In this issue I want to talk about Advent in
its broadest sense. Preparing ourselves for Christ's triumphant
coming at the end of time is part of our Advent attitude of watchfulness.
His coming as judge, of course, is a part of the picture.
At some point in the last 10 years, I have come
to a new way of seeing Christ as judge. The New Testament and Christian
tradition certainly portray him in this role. The Apostles' Creed
affirms quite plainly that Christ "shall come to judge the
living and the dead."
We also recall the dramatic scene in Matthew's
Gospel (25:31-46): Jesus, "the Son of Man," comes in glory
at the end of time and sits upon the throne with the whole family
of humanity before him. Like a shepherd, he separates the sheep
from the goats and--like a rather stern judge--he sends the one
group off to "eternal life" and the other to "the
eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." We are
all to be judged by one simple criterion: How well have we met the
human needs of our neighbor during life.
portraits of Christ
Two images of Jesus fight for our attention:
that of the strict judge and that of the good shepherd who lays
down his life for his sheep. How do we deal with the two competing
Many of Jesus' parables, like that of the prodigal
son, present God as full of mercy, forgiveness and understanding.
Jesus teaches us, moreover, to forgive our enemies, and on the cross
he forgives those who are snuffing out his life in this cruel way.
And yet, many of us have also assimilated the image of Christ as
the severe judge.
One way I have personally dealt with this dilemma is to step back
from it for a moment and look at Christ as judge in a wholly different
way. Try seeing Christ as our judge in the sense that he is the
model, the pattern, the measuring stick by which we judge ourselvesand
our own success or failure as Christians, and as human beings for
In other words, Jesus' own life is the true gauge
for judging oneself and others. Jesus told us, "I am the way,
the truth and the life." His own life is the yardstick or "judge"
of the true disciple--the real blueprint of a truly successful human
Awaiting Christ, our model
In Advent, we ponder three different comings of Christ:
1) his coming 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, 2) our current year's
celebration of his coming, and 3) his final coming as our triumphant
savior. As we reflect on each of these three arrivals, we look upon
Jesus as our judgein the sense of our model or blueprint of
true human fulfillment and success as God's people.
At his Incarnation 2,000 years ago, Jesus came
to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to begin a mission of healing
the sick, grieving with those who mourn, feeding the hungry and
serving every needy human being he met. Those who follow his way
are the true sheep of his flock. Those who fail to participate in
his mission of serving the needs of others have already chosen to
place themselves among the "goats" and outside the community
of love that Christ is trying to bring about.
As we celebrate Jesus' coming among us this Advent
and Christmas season, we ask how we can best measure up to the model
of human wholeness that he exemplifies. As we stand before the Christmas
cribs in our churches and homes again this year and see the baby
in the manger, we recall how Christ emptied himself of his divine
glory and took the form of a helpless child and a humble servant
of the human family. He gave us an example of total self-giving,
which guides us to our fulfillment as men and women created in the
image of God.
Later on the cross, Jesus manifested this same
generous measure of self-emptying love for the sake of our healing
and salvation. How do we let Jesus' own life example become the
measure and "the judge" of how well we are doing as his
disciples and how far we have yet to go?
Finally, we await the ultimate arrival of our
loving savior and judge at the end of time. Those who strive to
be among the sheep that follow the shepherd's lead need not be afraid.
Those trying their best to meet the needs of their sisters and brothers
and working for peace and for the betterment of the human family
can rejoice at the time of the Lord's second coming.
Although fearful signs (in the sun, moon and stars)
are associated with the "Son of Man coming on a cloud with
great power and glory" (Luke 21:27), Jesus tells us that we
should be filled with hope at this moment of fulfillment. "When
these signs begin to happen," Jesus says, "stand erect
and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand" (Luke