Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Signs of The Coming

Signs of Christ's coming...what are they?

“Easy question.” my natural self replies.  Lighted trees on the Green.  Carols in the mall.  Santas on every corner.  Greeting cards in the mail.  Toys for Tots.  Gifts for that Special Someone.  Frozen ground.  Television Christmas Specials.

“Hold it,” an inner voice protests, “Not signs of Christmas.  Signs of Christ's coming.”  A different matter.  If Christ has come, His presence should be detectable.  Scripture gives some hints.

Where in my world of family, friends and acquaintances do I see patience and kindness increasing?  Who is growing less jealous or boastful, less arrogant or rude?  In whom do I see real humility?  Who is not insisting on his or her own way?  Who is sad about other persons' sins, and rejoices to see even an enemy do the right thing?  Who cheerfully endures hardships, whose faith never flags, whose hope is constant?  These are signs of Christ's coming (see 1 Corinthians 13).

Or, who in my circle has a passion for justice?  Who takes the side of the poor, the captive, the outcast or the hungry without asking questions about worthiness or deserving?  These are signs of Christ's coming (see Isaiah 61:1).

And where do I see healing of persons' bodies, minds or spirits?  Who thanks the doctor for helping, and then praises God for the healing?  Where do I see men and women filled with the Holy Spirit, renewed in their minds and transformed in their hearts?  These are signs of Christ's coming  (see Matthew 10:1 and Romans 7&8).

Christ Mass, the words we contract to get Christmas celebrates all of these things.  “But,” my old self protests, “Not all Christians possess all these qualities, and many of them can be found in persons who are not Christians.”

True enough.  None of us succeeds in being a beacon of faith all the time, and some of us struggle like mad to keep even a small candle of hope lit.

And the world at large does honor many of the qualities we call “Christian.”  But this is what we ought to expect.  When God took on humanity the whole universe was shaken.  It was as if the potter became a pot, or the playwright a character in the play.  From that day on reality itself was changed.  The world, which had been totally in the grip of sin and death, was invaded.  C.S. Lewis suggested the image of a king liberating his land from a pretender to the throne who was ruining the country.  In the birth of Jesus, the True King landed on the occupied shore to drive out the Imposter King, and about 33 years after Bethlehem the crucial battle was fought upon the cross.  On that day the kingdoms of evil began to totter, and though there are still battles to be fought, and struggles yet to endure, the world itself is filled with signs of the True King's presence.  So while the war still rages, signs of His coming are there to be seen, and the world itself shows forth some of these signs in unlikely places.

Lewis also compared the present world to a play in which the climax comes in Act III, but the author needs a fourth act to tie up all the ends.  The events in Act IV are real, and for the characters in the play (that would be us) they are deadly serious, but the outcome was assured in the previous act.  So it is for our world.  Christ has come, and has triumphed.  Signs of His coming abound, and we wait expectantly for Him to stride onstage as the curtain descends.  But we are characters in the play, not actors.  Unlike actors we must live the action for real, and we do not know all the scenes.  Act IV could draw to a close tomorrow, or the Author may have another few thousand years of important action.  Either way we wait expectantly, playing our parts faithfully, trusting that what we have already seen is our promise that the outcome will resolve the remaining problems, and in the end all will be well.  In Advent we take note of what has already been done, with particular focus on Christ’s birth in Bethlehem; we celebrate the signs of His presence in our midst, and we wait in patient hope for the conclusion, when God’s Kingdom comes, and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Howard MacMullen
© December, 2012

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