Glory and the Desperate Stranger

Last Judgment Stefan_Lochner_circa_1435 Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne

A Beautiful Kingdom Vision

The Banishment of the Unjust

The Gospel Year ends now, in a guttering of dry brown leaves, in the harsher winds that warn of winter, in the gathering dark of the year.

The Gospel, though, does not let time fade away into the shadows at hand.

In a flash of light , behold the vision: the beautiful dream of justice and joy is held up in the two hands of Christ.

On Christ’s right hand is the twelve-gated city,  and he is gesturing a long trail of folks into its welcome. They’ve come ever so far, and it has taken so long, and yet they are amazed to hear the words “Well Done!” from Christ’s lips.

“You’ve fed me when I was hungry, clothed me when I was naked, visited me in prison and when I was sick you’ve cared for me, “ he says. And they are astonished. “When have we done these things?” they want to know.

And he answers, “when you did these things for the least, the lowliest, the lost, the left-behind, the unlovely, the unloved, you did them for me.”

And away they go, dancing past the magnificently robed Christ, to a shining that beckons them.

Ah, but there are others.  Those on his left. And to them he says, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And weeping, they ask why.

And Christ says because they did not offer him succor, no food for his hunger, no clothing for his nakedness, no comfort when he was imprisoned, no care when he lay ill.

And they are confounded. “When did we not do these things?” And he says, “Whenever you did not do them for the least of these, you did not do them for me.”

Apocalypse is a time of such profound change, the world as we know it is swept away, and in its place a new time, a newborn world, emerges. The social order is scattered, like guttering leaves. We no longer recognize the place. And what opens before us now, says the evangel, depends on our hearts and minds, on the way we see and respond to the world at hand.

Here am I. I, who have driven by men holding begging signs in the road and questioned their poverty, putting nothing in their cans.

Here am I, who give conditionally, to Christmas gift drives in churches where there is supervision of the receivers, to organizations to save the birds, the elephants, the whales, the waters, and my giving supports watchful eyes.

The year that is ending is full of hell-fire. We have been walking through the burning for a year now, walking through the outing of men whose sexual atrocities leave us speechless, weeping as the Paris climate accords were discarded, wondering if anything of our nation’s health care system will remain, if the new tax cuts will eat up Social Security and Medicare along with everything else. And will there be new war? Will the old wars we are fighting now ever end?

The hope of the world rests on Christ’s shoulders, we like to say. Yet, in the reading for the end of the year, he shifts that mantle to our shoulders. It is our justice he is judging, our compassionate care he is eager to see.

Thank God for the people with large hearts – whose lives are spent bending to the needs of the least. They see things as hard and harsh as any soldier faces – yet they seem never to have PTSD. Perhaps it is because they do come to defeat anyone or to win anything. They do not bring guns, they bring medicines, tents, water, rice, schoolbooks, blankets, cook stoves. The strive to emulate the generosity of God.

Thank God that the large-hearted people love the rest of us – bringing us along in their prayers, their wallet photos, their blog lists, their Go-Fund-Me requests.  Holding on to them we find the way to heaven’s door.

Yet for all the connections that are made, the world seems to become a lonelier place as history marches on. In the dark of the year, the shadows of evil loom large.

In Advent, will the people of Alabama send Roy Moore to the Senate?

In Advent, will the Senate vote a tax bill that will cause vast suffering to the poor and the middle class, and award great wealth to the rich?

In Advent, will the scapegoat for sexual harassment be Sen. Franken?

In Advent will the people of Nebraska ignore the immense oil spill caused by the new pipeline, and vote to continue to allow it?

In the midst of all these shadows, Advent will open, and whether you and I will find our way to heaven or to eternal fire remains to be made known.

But this we know: in Advent’s upheaval of the world, a Child will be born, with the light of God in her, the flame of hope warm in him, and the Word of God pouring forth to us, from a continent and a culture unlikely to be ours.

Love and Fear will contend around us in the year ahead. And somewhere, out of our view, the Child will grow and prosper, waiting for the right time to appear.

She will appear as a desperate Refugee. He will appear as a vulnerable Leader, a Candidate with small chances.  And we will all be given a chance to respond, in the winter of the world, as we search for eternal life, to the need, the shabbiness, the famine, the nakedness, the hands clenching prison bars, the broken body, the blood poured out.

In the Desperate Stranger lives the Glory of God.
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Image: Last Judgment by Stefan Lochner, c. 1435, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany. Wikipedia image.

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