SUNDAY’S READINGS | December 12, 2021
St. Paul may be talking about a final judgment and return of Christ when he says to the Philippians, “The Lord is near” (Phil. 4:5). But he is also reinforcing a well-known teaching concerning the closeness of God to his creation in every moment of every day. “The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deut. 30:14). “Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast” (Ps. 139:6-9).
Consider for a moment the wordless voice of God suffusing and penetrating all creation: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound had gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4).
Wordless and almost silent, God is the hidden ground of love nearer to us than we are to ourselves.
God is a source of strength and consolation that transcends us, surrounds us, and abides within us. The prophet Zephaniah, speaking to the children of Israel about the intervention of God on their behalf, strikes a joyful note: “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst. . . . He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph. 3:16-17). The nearness of God is nearer still in the mystery of the Word made flesh. In Jesus Christ, we meet the true light that enlightens everyone, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, all goodness and life and the joy of the world.
We are consoled, strengthened, and renewed by our divine source and companion. But we are haunted too by the sense that we are being addressed, and demands are being made, and that God’s voice may be the pounding of waves as well as a thin whisper. God wants something, and past credentials and previous good works are not enough. John the Baptist says, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). God calls us to some good work each day, and a clear-eyed assessment of our obligations will make much of that work quite obvious. And the God who calls us to do good is also, even through the good work we do and the many inconveniences we may suffer, purifying our lives. John the Baptist says of Jesus, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17)
The Lord is near in love and consolation; the Lord is near calling us to good works; the Lord is near as a purifying flame.
Look It Up: The Collect
Think About It: The Lord is at hand, coming speedily.