Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas and the Last Judgment

Two thousand years ago, a supposed madman from the wilderness preached about the coming of the terrible judge. He wore camel cloth with a leather belt on his waste, ate locusts and wild honey, and kept saying that all men must prepare for the coming of the judge, that they make the crooked roads straight, filling up voids in vallies, and level hills and mounts.

For the past two thousand years the Church has repeated this uncomfortable teaching, especially during the weeks before Christmas. That all stay sober and be ready for the Judgment. In fact, the traditional readings of Advent reflect this alignment towards preparing men for the End of Age rather than the merry commemoration of the birth of the Christ. The scriptural readings even call for fasting, for keeping sober, for making amends for sins rather than wine, partying, and shopping for gifts and decors - an absolute rejection of what the world holds as the "meaning of the season".

In the rejection of the uncomfortable message, the supposed madman, John the Baptist, was beheaded and had his head served on a silver platter. Alas, two thousand years after, the world's answer to the voice howling in the wilderness is still utter rejection. The world refuses to accept the same message, and as such, many elect to drunken stupor, binge eating, and even secularizing the season in order to rub out any references to the coming of the Judge. This same world jeers at the Church and those who heed her - calling them outmoded and medieval.

Come to think about it, Christmas is a one-time event in history that will never happen again. The feast of Christmas is what it is - a commemoration of the coming of Jesus as a historical event. Thus the Church elects instead to prepare humankind for the return of Christ at the end of history and time. It is no accident that Christmas is celebrated at the end of the secular year - wherein people assess and make judgment to the year that has passed. More than just a reclaiming of an old pagan practice and Christianizing it, Christmas is a prefiguration that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. We in turn even profess this uncomfortable truth everytime we recite the Creed.

This coming Christmas, are we heeding to the uncomfortable message? Or do we elect the wisdom and judgment of the world?

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