Have You really already come? Was it really You, the God we were expecting when we poured forth our longing for “Him who was to come,” for the Mighty God, Father of the Future, Prince of Peace, The God of Light and Truth and Eternal Happiness? Indeed, Your coming is promised in the very first pages of Holy Scripture, and yet on the last page, to which no more will ever be added, there still stands the prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!” [i]Karl Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” in Encounters with Silence
With prayer and song, the church eagerly anticipates the coming of Christ. We stand together—looking and longing for the one promised to bring back our hope and restore the peace we so desperately desire. Each year we celebrate this yearning, this hunger for the wish we so long to be fulfilled. If Christ is to come, has already come, will come again—then when is Christmas?
Christ who is to come—where can we find you? Truly, we seek that which would renew our hope once again. With an urgent intensity we make our supplications for you to end this strife, the eternal and tiresome violence that so engulfs our world. Where can we find you? When and where should we expect you? Some days you seem so far away, too far. With each passing year we prepare for your arrival. We sing the songs, make our prayers with earnest and eager expectation, and patiently wait for the eve to pass and a new era to begin. This we do each and every December. We pray, wait, and then begin again.
Are You the eternal Advent? Are You He who is always still to come, but never arrives in such a way as to fulfill our expectations? Are you the infinitely distant One, who can never be reached? Are you the One toward whom all races and all ages, all the longings of all men’s hearts must plod on eternally over never-ending highways? [ii]
Christ who has already come—where can we find you? Indeed, we’re told that you were here. Did we miss you? You came without fanfare or celebration. Born among the poor it’s no wonder that we missed you. Hidden in plain sight, we overlooked you. Even still, in the form of a slave, you graciously showed us with unending patience how to live, how to share, and how to love. And while you were patient, we were not. We longed for a king but received a beggar. We wished to make you more, but you refused. Thus, the Christ who has already come was crucified because this coming didn’t suit us. As such, we renewed our cry—where can we find you?
You tell me that You have really already come, that Your name is Jesus, Son of Mary, and that I know in what place and at what time I can find You. That’s all true, of course, Lord—but forgive me if I say that this coming of Yours seems to me more like a going, more like a departure than an arrival. [iii]
Christ who will come again—where can we find you? Told that you would return, we again wait. But we now wait for the one who has already come. How can we wait for that which as already arrived? Must we forever bear the tension of the “already, but not yet”? Surely, we know you now as a longing for lost love. We long for a love we once knew but never fully understood—now we wish to know. We wish to know the one who experienced our pain, understood our torment, and lived within that same anxiety we still painstakingly endure. We once again seek the one who has come, is here, and will come again. In our hearts, we say that this time will be different. Our hearts and minds are ready for you.
Is that Your real coming? Is that what mankind has been waiting for? Is that why men have made the whole of human history a single great Advent-choir, in which even the blasphemers take part—a single chant crying out for You and Your coming? Is Your humble human existence from Bethlehem to Calvary really the coming which was to redeem wretched mankind from its misery? [iv]
Now at the eve of your arrival we again wait. We wait for the one who is to come, already come, and comes again. Your life is paradoxically our past and future. Thus, each Christmas is an eternal Christmas. Truly, your coming is one that is renewed each day through acts of love and charity, through giving and setting aside selfish desire, and in the endless pursuit of peace on earth and goodwill for all. In this we finally understand what your coming was all about. That every moment in history—from past to future—celebrates your arrival. The Christ of Advent is the Christ of the present. We don’t celebrate a coming, rather we celebrate an eternal manifestation that emerges in every act of peace, joy, and kindness. Our love is your love, our peace is your peace, our Christmas is your Christmas.
It is said that You will come again, and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won’t really be “another” coming, because You have never really gone away. In the human existence which You made Your own for all eternity, You have never left us. [v]
Behold, You come. And Your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment. Now it is still the one single hour of Your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that You have really come. [vi]
When is Christmas? Christmas continues evermore in the liminal present between the past and future, between what has come and what is to come, between our longing gaze for you and the joyful celebration of your arrival. In Christ, Christmas has come now and forever more in the unending present.
O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of Your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in You forever, in the blissful hour of Your Eternity. [vii]
[i] Karl Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” in Encounters with Silence. Trans. James M. Demske (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1999), 80.
[ii] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 80.
[iii] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 81.
[iv] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 84.
[v] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 86.
[vi] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 87.
[vii] Rahner, “God Who is to Come,” 87.