Who can stand when he appears?
Tuesday in the fourth week of Advent
Malachi 3:1-5; Psalm 25:1-4; Luke 1:57-66
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
From On the Advantage of Patience of Cyprian of Carthage (Treatise IX)
How great is the Lord Jesus, and how great is his patience, that he who is adored in heaven is not yet avenged on earth! Let us, beloved brethren, consider his patience in our persecutions and sufferings; let us give an obedience full of expectation to his advent; and let us not hasten, servants as we are, to be defended before our Lord with irreligious and immodest eagerness. Let us rather press onward and labour, and, watching with our whole heart, and steadfast to all endurance, let us keep the Lord’s precepts; so that when that day of anger and vengeance shall come, we may not be punished with the impious and sinners, but may be honoured with the righteous and those that fear God.
As I’ve been writing these daily Advent reflections, it strikes me that the ancient writers were more interested in judgement than most of the Christians I know — or than I usually am. That’s a great topic for another blog post, and perhaps I’ll write it one day. What I want to commend here is the idea of preparing ourselves, with some urgency, to meet Jesus. Our meeting with Jesus may be at the Last Day, or it may be in the sacraments tomorrow, or it may be in the prisoner or the hungry tonight. But meet him we shall.
Amidst all the pressure for a sweet, lovely Christmas, let us not lose sight of the fact that God sides with the outcast and the struggling. Indeed, God himself struggled on our behalf, not just in Calvary but in Bethlehem too. Christmas must surely look very different in a place where people drive to vast malls to fill their cars with things no one needs than it does in a place where people yearn for enough food and the basic dignity of human life. God’s righteous anger might be more appealing to those who imagine it kindled on their behalf than to those of us who realize we are the very people whom John the Baptist and the other Advent prophets are warning. Repent, we must.
I have no interest in diminishing anyone’s Christmas joy. But I do hope we will realize that Christmas celebrates God’s mind-boggling love of humanity and that it has almost nothing to do with sweet traditions and warm feelings. It is rather a very earthy reminder that God’s action has sanctified human nature in the Word made flesh. That gift, grace upon grace, is something that we should all prize beyond measure. Those of us with more than enough would do well to be as extravagant with strangers as we are with friends. For God loves us all and desires that all people find boundless love and precious dignity.
Between the eggnog and the carols, amidst the pageant and the Christmas ham, perhaps you will consider how you can manifest God’s generosity in your own life. Most readers of this blog have more than enough. Might you share some of your abundance with those in great need? We don’t make these gifts to get on God’s good side, but rather out of profound gratitude for grace upon grace in our own lives. And in so doing, we will find that we meet Jesus.
Photo by yours truly from Santa Miniato al Monte, a lovely Romanesque church in Florence.