Commanding Presence

After 100 years of construction and the blessing of the recently finished ‘Trinity Dome’ on December 8, The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC is now complete. Walking in, one is at once struck by the towering mosaic of Christ in the north apse. One of the largest mosaics of Jesus in the world, it is titled ‘Christ in Majesty’.  The rendering depicts Christ as a muscular figure with outstretched arms and an earnest gaze – His is a commanding presence.

This is the Jesus we sing about and preach about on Christ the King Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent: He who will come and reign in glory. Lo, He comes with clouds descending!

But now we have taken a turn in Advent and await the Savior who seems far from commanding at this point. He is nestled snugly in the womb of a virgin. His breath is her breath, His meals are her meals, when she moves He goes with her. Jesus cannot live without Mary. He is protected by her, comforted by her, nurtured by her – she is the commanding presence in his young life.

All kings start in the womb, but this king is God. So not just our king, but our God becomes dependent and vulnerable. Think about that. He who was and is and is to come, He who is I Am, He who comes in majesty and glory is reliant upon a very young woman.

Advent can be too busy, too noisy. This solemn time of meditation on God’s descent can easily be eclipsed by things flashing at us. And though the lights and festivities are delightful and welcome, our souls compete for time and space and silence. The fluorescence of Advent should perhaps be more like the quiet darkness of the womb. Let all mortal flesh keep silent.

So may we all seek silence in these remaining days to ponder God’s trust in Mary and renew our own dependency on Him: To dwell in the womb of God and breathe with Him, be nourished by Him, and move with Him – to let the Christ Child be the commanding presence in our lives.

God is Coming

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reachin’ down
When the man comes around 
– Johnny Cash

I grew up a Mississippi Protestant surrounded by hellfire and brimstone preachers who often preached the question, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell?” Such a phrase was regularly followed by an altar call and we’d all go down to accept Jesus in our hearts even if we had already done so the previous week (just in case!).

So it was with great interest that I read where Pope Francis recently asked a similar question. He said, “It would be nice to think a little bit: one day will be the last. If it was today, am I prepared?” It is a good question to consider and it transported me back in time. One of these days is going to be our last – nothing is more factual than that.  Are we ready?

I want to be ready when Jesus comes
I want to be ready when Jesus comes
One day the Lord’s gonna crack the sky
and the dead in Christ shall rise
 – Dottie Peoples

Like many, I am not inclined to talk a lot about the judgment of God.  I prefer faith, hope, and love. I prefer to ponder the great depth of God’s self-emptying love. I’d rather write about, teach about, sing about His amazing grace. I don’t want the Church to scare people into faith; I’d rather we love them there.

Besides, most of the people I know who fear the judgment of God seem to have the least to worry.  So too much talk about God’s wrath can feel like piling on.

But make no mistake, God is coming. By death or cracked sky, we will all meet our Maker and be judged. He will come back to put the world to rights. Justice will be served and His kingdom will reign forever.

Are you ready?