James E. Hug, S.J.
A few weeks ago we celebrated the feast of Christ the King of the Universe. The gospel for the day was Jesus’s story of the Last Judgment [Mt. 25:31-46]. It is familiar and we usually take it in stride. But if we judge ourselves honestly on how we’re doing as a people by Jesus’s criteria, a pretty disturbing picture emerges:
- “I was hungry and you gave me food.”
There is plenty of food for everyone on this planet and yet about 1 billion people are undernourished, starving – 1 out of every 7. And in our wealthy nation? 1 in 5 children are hungry.
- “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.”
- “I was a stranger [the biblical term for immigrants and refugees], and you welcomed me.”
- “I was naked/poor, and you clothed me.”
- “I was ill and you cared for me.”
- “I was in prison, and you visited me.”
The feast of Christ the King lays out the context for Advent, a season of renewal, expectation, longing and preparation for the coming of our redemption. How do we imagine God coming into this scenario and responding to it?
The two main readings for the feast of Christ the King of the Universe this year portrayed two historical answers to that question, answers we still hear echoed in our time. But at this stage of human awareness of our origins, the title of the feast itself, King of the Universe, seems to call us beyond those answers.
Ezekiel’s prophetic answer [Ezekiel 34:11-17]: Since the world’s shepherds were shepherding themselves instead of the sheep entrusted to them, God will come down and shepherd the sheep personally, caring for the lost and strayed and abused, destroying those who have made themselves fat and sleek.
This is the theocratic answer, the one the radicals of various religious traditions are ready to implement in a spirit of divine wrath. Discussion, tolerance, and compromise are not acceptable answers. Return to God’s ways is the only answer. And they are prepared to enforce it.
Jesus’s Matthean answer: There will be a final Judgment in the age to come and Christ the King will separate the sheep from the goats, sending the sheep to Paradise and the goats to eternal punishment.
This is the classic Christian answer. Still, few any longer expect to see this Second Coming as portrayed in the scriptures; such an immense scene is beyond imagining. For most the judgment is conceived as a personal experience individualized.
The Universe answer? The feast these readings come from and which sets the context for Advent is the Feast of Christ, King of the Universe. That calls to mind the Universe Story and the new cosmology that is emerging into our consciousness. It assumes an initial great Flaring Forth or “Big Bang” and 13.8 Billion years of evolving realities leading toward this moment and pressing toward a seemingly limitless future.
Against this backdrop, how do we imagine God acting in response to what we see in our world today? To the hungry and the fat and sleek, to the thirsty and the hoarders or destroyers, to the migrants/refugees and those who turn them away, to all the outcast and marginalized?
The law of evolution is described by Teilhard de Chardin as the Law of Complexity/Consciousness. Throughout evolution, the power of Love has brought together “particles” or less complex wholes into larger, more complex unities and those unities into more and more complex systems. As the complexities within a system keep growing, the system is overwhelmed and breaks down. Out of that creative chaos, new higher-order systems can then organize. This is the way consciousness emerged in evolutionary time, and human self-consciousness, and communities, tribes and nations.
Today there are signs all around us that the systems by which we organize human life are being overwhelmed by the complexities of our emerging reality. Everywhere there is more and more breakdown: changing climate and ecological destruction, social unrest over poverty and discrimination, oppressive efforts at suppression and explosions of violence, religious extremism, political polarization and deadlock. How can this growing chaos give birth to creativity and a more complex and adequate way to live together on this planet?
To put that question into the language of the season, what is the Advent we need to pray for at this time? Advent is a time of expectation and waiting for God’s emergence in this world to save it. How should we imagine that divine emergence in our time? What do we have to proclaim – any Good News? What are we hoping and praying for this Advent?
Perhaps it is that we may have eyes to see the coming of God’s Spirit taking flesh in the breakdown of the inadequate and destructive systems of our world, the breakdown of the terrible solutions we have believed in and profited from. From an evolutionary perspective, if we want a more just world, we must pray for the breakdown of the old and the graced chaos from which the new may emerge.
Perhaps it is that we may have eyes to see and courage to witness to God’s Spirit taking flesh in the seeds of a new global and compassionate consciousness, a new and life-giving universal and sustainable Earth community.
Perhaps it is that we may discover and take up joyfully our part in birthing God’s New Creation here, now, and into the evolving Universe Future.
Maranatha! Come, Emerging God! Come, Ever-Birthing Savior.
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