Historically, Advent splits our vision into two focal points in time: the first coming of Christ in the manger and His second coming in glory. This dual vision unsettles me. And, it’s probably supposed to, in the wisdom of our fathers in the faith. We are not allowed to only rejoice in the tiny baby in the manger, but we must grapple with the reality that this is also the one who will come again to judge both the quick and the dead. Here are some implications I’ve been thinking of for my daily life:
– Focusing on both comings of Christ makes everything significant. The incarnation of Christ means that everything matters, since he too walked our paths, being tempted in every way as we are and yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). This reality is such rich comfort; but sometimes I need more than comfort to do what I ought. Fear at the reality of the second coming of Christ, when he shall judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, is uniquely effective in my struggles against the crazy monsters that emerge from my toddler’s whines. In the family prayer section of the BCP, we pray “Imprint upon our hearts such a dread of thy judgements, and such a grateful sense of thy goodness to us, as may make us both afraid and ashamed to offend thee. And, above all, keep in our minds a lively remembrance of that great day, in which we must give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions to him whom thou hast appointed the Judge of the quick and the dead, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” When I keep it before me, the Advent dual focus makes me both “afraid and ashamed” to offend Christ, especially in the small moments of my days.
– Focusing on both comings of Christ means that humility and glory are held tightly together. Here so close at hand is the counterintuitive shape of the cosmos: humility and death tied inextricably to resurrection and glory. Being united with Christ, the true man, means being conformed to the shape of his life, which we accept as the way of true ‘human-ness.’ St. Paul could say “to me to live is Christ” because he accepted and embraced this shape for his soul and flesh and bones– “for we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” And here, as I wait in between the times, during this Advent, I feel the pressure of Christ’s humility at my back, crushing my resistance to washing feet, changing diapers, loving when I am exhausted. And here, too, as I face forward, I believe in the glory of Christ to come and I believe that imitating Christ in his suffering will be worth it in view of an “eternal weight of glory.” I am hemmed in by humility and glory.
– Lastly, focusing on both comings of Christ gives hope in our waiting. The prophets long waited for a Messiah. The Israelites cried out, “How long, O Lord.” Surely, His coming seemed implausible– that life would go on as it always had, forever and ever, world without end. But, in the midst of the mundane, into a generation that seemed like any other, God came and shook the universe with his newborn wails. And once more, he will come — when it feels most implausible, when the world ever seems that it will spin on in the same old way, He will come. His footsteps draw nearer, grow louder. His hand is up at the door. Do I yearn for his appearing? Is my heart ready, like the shepherds and the wise men and Anna and Simeon waiting so long in the temple? This is the place, here in Advent, where terror and longing mingle together; “For He cometh, he cometh to judge the world.”
Remember, remember this, o my soul. Keep your lamp lit, for the Bridegroom draws near– my Joy, my Dread, my Maker, my King.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.
Not as of old a little child,
To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun
That lights the morning sky.
Oh, brighter than the rising morn
When Christ, victorious, rose
And left the lonesome place of death
Despite the rage of foes.
Oh, brighter than that glorious morn
Shall dawn upon our race
The day when Christ in splendor comes
And we shall see his face.
The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray:
Come quickly, King of kings.
(Unknown author; translated from Greek to English by John Brownlie in Hymns of the Russian Church, 1907)