Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What child is this? (The double season of Advent)

You stand in an art gallery, pondering two paintings.  On your left in a gold frame is a large painting of the last judgement.  On the right is a small painting of the nativity.

In many ways that is what Advent season has felt like for me.  On the one hand we look forward to his second coming: glorious king, coming judge.  On the other we contemplate his first: Word become flesh - a screaming baby born in a dirty animal pen, God taking on our sin.

The hymns we sing take up these themes.  We feel the longing of the people of Israel, who waited for a promised king who would set things right:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
We sing of the mystery of the incarnation (O Come, All Ye Faithful):
God of God,
Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin's womb;
Very God,
Begotten, not created
and the majesty of his return (Let all Mortal Flesh):
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
Both are found in the same verse of Angels from the Realms of Glory:
Though an infant now we view him,
He shall fill his Father's throne,
Gather all the nations to him,
Every knee shall then bow down:
The contrast between incarnation and second coming is almost as stark as the light-in-darkness metaphor of his coming, which we symbolize with candles.

It is this very duality of Advent for which I am thankful.  Contemplating only the incarnation, we are thankful that he came and that he knows our suffering, but we are still longing.  Considering only the return, we fear his judgement.  Only in light of his second coming do we fully understand the first; only because of his first can we bear -and hope for- his second.

Michelangelo, The Last Judgement


  1. Amen, sister! You write so eloquently -- thank you for sharing what God put on your heart. Blessings, Darlene.

  2. Thanks Darlene. Merry Christmas!