”This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break’
Genesis 32:24 (New Living Translation)
We live at the point where two shadows meet. The first shadow is cast by the cross and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This stake in the ground casts its influence across time and space. It reaches back to the first moment of history and forward to the last moment of time as we understand it. The cross changes everything. The second shadow is cast by the same Christ, but from a different place. This time the shadow falls from the ‘future’ into the present. The moment of Christ’s promised return casts its shadow backwards upon our lives. The certainty of Christ’s return is sealed by the historicity of the crucifixion and the resurrection. The shadow cast by the cross meets the shadow cast by the promised return of Christ in our lives and in our hearts.
So we must learn to live at the place where shadows meet. St Thomas Aquinas once wrote, ‘Lord in pity and in power, Thou didst in our darkest hour, Rend the clouds and show thy light.’ Standing at the place where resurrection meets promised return can be hard, I think. I know it is hard for me. I know it is hard for many others too.
Advent is such an important season for me each year, but it is more important this year than it has ever been. This period of living ‘in between’ and its longings carries a new depth for me this year. This is the time of year that we roll up all our longings, all our questions and all our hopes in the cry ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’. Yet he has already come to us. He came to Bethlehem. He walked the dustry paths of Judea. He came to us. I still cry, O Come, O Come Emmaunel’, though. Why? I believe he came once and I believe he will come again. But here, today, in the world that I inhabit and the life that I am living, I need him to come to me. I need him to fulfil his promise not just for a moment but continually – that he will come and walk with me. The Christ who casts his shadow from the cross and the Christ whose promise of return casts its shadow from heaven must come and light my way this very day, this very hour.
My faith does not simply point backward to the cross and forward to his return but also outward to his presence here and now. If he is not here then his promises are false. If he is not here then his words are not reliable. I do not need to feel him, see him, touch him or sense him, though all of these sensations would be welcome and a blessing. I need to believe that he is here.
Like Jacob, who wrestled in the darkness until the dawn broke in, there are times when I too wrestle with God, but I do so believing that he is here and that the dawn will break. I believe it because God keeps his promises. This is our great assurance
His coming is not just past or future, it is present. It has to be present. I do not stand between two great moments in history that are disconnected. I stand between one great moment in history that is punctuated with the moments of history that have elapsed between the cross and the parousia. This helps me. The moment of his ascension was a temporary shadowing of his presence. It was a transient farewell for he has come to us in his Spirit. And the One who cannot be seen is here. The One who is veiled is nevertheless present.
So in the sadness of today and the silence of unaswered questions, I know he is here. Like the moment between inhalation and exhalation of breath I wait. I wait in the breath of the Life Giver and let him give me his breath and his life. I may feel like I live in the shadows of death and sadness but there is a greater cause of these silhouettes – the light of the Christ shines upon me. He shines from the cross and he shines from the promise of return. But he shines. Oh, how he shines. Brilliantly, beautifully and silently. His light dances at my feet like the notes of a symphony tumbling from the melody of grace.
He is ‘here’, at the place where the shadows meet. He is ‘here’ at the place of silence. He is ‘here’. He is always ‘here’. He is always. He is.
So here, in the place where the shadows meet, Lord, let my eyes look toward you. Let me not be deceived by the darkness. You may be hidden, but you are never absent.