We are challenged ‘to stand before the Son of Man’

Father John A. Kiley

On most days in the Holy Land, a cooling breeze blows in from the sea shortly before sunset. The Book of Genesis refers to this refreshing gust as “the wind of the day” and it takes note that it was at this relaxed moment that God the Father would visit Adam and Eve to discuss the affairs of the day.

“When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” What should have been an enjoyable encounter became, of course, an occasion for condemnation. God exiled the first couple from his garden of earthly delights and sentenced them to hard labor on the part of Adam and painful labor on the part of Eve. Sadly, God’s affection for his first two creatures was unrequited. God had come to visit them, but they had shamefacedly hid from him. God’s visit was not appreciated.

The Lord God continued to visit his people even in their sorry exile. Much of the Book of Genesis is dedicated to the encounters between God the Father and Abraham, the father of believers, as well as his progeny, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The Lord personally blessed Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” Moses, of course, had a similar encounter with this God who takes the initiative in visiting his select people. The incident at the bush that burned but was not consumed is rightly celebrated. On that occasion, God freely promised: “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

God was never far removed from his wayward people. He spoke to them regularly through the prophets. He also dwelt with them mysteriously by his presence at the temple as the Book of Kings notes, “It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.”

The Christian believer gratefully professes that the presence of God to our first parents, to the patriarchs and to the Jewish people was certainly a true and real presence. God is always a God who comes, who visits, who dwells. But this ancient presence fades in the light of the Real Presence of the Son of God in history at Bethlehem, in word and work in the church, and continuing in flesh and blood through the holy Eucharist. The Lord God is truly present through Christ in the hearts of all believers, in the activity of the church, and especially in the personal reception of holy Communion at Mass.

The Church wisely uses the season of Advent to refresh the minds of believers regarding the wondrous and persistent arrival of God into human history and into human hearts. The arrival of God through Christ should evoke great awe among the faithful: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” And when they do, they should stand erect and raise their heads because their “redemption is at hand.” The arrival of Christ into hearts and history is always transformative as the presence of God in the Old Testament had been. God challenged Adam and Eve to repent. God challenged the patriarchs to form a people of faith. God challenged Moses to reform and renew a population that had known only slavery. The whole Old Testament was a preparation for redemption, a deliverance that has been brought to fulfillment in Christ. But fulfillment only comes through being present. The challenge given to all is “to stand before the Son of Man,” to face up to, recognize and acknowledge Jesus. Unlike Adam and Eve who shamefully shunned God’s presence, the Christian welcomes God always present in the person of Jesus.