“Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? (Mal 3:1–2).
It is well-known that one of the common warnings of the prophets is that judgment of God has a quality of surprise to it. Jesus echoes the same theme:
“You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Lk 12:40)
I think of this as I read this set of tweets:
The antichrist Cult of Trump has trained its whole life for an apocalypse of selfish narcissistic violence. It has hoarded for itself beans and rice, guns and ammunition, dreaming of the moment its white heroes stood on the ramparts, fending off the brown hordes swarming over the borders and pouring out of the ghettoes and barrios to grab our guns, take “their” women, and put their children into Obama’s Kenyan Mooslem Shariah re-education camps. When shit gets real, they told themselves, they were totally ready to be the Warriors of the West and Save Civilization:
But when the hour of testing actually came, the one thing they were not prepared for was that God would merely ask them to show everybody else a little consideration. They saw themselves as Nietzschean supermen in the war All against All, their brawny arms embracing swooning women and carrying children out of a savage war zone. It never occurred to them for one second that the real and supreme sacrifice would be that God would ask them to try to imitate Mister Rogers–and that such self-denial of their towering egos would be too much for them.
That’s the surprise of the judgment of God. Turns out God comes to us, not in the earthquake, the fire, or the storm, but in the still, small voice as Elijah learned (1 Kings 19:9-13). When God came suddenly to the temple as Malachi foretold, it was not as a conquering warlord, but as a baby to be circumcised on the eighth day while his peasant parents had to offer a couple of turtledoves because they were too poor to offer anything more expensive. He came back every year for Passover for the next three decades and nobody noticed him, because his hick Galilean twang marked him out as a nobody and possibly as some kind of ethnically impure half-breed from Galilee of the Gentiles. He was exactly the sort of person the Defenders of the West see themselves valiantly defending America against today. And when he finally revealed himself by such impolite acts as overturning the tables of the moneychangers and saying, “Before Abraham was, I am”, sure enough decent people could not endure the Day of his Coming just as these Good White MAGA folk cannot endure the day of Jose the Honduran Refugee’s coming.
So we killed him as we kill all such minor nuisances. The people who sentenced Jesus did not cringe before the fire and fury of some staggering devourer of worlds. They swatted him like a fly. It was the work of a few hours from arrest till the time his corpse was pried off the Cross and hucked in a nearby grave. Twelve legions of angels were not summoned to enact cosmic vengeance. The mountains did not melt like wax, nor were the stars shaken in their spheres. The Son of Man came in an hour we did not expect and we failed the test spectacularly.
Then he came in another hour we did not expect, early in the morning on the first day of the week. And his judgment was not vengeance but mercy. And then he came again repeatedly on other Sundays between then and his Ascension.
Then he came again unexpectedly on Pentecost, still with mercy. And he came again and again in the lives of the people who started to realize that the apostles were not kidding around when they said he was raised from the dead.
Then he started popping up in places like the haunted conscience of Saul of Tarsus (who found it so hard to kick against the goads). Then he showed up on the Damascus road, and through Ananias when he baptized Saul. Again, the judgment was mercy.
And he has kept coming again and again in judgment through the sacraments and in the lives of millions of people down the centuries, especially the poor ones, just as he said. And his judgment is always mercy. He keeps coming back to us in the person of Jose the refugee. He comes to us as the COVID patient. He comes to us as the person begging to be spared exposure to COVID from the heavily-armed PATRIOT MAGA FREEDOM EAGLE guy who, fresh from swapping viruses at their LIBERTY rallies, then goes to pick up beer and cigarettes for his drive back to Bugtussle and coughs all over the old lady trying to buy groceries.
These guys keep utterly failing the test because they think the way to prepare for the apocalypse is with violence and cunning and selfishness and power. But the Apocalypse–who is Jesus and not an action movie scenario–speaks to us, even now, in a still small voice. He says, “Have some consideration. Wash your hands. Stay home. Make small sacrifices. Carry little crosses. Think about somebody else.”