“Come and see”
“Compassion without holiness is moral softness”, Aelred of Rievaulx reminds us, a voice from 12th century northern England. The church year runs out as much in compassion as in judgment. It is really the compassion of Christ that allows us to look upon our follies and our failures and not be destroyed by what we see about ourselves. The compassion of Christ encourages us to renew our love and to seek his holiness. “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people” is our prayer on this day which marks the transition from the end of one church year to the beginning of the next, from the end of the Trinity season to the beginning of Advent.
It doesn’t mean that there is no judgment, rather it qualifies what the judgment is about. Judgment belongs to the love of God – to the love which is God and the love which comes from God. Judgment is God’s love of his own righteousness for the sake of which he seeks our good. Our good – what is good and meaningful for us – can only be found in his will. God’s will for us is what is right for us. What is right for us belongs to what God wants for us. The theme of judgment is ever before us because our lives always stand under what God wants for us. Ultimately that is the greatest compassion.
What God wants for us always contrasts with where we are and what we do. There is the judgment that we are sinners precisely because we do not measure up to God’s will and purpose for us. To be sure. We do not, if we are honest, measure up to what we would like to be about ourselves. We are not right with ourselves because we are not right with God. The problem is not with what God wants for us but with our failure to be faithful and obedient to his Word. What God wants for us, after all, is not a mystery hidden from view; it is revealed. In other words, if judgment is the sole principle of reality, then we all stand condemned, hopelessly and utterly unable to be right with God.