason for hope, for the past predominates, inasmuch as that which is not yet, will one day no longer be. Because what is future is already latent in the tendencies of process, these tendencies cannot, either, bring anything astonishingly new…

The German word Zukunft is not a translation of the Latin futurum. It is a translation of adventus. But adventus, in its turn, is a rendering of the Greek word parousia. In secular Greek, parousia¬†means the coming of persons, or the happening of events, and literally means presence; but the language of the prophets and apostles has brought into the word the messianic note of hope. The expectation of the paroiusi is an advent hope. For in the New Testament the past presence of Christ in the flesh, or the present presence of Christ in the Spirit, is never termed parousia. The word is kept exclusively for Christ’s coming presence in glory. There are not three parousias: in the flesh, in the Spirit, and in glory, as later theological tradition said, in an attempt to put the advent hope on ice….To translate parousia as ‘coming again’ or ‘second coming’ is wrong because that presupposes a temporary absence…

The ‘eschaton’ of an eschatology which works with the concept of God suggested here, and with this advent understanding of the future, is not an eternity which can neither enter time nor remain outside time. This eschaton means a change in the transcendental conditions of time. With the coming of God’s glory, future time ends and eternal time begins.


Advent does not mean future. They are totally different concepts of time, and of God’s interaction with time. Advent is not memory cast forward, so to speak. The future in time is bound and limited to what is possible based on what we currently have available to us. Therefore, as Moltmann says, nothing categorically new can happen in this concept of the future. Time isn’t going to just march along and then suddenly become something totally new by itself. No; the concept of advent calls forth a firm sense of change. It’s a coming of God which alters time itself into something different.

So, despite the fact that I’m all in favor of us pushing our shoulders toward the direction of God’s Realm in every practical way we can, I do not think we are going to “choose” our way into the kind of parousia of which Scripture speaks, because it isn’t an event based on us, but on God. Advent is a time of waiting for GOD to do something (while we still do all we can…don’t let yourselves off the hook!) Advent is no vague “let’s hope it all works out” kind of waiting. It is based on the crazy Christian confession that Jesus’ parousia will categorically change things. It will be something NEW, not something that is a result of the old.

Advent is the simultaneous celebration of Christ’s coming in Bethlehem (which happened in time, and with all the limitations of it) and the very distinct expectation of Christ coming again, in glory, in the future, in such a way that will be categorically different than the way he came before. Both of these are lovely things on which to ponder. But they are not the same kind of thing.

So, if you must skip over four weeks of talking about the incarnation (but why? why would you do that?), be bold in holding onto the scriptural distinction of parousia. It’s not waiting for the world to change. It’s waiting for God to change the world.

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