The Lord's Middle Coming

The Lord's Middle Coming

Homily for Christmas I- on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2023

The Lord's Middle Coming

Homily for December 24, 2023
Christmas I
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th century mystic, once said that “there are three comings of the Lord…  In the first he was seen on earth, dwelling among us… In the final coming [at the end of time],‘all flesh will see the salvation of our God’ (Luke 3:6).”  But, writes Bernard, “The third coming lies between the other two.  While the other two are visible, the intermediate coming is hidden; it is invisible.”  The intermediate coming of which Bernard speaks is the coming of Jesus into our hearts. Of this coming Bernard writes: “If in his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness, and if in the final coming, he will be seen in glory and majesty… in this middle coming, he comes in spirit and in power.”

We seem to find it easy to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, for here we are this evening remembering his birth.  And we seem not to be too concerned about Christ’s final coming, for if we did churches would be full not just on Christmas Eve but each Sunday and every day in between.  But this second, intermediate coming, the coming of Jesus into our hearts, we tend to find difficult.  We want Jesus to mean something, we want the faith to have substance, we want Christ to make a difference in our lives… but not too much.  We rightly intuit that this intermediate coming into our hearts is, as Bernard says, “in spirit and in power,” and we tend to resist this power of Christ coming into our hearts.  

Bernard anticipates our resistance to Christ’s coming with power into our hearts; he writes:

 “In case someone should think I am making this up, listen to what our Lord himself says.”  And here Bernard quotes from St. John’s Gospel:  “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come… and make our home with them” (John 14:23).  

Though we tend to resist Jesus’ coming with power into our lives, Bernard has every confidence that we can do the very practical thing that John suggests will overcome our resistance, which is to “keep God’s word.”  Bernard writes:  

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, allow it to take possession of your desires, let it become of your whole way of life.

“Let” God’s word enter; “allow” God’s word to take possession; “let” God’s word become our whole way of life.  The result of letting and allowing God’s word to “enter into our very being” and to “take possession of our whole way of life,”  Bernard says, is “rest and consolation.”  He writes:

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.  In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

I can’t tell you how many people, when I ask, “What are you looking for?” tell me that they seek “inner peace.”  My hunch is that we all are looking for “inner peace,” we all seek what Bernard calls “rest and consolation.”  The road to inner peace(according to Bernard) is:  “Let God’s word enter into your very being, allow it to take possession of your desires, let it become your whole way of life.”

The first coming of the Lord that we celebrate this evening offers images for how we can travel Bernard’s road to inner peace: “There was no place for them in the inn,” writes Luke – can we make space to let Jesus in?  “There were shepherds… keeping watch over their flocks by night” – might we keep watch for Jesus?  “Do not be afraid,” said the angels to the shepherds – if, when the Lord knocks at the door of our hearts, we are afraid and want to resist, can we hear the angels speak to us, “Do not be afraid?”  “So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” – might we hasten toward Jesus?  “And Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” – might we learn to treasure and ponder Jesus’ word?

Bernard knows how much our lives depend on Jesus’ word – “Remember to eat your bread,”says Bernard – that is, to take in Jesus’ word – “or your heart will wither away.”  I pray that we do not let our hearts wither away, but that we take in his word – his word in scripture and in the sacraments, his word that comes with power. For as we “eat” this “bread” – as we let Jesus’ word enter in and become our whole way of life – “it will fill our souls with richness and strength,”promises Bernard.  And our Lord’s “middle coming,” his coming into our hearts, will be our rest and consolation.  For it is in Jesus – and only in Jesus, who made us and for whom we are made – [it is in Jesus] that our hearts can find inner peace.



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