As the sun illumines not only the heaven and the whole world, shining on both land and sea, but also sends rays through windows and small chinks into the furthest recesses of a house, so the Word, poured out everywhere, beholds the smallest actions of our life. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata VII.3
Light can bring different reactions. The soft glow of candles can soothe and welcome; the harsh glare of floodlights makes us flinch. Likewise, the knowledge that God in Christ beholds the whole of our lives can make us react in different ways. And this depends on whether we think this is good news. Is this this beholding something to welcome or to hide from? What does Jesus see when he looks at us?
This is a call to be truthful, which is also a call to be free. Deep down, most of us know that there are parts of our lives that are broken or sinful or cut off from God, however much we might put on a good face in public. We are aware of the resentment we can’t or won’t let go of; the hurt that has been done to us or that we have done; the myriad ways both small and large that we are selfish and stubborn and proud. Christ’s coming brings all of that into the light.
But the one who beholds even the smallest actions of our lives is not just the one who will come again as our judge, but the one who is our advocate too. In the cross of Christ God has already pronounced judgement on the world: it is a yes to all that he has made humanity to be. He will not leave us bound in sin and held captive by death.
Judgement, then, is not about panicking about whether our lives match up to the divine standard bit about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s love and goodness and holiness. This light, which we prepare for this Advent season, is a light that shows up what remains hidden in the shadows. But because it does this, this light is also an invitation into wholeness, healing, repentance and amendment of life. God loves us too much to leave us in our sin.
This is what we see in the way Jesus relates to people in the gospels. He never leaves people in their sin, or tells them it doesn’t matter. He judges, but his judgement is not about writing people off but giving them life. So often we keep our sins hidden because we fear condemnation. In the company of Jesus, people discover that they can bear the truth, that it sets them free.
And this is why judgement is good news. It frees us to live for God; to discover our identity as his beloved children. Judgement is the promise that our identity lies not in the worst things we have done, or that have happened to us, but in the justice and love and holiness of God. Sometimes the experience of God’s judgement will be a gentle cleansing, a painstaking restoration of Christ’s image in us. Sometimes it will feel like those parts of our lives which are chaff are being consumed in the fire of his love. Always it will be a process of redemption: of God drawing us to him and making us his. For all of us need his judgement: we need freeing from those things that still ensnare us, or control us, or diminish us; we need healing of those bits of us that are broken; we need forgiving of those parts of us that are set against God.
So this is an invitation for the rest of Advent: to love the light, to let it in, and to find in Christ’s judgement how fiercely, and how kindly, God loves you.
Anna Matthews is Vicar of St Bene’t’s, Cambridge.