Poetry and Promise

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 55 (Morning)
Psalm 138, 139:1-17(18-23) (Evening)
Zech. 8:9-17
Rev. 6:1-17
Matt. 25:31-46

Poetry and Promise

Scholars are inclined to believe that Matthew revised his memory of what Jesus predicted about his second coming according to events that happened after his death and resurrection. The earliest Christians expected the return of Jesus within their own lifetimes, but later, as “this generation” did seem to be passing away, Matthew has Jesus acknowledge that even He does not know when he will come again.

The priests in the Catholic church where I grew up did not use this passage or the similar passage from Mark to preach end-times sermons like the ones my wife and Reverend Dennis Campbell had to suffer through. Their warning was more gentle: “this generation” should be interpreted as one’s lifetime. For me, declarations about who was to be taken and who left behind were reminders of the continuous, though remote, possibility that I might “die before I wake,” and I should be prepared. Their gentler preaching allowed me to enjoy the poetry and the promise of the trumpet blowing to “gather his elect from the four winds.” John Donne responds similarly with his great, “At the round earth’s imagined corners blow/ Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise/ From death, you numberless infinities.” But, sinner that he is, Donne suddenly remembers the apocalyptic warnings of Matthew 25, changes his mind, and asks the Lord to delay the trumpet blast and instead, “Teach me how to repent, for that’s as good/ As if Thou hadst sealed my pardon with Thy blood.”

As an adult, still not knowing when my life will end, I thank God that in the meantime life is good, “eating and drinking, …. giving in marriage,” enjoying the company of my wife and children and friends during the holidays , despite Jesus’ warning that so too did the foolish people “in the days before the flood.”

Fortunately, in this same passage from Matthew, Jesus also reminds us what we, as “faithful and wise servants,” should do: “give his people their food at the proper time.” The time is now. Even though we are safe because God has indeed sealed our pardon with his blood, it is always time to seek out better ways to feed God’s beloved persecuted human beings. The church calendar offers many opportunities for new beginnings. Christmas is one of them.

Written by John DuVal

John DuVal is spending Christmas with his wife and family in North Carolina, where he plans to celebrate Christmas at the recently-restored Duke University Chapel and do a little ice skating.

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