(The Daily Office—Year 2; The Book of Common Prayer)
♦ Psalm 26, 28 ♦ 36, 39
The following portions of text from today’s readings are what “grabbed” the attention of my heart. Once more it seems to me there is a continuing and similar message rising out of the selection of Scripture I have before me each day. The words of the psalmist from Psalm 39 remind me that life is short and there is really only one thing that matters enough to spend the focus of my brief life upon…the Lord God Almighty. I say this often, because I believe it… but as often as I say those words, I am equally challenged with rebuttal. I hear dissenting retorts; “I have to take care of what God has given me, my family, my job, my home, and my property…” “We can’t spend our time with our heads in the clouds causing us to be no earthly good…” “Some people have to be the ones that get stuff done; we can’t all sit around holding hands singing Kum-ba-yah” I smile and nod when I hear these replies. Certainly there are portions of truth sprinkled in those words, but the bigger truth is this: Putting God first in all things and over everything will ensure that our perspectives always remain properly aligned with His will and purpose for our lives and for His Kingdom. Hear the words from these passages of Scripture that follow:
I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say…” But as I stood there in silence—the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words: “Lord remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you… Rescue me from my rebellion. (Psalm 39:1-8)
One of the teachers of the Law asked Jesus; “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Then, surrounded by the Pharisees, Jesus asked them a question: “What do you think about the Messiah? (Matthew 22:34-42)
Jesus makes it unmistakably and irrevocably clear that God is to be first in our lives. He doesn’t present it as an option; he states that “You must love…” He ends his response saying, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” In essence, if we fail at the first two our failure of everything else we value is pretty much assured. I think we are all left with a pregnant pause… a silence where you can hear a pin drop… when Jesus, after having answered their questions, calmly returns the volley with a question of his own; “What do you think about the Messiah?” This is a question we can answer with words all the day long, but words only have substance when there is evidence of lifestyle that supports them, so… what do you think about the Messiah?
A Reading from St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Three Comings of the Lord
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself says: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.
The “middle Advent” is the coming of Christ in our own life. This is what it means to live continuously in the Presence of the Risen Lord as He Comes to indwell the hearts of men. This is the present Advent for us as we walk the earth and await the final coming… the final Advent of our Eternal King. Thomas Merton writes about this “present Advent” saying; “We learn to recognize the present Advent that is taking place at every moment in our own earthly life as wayfarers. We awaken to the fact that every moment of time is a moment of judgment, that Christ is passing by and that we are judged by our awareness of His passing. If we join Him and travel with Him to the kingdom, the judgment becomes for us salvation. But if we neglect Him and let Him go by, our neglect is our condemnation!” These words make my understanding of Jesus’ warnings in the Gospel of Matthew twenty-five very fresh and very clear. The psalmist reminds us our time is short; are we ready for his coming today?
A Hymn: Vox Clara Ecce Intonat
The prophet’s voice is loud and clear:
“Away with darkness! Now give ear: Away with plots of sin and crime,
For Christ your Light makes life sublime.”
The Lamb of God comes from on high to make us free, our bonds untie;
The new born Savior Christ appears to bring us peace and banish fears.
All glory to the Father be and to the Son eternally,
To Holy Spirit equally, for now and all eternity. Amen.
Sovereign Creator, you who know the signs of the end of the age, sweep away our submersion in the flood of our present daily activities and prepare us for your coming now and at the final judgment. Let us see this “middle Advent” as our time of preparation and awareness of our ultimate goal and ultimate good, eternal life with you in paradise. In this beginning let us see our ending and our new beginning. Amen.