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.
You have clothed Yourself in the form of a slave. You, the hidden God, have been found as one of us. You have quietly and inconspicuously taken Your place in our ranks and marched along with us. You have walked with us, even though we are beings who are never coming, but rather always going, since any goal we reach has only one purpose: to point beyond itself and lead us to the last goal, our end.
And thus we still cry: “Come! Come to us, You who never pass away, You whose day has no evening, whose reality knows no end! Come to us, because our march is only a procession to the grave.” Despairing of ourselves, we call upon You – then most of all, when, in composure and quiet resignation, we bring ourselves to accept our finiteness.
You promised that You would come, and actually made good Your promise. But how, O Lord, how did You come? You did it by taking a human life as Your own. You became like us in everything: born of a woman, You suffered under Pontius Pilate, were crucified, died, and were buried. And thus You took up again the very thing we wanted to discard. You began what we thought would end with your coming: our poor human kind of life, which is sheer frailty, finiteness, and death.
Contrary to all our fond hopes, You seized upon precisely this kind of human life and made it Your own. And You did this not in order to change or abolish it, not so that You could visibly and tangibly transform it, not to divinize it. You didn’t even fill it to overflowing with the kind of goods that men are able to wrest from the small, rocky acre of their temporal life, and which they laboriously store away as their meager provision for eternity.
No,You took upon Yourself our kind of life, just as it is. You let it slip away from You, just as ours vanishes from us. You held on to it carefully, so that not a single drop of its torments would be spilled. You hoarded its every fleeting moment, so You could suffer through it all, right to the bitter end.
You too felt the inexorable wheel of blind, brute nature rolling over Your life, while the clear-seeing eye of human malice looked on in cruel satisfaction. And when Your humanity glanced upwards to the One who, in purest truth and deepest love, is called “Father,” it too caught sight of the God whose ways are unfathomable and whose judgments are incomprehensible, who hands us the chalice or lets it pass, all according to His own holy will. You too learned in the hard school of suffering that no “why” will ever ferret out the secret of that will, which could have done otherwise, and yet chose to do something we would never understand.
You were supposed to come to redeem us from ourselves, and yet You, who alone are absolutely free and unbounded, were “made,” even as we are. Of course, I know that You remained what You always were, but still, didn’t our mortality make You shudder, You the Immortal God? Didn’t You, the broad and limitless Being, shrink back in horror from our narrowness? Weren’t You, absolute Truth, revolted at our pretense?
Didn’t You nail yourself to the cross of creation, when You took as Your own life something which You had drawn out of nothing, when You assumed as Your very own the darkness that You had previously spread out in the eternal distance as the background to Your own inaccessible light? Isn’t the Cross of Golgotha only the visible form of the cross You have prepared for Yourself, which towers throughout the spaces of eternity?
Is that Your real coming? Is that what humanity 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 that was to redeem wretched humanity from its misery?
Is our grief taken from us, simply because you wept too? Is our surrender to finiteness no longer a terrible act of despair, simply because You also capitulated? Does our road, which doesn’t want to end, have a happy ending despite itself, just because You are traveling it with us?
But how can this be? And why should it be? How can our life be the redemption of itself, simply because it has also become Your life? How can You buy us back from the law, simply by having fallen under the law Yourself (Gal. 4:5)?
Or is it this way: is my surrender to the crushing narrowness of earthly existence the beginning of my liberation from it, precisely because this surrender is my “Amen” to Your human life, my way of saying yes to Your human coming, which happens in a manner so contrary to my expectations?
But of what value is it to me that my destiny is now a participation in Yours, if You have merely made what is mine Your own? Or have You made my life only the beginning of Your coming, only the starting point of Your life?
Slowly a light is beginning to dawn. I’ve begun to understand something I have known for a long time: You are still in the process of Your coming. Your appearance in the form of a slave was only the beginning of Your coming, a beginning in which You chose to redeem men by embracing the very slavery from which You were freeing them. And You can really achieve Your purpose in this paradoxical way, because the paths that You tread have a real ending, the narrow passes which You enter soon open out into broad liberty, the cross that You carry inevitably becomes a brilliant banner of triumph.
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 that You made Your own for all eternity, You have never left us.
- Karl Rahner