The coming one

by Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

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As Advent wends its way to its annual goal, the unique spirituality of this holy season is reflected in the songs, hymns and sacred texts that inspire and accompany our journey.

CEL_12132015.jpgThese ancient witnesses urge us to be joyful because God is in our midst (Zephaniah, Paul). The psalmist calls us to be thankful as we consider the marvelous deeds God has wrought. These deeds, these blessed comings, punctuate every moment of human history for those who are attentive to the will and the ways of God.

Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

Rather than succumb to anxiety regarding a future that has yet to be revealed, we listen to Paul, who bids us allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds.

"Wake up!" we are told. "Be ready! Live in a state of continuous preparedness for the God who comes."

Even though there is a sobering ominousness regarding the coming of the Lord, believers should not allow fear to frustrate their hopes. Nor should those clueless predictors of the end time frighten us to the point that we dread the appearance of God and tremble in paranoia at every big and little misinterpreted "sign" purported to be a signal of the end.

Author and poet Madeleine L'Engle suggests that we have to live in wonder during Advent: wonder at Christ, second person of the Trinity, maker of the universe or perhaps many universes, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power in order to come and live with us on this sin-filled planet for a few years to show us what we ought to be and can be, to show us what it means to be made in God's image (Bright Evening, Water Brook Press, 1997).

Even secular signs and symbols of the season stir expectant longing for a better time, an era of peace and plenty. Calendars and special displays and rituals stir the hearts of those who hope and trust that a better day is dawning, a new day that will dispel every darkness.

Decorations, lights and colorful displays celebrate not only Jesus, Mary and Joseph, shepherds and the Magi from the east but also the familiar figures of Santa, Frosty, Rudolph and a reindeer-driven sleigh that can maneuver through all the time zones of the world with ease. (How's that for universal hope?)

While these annually recurring phenomena help to create the Advent ambience of joy and anticipation, there are other texts and messages that urge believers to shift their focus from the far-off to the now of Christian involvement with the coming Christ.

This involvement has been initiated by the risen Christ who, as the seer of Revelation (3:20) has assured us, stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. He bids us open wide the gates of our lives to welcome those through whom he has chosen to reveal himself.

At that final coming, Jesus will invite, "Come, you blessed ... I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me to drink."

These words of Jesus are met with surprise, misunderstanding and the question, "When and where did we see you and care for you?"

The response of Jesus is even more astonishing: "What you did for God's least ones, you did for me" (Matthew 25:35, 40).

"You did it for me!" If we can truly wrap our minds around this profound truth, if we can set aside prejudice, excessive practicality, logic and the penchant for judging the worthiness of others, if we can simply take Jesus at his word and serve him in the poor and the powerless, then we will have truly grasped the message of Advent.

He comes! He is already here in a thousand comings, each of which is an opportunity for communion. Christ knocks. Can you hear? Will you open to him? Can you grasp what it means to be so frighteningly free that we are, by God's will and design, capable of refusing God a welcome?

But this frightening thought is true. Every time we refuse to see beyond the pall of dirt, shame, sickness, poverty and homelessness over those whom God puts on our way, we refuse God. That fact should shake us to our very foundation. The idea that we might refuse God should see us whipping open our doors to welcome the needy and to honor them with our love and service.

In a series of interviews with Anthony Spadaro, published under the title My Door Is Always Open (March 2014), Pope Francis respectfully acknowledged his hope that the church would recognize every opportunity to open its doors to all who come knocking. The Holy Father's own personal witness in this regard affirms the necessity and importance of the believer's constant and willing availability to the needy.

Jesus comes. Let us offer him a welcome.

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 4-17, 2015 print issue under the headline: The coming one.

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