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God Is Near

… for me, it is good to be near God.
(Psalm 73:28)

Thanksgiving is past and Christmas music is playing on the radio.  Commercial interests of all sorts are trying to convince us that what we really, really want, what we really, really need, is their product—that for us, it is good to be near the credit card.

But we are replying, “for me, it is good to be near God.”

What does it mean to be near God?  What does it mean for God to be near us? How is God near?  Why, if God in Christ is near, do we say, “Come, Lord Jesus?” Do we say, Come, because God is present or because God is absent?  Usually when we ask someone to come, it’s because that person is not here.  Are we waiting for Jesus, or is he already here?  Or both?  

What do we mean when we say, Come, Lord Jesus?

When we pray, or when we even talk about God, we are approaching Mystery.  

So that when we say God is near, we don’t mean near in the same way that we may mean that another human being is near, or that this particular chair is near and that one is farther away. When we talk about God being near or far, we are talking about our human experience, but we need to recognize that we are in the realm of mystery.  We are using human words to express something that can’t really be expressed.

"But how can I reproach you with your distance, when I find your nearness equally mysterious…?" asks Karl Rahner (“Before God,” Prayers for a Lifetime (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 4).

God is always with us, but the divine nearness to us is indeed very mysterious.  Sometimes God’s presence feels to us like distance, or even like absence.

So we are right to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

We are right to long for eyes to see and a heart to receive the One who is, in truth, already present to us and in us.

So we pray, "Come, Lord Jesus." And we let Jesus pray his prayer in us (“Our Father... hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done...”), as we express the desire for our hearts to be conformed to the heart of Christ, and for ourselves and the world to be transformed.

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The last Sunday of the liturgical year is the Feast of Christ the King — or more properly, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. If we ponder this feast and its readings, we find that we are speaking of one who is not a ruler like other rulers.

In the Gospel reading for this year, the King is identified with the “least” — the poor, the stranger, the ill, the prisoner (Matthew 25:31-46):

"Then the king will say to those on his right, 'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me'" (Matthew 25: 35-36).

We learn that “whatever you did for one of the least,” we have done for Jesus (25:40).

In the gospel for Year B, where Pilate is questioning Jesus, it turns out that one sign that this reign is different from a worldly dominion is the absence of violence, even violence in defense of the Christ (John 18:33b-37). 

And in Year C, we hear the rulers and soldiers sneering at Jesus on the cross, while above him a mocking sign proclaims, "This is the King of the Jews." Even one of the criminals crucified along with Jesus seems to be jeering. The other, however, begs, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And we hear Jesus welcoming him, saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:35-43).

So this is a King identified with the poor, the oppressed, even the condemned, a King whose reign is marked by welcome and love, resurrection and healing. This is a king who, wonder of wonders, does not look down his nose on us from his royal throne, but calls us to share his own life.


See also:
- Endings
- Peaceable Kingdom

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