January 30, 2011

God in Man made Manifest IV

This Epiphany, I’ve been offering meditations on Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise.” The Lutheran hymnal provides additional verses not found in the Episcopal hymnal. This week we look at one of them.

Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee,
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign:
All will then the trumpet hear;
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.

This verse looks beyond the ministry of Our Lord to the second coming when “the trumpet shall sound” (I Corinthians 15:51). How many of us have thrilled at the rendition of the verse from Handel’s Messiah. The trumpet solo invariably brings tears to my eyes.

Wordsworth, however is referring directly to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:29-31. “Immediately after the suffering of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

It is a rather dramatic picture and certainly calls us to think about how we live. Notice the warning our Lord gives before the vision of the end times. “Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, “Look! He is in the wilderness”, do not go out. If they say, “Look! He is in the inner rooms”, do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Matthew 24:25-28) We are warned against any who claim to know the time or point to someone as the Christ. There is only one real Lord. It is a rather difficult verse to consider however, because it makes us aware that there are consequences to our actions and to our decisions.

I am reminded of a scene in the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. In the final book of the series, The Last Battle, each person and animal goes through the door. Some recognize Aslan with joy and others refuse to.

“The creatures came rushing on…But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face. I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred…all the creatures that looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow…The children never saw them again…But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right…“Further in and higher up,” called Roonwit…”

As the hymn says, “Thou by all wilt be confessed.” All the creatures in Narnia recognize in Aslan, their Master. At the end of all things on earth, everything will recognize the Lord, but not all will believe, even then, and will go into the outer darkness. Like the inhabitants of Narnia, the rest of us will find that there is much more joy to be found “further in and higher up!”

Next week we’ll look at a verse that reminds of us how we are to live, so that God can be made manifest in our lives.

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