December 10, 2002

Awaiting Christ's Final
Coming — With Hope!

by Friar Jack Wintz, O.F.M.


Contrasting portraits of Christ
Awaiting Christ, our model
'Raise your heads'

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.

Contrasting 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 images?

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 ourselves—and our own success or failure as Christians, and as human beings for that matter.

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 being.

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 judge—in 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?

'Raise your heads'

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 21:28).

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