The Imitation of Christ

If we would go back to the stricter tradition, Advent is the season for fasting just like Lent. Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches still observe this tradition – fasting for 40 days before Christmas.

Advent is from the Latin word, Adventus, which means coming or arrival. And traditionally, we should anticipate and reflect on these three perspectives, not just the first one.

  1. His physical Nativity in Bethlehem – the born of Jesus
  2. Our faithful reception of Christ – Christ within
  3. His Second Coming – ἐπιφάνεια (epiphaneia: appearing)

In the following Bible verse, one of the most famous line in the entire Christianity and one-sentence summary of the whole 66 or 73 books of the Bible, we must always see it in these three perspectives.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16

In these perspectives, Advent could be as solemn and rigorous as Lent. Lent is the liturgical calendar from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, around 40 days, which also implies the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness.

And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

Mark 1:13

For both Advent and Lent, the implication is God’s love (ἀγάπη: agapē) that eternity meets temporality. Christ is being-in-the-world for His love to us.

A modern-day Christmas is more for the worldly affairs. We call it a year-end celebration. It is the season when the worldly affairs reach the maximum degree, which is not necessarily bad. There is the beauty of our modern-day Christmas. We extend our love and kindness to our family members and neighbors. Greeting and exchanging gifts could be a beautiful moment that we express and extend our love one another.

We could imitate God’s love even though there are still a lot of limitations in us. Even in the midst of such joyful noise of Christmas season, there must be the moment of reflection and contemplation for silence and simplicity, that is the Imitation of Christ.

Aside from the Bible, one of the most well-known Christian devotional books is the Imitation of Christ (De Imitatione Christi) by Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471).

Thomas à Kempis was a member of Modern Devotion (Devotio Moderna), which was a religious reform movement in his days on the apostolic renewal through humility, obedience, and simplicity of life. He originally wrote it for the devotion of the members. The book consists of four parts:

  1. Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life
  2. Directives for the Interior Life
  3. On Interior Consolation
  4. On the Blessed Sacrament

It starts from the importance of our spiritual life, where the focus is on solitude and silence. Not only our material desires of this world, but even our theological discussions make us overconfident, which would be obstacles. We have to humble ourselves and surrender all our thoughts into an ardent prayer in solitude and silence, which is the basis for our spiritual life, that is our true interiority.

What is the interior life? Thomas à Kempis starts the book with John 8:12.

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

John 8:12

He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.

Introduction: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

Despite colorful decorations of the season or perhaps because of these worldly dazzles, we indeed walk in darkness. Where is the true light of life?

Jesus tells us that He is the light. Having this light, we would no longer walk in darkness because it is the light of our interior life. Still, we have to walk in darkness. Nevertheless, the light shines in darkness as the darkness of the world does not understand this true light.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:5

Using the style of conversation with Jesus, Thomas à Kempis wrote as follows in the section of “That we ought to deny ourselves and to imitate Christ by means of the Cross.”

My Son, so far as thou art able to go out of thyself so far shalt thou be able to enter into Me. As to desire no outward thing worketh internal peace, so the forsaking of self inwardly joineth unto God. I will that thou learn perfect self-denial, living in My will without contradiction or complaint. Follow Me: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Without the way thou canst not go, without the truth thou canst not know, without the life thou canst not live. I am the Way which thou oughtest to follow; the Truth which thou oughtest to believe; the Life which thou oughtest to hope for. I am the Way unchangeable; the Truth infallible; the Life everlasting. I am the Way altogether straight, the Truth supreme, the true Life, the blessed Life, the uncreated Life. If thou remain in My way thou shalt know the Truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold on eternal life.

Chapter LVI: The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis

Only in our interior life, seeing His true light, we could embrace the consolation of Christ, which is only possible through our self-denial. Only forsaking of self inwardly joins unto God. It is never our self-indulgence but self-denial. It is always and ever since His grace that guides us into the imitation of Christ.

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

John 14:6

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

John 1:16-17

Image by Igor Link

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