During his homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Father Jaya Kumar Penugonda, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, asked what attitude we have toward Christ’s coming: Are we indifferent, fearful, joyful?
My reaction is mixed, and depends on which coming of Christ we’re talking about. I’m fearful about his coming as judge, both of me at the end of my days and of the world at the end of all days. I’m trying to live a good Christian life, with prayer and almsgiving and love, but most days I’m lucky to say even the blessing over the meal without rushing through to get on with other things. Charity is a check written from my excess funds, and love is hard enough to muster for my family, much less my neighbor, especially the one who doesn’t shovel his sidewalk in the winter, so on my walks I have to either risk a fall while crossing the packed snow or go out into the street, where no doubt a car will pass by and splash me with slush.
The world as a whole is in even worse shape. War, famine and every inhumane act imaginable are reported daily. Yes, there are people doing heroic acts of charity and love, but those pinpricks of light don’t seem to penetrate the pall of destruction.
So, yeah. When Jesus comes to judge, I’m afraid both my soul and the world are going to be found wanting, despite the promise that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. …” The way things are, I suspect Jesus will take one look at us, shrug, and say we have by our actions condemned ourselves.
Regarding Christ’s coming into my life right now, I’m ambivalent. I do ask almost every day for him to help me, and I appreciate it when he does. However, I’m well aware that he’s not some kind of genie who pops in when I call, does what I command, then disappears until summoned again. No. He is the Son of God, and he is very clear about the conditions for his presence: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23).
As much as I’d like God to dwell with me, the part about me having to keep his word is more than a bit daunting. He expects me to love my enemies, serve the least of my brethren, pray unceasingly, accept that I will be reviled and persecuted, and pick up my cross and follow him to the crucifixion. On the other hand, not having Jesus in my life right now means I can curse those who curse me, spend my time and money as I wish, and not worry that the world is going to hell, taking me along with it.
The coming of Christ at Christmas leaves me mostly indifferent, primarily because I’m exhausted by the endless hype and synthetic cheer. I am trying, this Advent, to set aside the secular trappings and instead take time each day to reflect on the Incarnation, that Christ was born of Mary for my salvation. God assures me that following him frees me from the power of sin and death, and gives me hope of salvation. I suspect that if I can come to believe this in my heart then I will be able, with the angels, to proclaim joy to the world, and work with all men of good will toward its salvation as well as my own.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at email@example.com.