December 2, 2020

Go Forth to Meet Him

Monday Merton Musings, December 19, 2011
Go Forth to Meet Him

The week before Christmas has arrived.

The words we hear from Thomas Merton today for our weekly meditation are brief but searching. For Christmas will come this year, just as it did long ago in Bethlehem. As on that occasion, some will be ready to welcome the infant King, while others will be unprepared.

“What is uncertain is not the ‘coming’ of Christ but our own reception of Him, our own response to Him, our own readiness and capacity to ‘go forth to meet Him.'” (Seasons of Celebration)

I love this quote. This quote terrifies me. I believe these words. I cannot believe these words.

On the one hand, since we know the story so well and have celebrated the Christmas feast so often, it is not hard to feel that one is preparing to “go forth to meet him” by simply participating in the annual preliminaries. We all know such activity gives no guarantee that our hearts will be receptive.

Annunciation to the Shepherds, Bassano

It is also scary when I remember that few, if any, went forth to meet him at his first coming. Certainly none went of their own initiative. It took a heavenly host of angels to get the shepherds’ attention. The magi would never have made their journey without a certain astrological alignment. Those who housed visitors in Bethlehem did not make room for him. Even those faithful people who were “ready” — Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon, and so on — were approached and surprised by God’s intervention.

So, I want to be ready. I long desperately to be ready. With God’s people I fill my heart with divine promises, lift up my prayers, sing carols, light candles, and decorate my home. I prepare a room for the Holy Family. Through confession and absolution I sweep it clean, and by the word of the Gospel it is made ready. Within my heart and life I build a cradle in which the infant King can find rest. I watch out my window and prepare to go forth to meet him.

When suddenly — through the back door? — he appears! How did he get in? And how did I miss his arrival? What happened to my carefully prepared words of welcome? I am stunned to silence. Overwhelmed, I fall to my knees. My Savior is here, and I did not know it!

All my carefully devised hospitality plans are moot. There will be no going forth to meet him, for he has met me first. The greeting will not be my “Welcome!” but his “Fear not!” I will not be his host, but his favored guest. I planned a wonderful meal in his honor, but he sits down at the head of the table, breaks bread, blesses it, and gives it to me as though this were his home and he is feeding me.

And so, brother Thomas, I hear what you are saying. But in the end, my response will always be uncertain, my readiness and capacity to “go forth and meet him” always overwhelmed by his epiphany — sudden, serendipitous, startling.

I am reminded of another quote:

Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1-2, NLT)

One might as well go forth to meet the whirlwind. Or a baby that takes your breath away.


  1. Chaplain Mike ~ God Himself will draw you. The Holy Spirit is always the gracious “welcome” and we come by His Spirit drawing us. The shepherd’s, the wise men, Simeon and Anna all came by His design. Regarding Simeon the Scripture says, “So he came by the Spirit in to the temple…” exactly when Mary and Joseph brought the Child. And of Anna, “coming in that instant…” So we need not be afraid of being unprepared or, thank God, unwelcome. But the one thing we must be so aware of is, as you pointed out, not many will come. Contrary to our popular mega-church thinking, not many will come. They never have and they never will. Jesus came for the outcast and He knew that the way to life was narrow and few would travel thereon.

    “Oh come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.” By His design.

    • “Contrary to our popular mega-church thinking, not many will come. They never have and they never will.”


      But yet He still comes.

      His will be done. He will do it, in spite of our not wanting Him.

      • I have heard many prophetic voices recently, and fully believe myself, that a great harvest is coming very soon (very likely in 2012), where multitudes will come running to Christ. Be encouraged and get prepared by pursuing Christ like never before!!

        • I hope he pursues us more than we pursue him. Otherwise, I very much doubt a great harvest will ever come.

        • You may be right. I pray that you are.

          But, the opposite might happen, as well.

          Jesus said, “When the Son of Man returns (to earth) with His Holy angels, will he find any faith.”

          Will there be any? There will more than likely be plenty of religion…but faith?

  2. Thanks CM for the encouragement. The mystics (John of the Cross, Merton, Teresa of Avila) seem way up in the clouds with their pursuit of the Lord and leaves me exhausted and hopeless before I’m out of the starting blocks. They almost have a semi-Palagian feel to their writings.

    • Perhaps the mystics do seem way up in the clouds because they started earlier than most. I don’t think they have a semi-Pelagian feel but a Arminian feel-there is a difference.

      • Starting earlier and progressing higher implies that there is progression in the Christian life (from our end).

        One of the things that puts people off about the Theology of the Cross is that there is NO Christian progression.

        It all starts at the foot of the cross…and it ends there, as well.

        Jesus has taken our attempts at progression and improving and at getting closer to God…and nailed them right there on the cross with Himself.

        There’s no need to move ‘up’ towards the clouds…because He has descended all the way to the bottom of a grave…for us.


  3. Beautiful, Mike. Thank you.

  4. ” ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ ” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. – Matthew 2:2-3.

    I give Herod credit: he understood that this baby born in a manger was about to turn his world upside-down. That baby is still as dangerous to us today; if you let him live, he is going to change your world, in ways you really may not like. That’s why we need advent and not 40 days of “Merry Christmas” commerce. The fear factor of Christmas has been lost, replaced by a nostalgic, therapeutic, sentimental, plastic baby Jesus. Advent used to be a time of fasting and contemplation; now its mere validation of the religious elite and the comfortable self-righteous.

    “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against.” – Luke 2:34.

    “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” – Luke 1:51-52.

    Christmas is coming. Be afraid.

    • For those of us during this Advent waiting in fearful hope for Immanuel, “fearful” does not mean “afraid.” I know how the story ends, so to speak, but I’m trying very hard to put myself in the place of the Israelites prior to Jesus’ birth. The waiting has been going on for millenia and it’s difficult to be anything but fearful that it will ever happen. And so I wait. The only clue that something momentous has taken place will be when some scruffy shepherds talk about angel choirs and babies in mangers – but that’s in a few days.

      I guess it depends on who you identify with – those in authority? Those who preserve the status quo? Those who have nothing to lose? For the former two, yes, life will never be the same and that’s terrifying. For the latter, it will mean that the waiting be no longer fearful. Instead it will be replaced with hopeful joy.

      Afraid? Nah…just hopeful.

      • True that fear or reverence are appropriate. But if we think the bad guys are the only ones who should feel a bit of discomfort at the birth of the messiah, then I think we are in danger of becoming the bad guys.

        • Kerri in AK says

          Too many of us fall into the ranks of “preserving the status quo,” perhaps intentionally but in my case it’s entirely unintentional. I simply get used to life going on rather smoothly and my gaze wanders away from God. Then God will casually toss a grenade into my life and blow everything I’m comfortable with to bits. It’s happened often enough now that I’m not even mad at him for doing it. Sometimes I wonder whether it always has to be so *abrupt* but then I’m not the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to paying attention. After I’ve washed the smoke off my face and picked the bits out of my hair, I give thanks to God. No matter how drastic the call to pay attention, it works. Every time. And I am better for it.

          I suppose if you’re like me and unintentionally toeing the line, God’s coming would be the shake-up we need. Even if we have a moan about it first, we’ll be thankful for it. It’s only those who feel they have no use for God (or the intentional status-quoers/authority holders) who will have much to worry about. So don’t become complacent!