Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The two comings of Christ.

On the eve of Christmas, I thought I'd once again share something from the book I've been reading to prepare for the Nativity, Father Thomas Hopko's The Winter Pascha. Emphasizing the correspondence between the "winter Pascha" that we celebrate tomorrow and the "springtime Pascha" that comes in our celebration of Christ's death and resurrection, Father Hopko shows how both point to the great mystery at the heart of the Christian faith:

Jesus was born in order to die. Indeed, of all humans who ever lived on earth, God's Son is the only one who entered the world for this purpose. He came to die so that we might live in and through Him. The eternal life which He brings to the world is already present and active in those who receive Him, but it will be manifested fully and completely in a way which no one can question, doubt, or resist only at the end of the ages. Christians are those who remember and celebrate the fact that God has visited His people in the person of His son in order to be crucified and raised. And so they are also those who await His coming, believing that all of God's promises made in and through Jesus will be actualized in the age to come. . . .

Christians live between the two comings of Christ. They remember His first coming to be sacrificed. They anticipate His second coming to reign. This is vividly portrayed in traditional Orthodox church buildings where the "royal gates" of the icon screen in front of the altar table are flanked by the icons of the Theotokos and Child on the one side, and the Lord Jesus in glory on the other. To the uninitiated it may seem as though these are simply pictures of Mary and Jesus put on the same level. This is not so. The icons which frame the Orthodox altar are images of the two comings of Christ. Mary is not alone in her icon; she is holding the Christ Child, who is not shown as a baby, but as the Son of God incarnate "in the form of a slave . . . in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:7). This is the icon of Christ's first coming. And the icon on the right of the doors is not a picture of Jesus as He was on the earth. It is His image in glory as King and Lord, the icon of His second coming.

The two comings of Christ are held together in Christian thought, action, and prayer at all times. They cannot be separated. When they are, it is the end of Christian faith, life and worship. The first coming without the second is a meaningless tragedy. The second coming without the first is an absurd impossibility. Jesus is born to bring God's kingdom. He dies to prove His kingship. He rises to establish His reign. He comes again in glory to share it with His people. In the kingdom of God there are no subjects. All rule with the risen Messiah. He came, and is coming, for this purpose alone.
As I pass Father Hopko's words along to you, I'm sitting at my old desk in my old room at my parents' home in Massachusetts. I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend Christmas here with my family, and I pray that the peace and blessings of this holy night will be with all who read these lines. Merry Christmas! AMDG.


At 12/24/2008 6:02 PM, Blogger Laura Brown said...

Have a wonderful Christmas!

At 12/24/2008 6:25 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Same to you - safe travels!


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