Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Other Advent

On the first Sunday of Advent the church lectionary odometer rolled over, and thus the lessons looked towards the dies irae to come. In the gospel Jesus proclaimed the other side of the kingdom: judgement. Jesus came the first time in a rustic tableau, the angels proclaiming peace; the next time around, the angels will bring, not tidings of joy, but trumpets of doom and bowls of wrath to pour on the world.

The last judgement is where everything in medieval piety is headed, with a stopover in purgatory. We moderns are neither so sanguine nor so terrified about our souls being weighed, but when it comes to others: well, that is a different story. Some sense of fairness recoils at the notion that a virtuous pagan or an innocent newborn might not see salvation, so we recreate God in our image, dethroning the frightening judge of the Apocalypse and replacing him with Super-Saving Jesus, who delivers everyone from the fiery pit. Perhaps there is a hell, they say, but it is surely empty and will ever remain so.

Humanity spent much time in the last century supplanting the devil, constructing hells of our own and superseding the lake of fire with our own ovens and killing fields. From there we proceeded to take the apocalypse into our own hands, so that there was a time when it was held quite plausible, if not inevitable, that the world might be scrubbed clean of humanity in a ball of thermonuclear fire. For now, such wholesale slaughter seems to have been set aside, but the world groans on under a burden of natural disaster, warfare, and wanton violence; it longs for the second coming as for the first, that all may be made well.

But we also must be made well. On Jordan's bank, John cries out that the kingdom is at hand. But what must we do, therefore? He calls out for our repentance! Instead, we trust in our own righteousness, and judge against God that he does not fix the world as our corrupt hearts would see it made whole. And the heart of modern man is, well, lazy. Jesus told us to send the gospel to the whole world, and baptize all whom we could; but we lean back and hope that his mercy towards those who were not reached will take up the slack. We expect our government to do mercy, rather than ourselves, or we rely on magical economic processes to do that. We take our sexual exploits as play rather than the bonds which they are.

Justice awaits us, but so does judgement. Surely we should not hope that grace abounds through our neglect. Divine salvation is at hand, but so is the divine purging which is related at such length in scripture. There are sheep, but there will also be goats; let us not be numbered among the latter.

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