Through history, there’s been no shortage of antichrist wannabes and antichrist hunters, particularly in the last century. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all gave good college tries for the position. But one difficulty with those who are keeping an eye out for Mr. Big with his sinister plans to use the Internet or the European Common Market to achieve World Domination, is that we can often overlook the fact that John warns us against Mr. Little too. For the reality is that anybody who rejects the Incarnation (“the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh”) is a little antichrist (though he or she may not realize it and may be as much deceived as deceiver).
That last point is important because most people have the idea that “antichrist” can only denote some sort of Evil Mastermind who is cunningly pulling the levers of history or, at the very least, consciously in league with other Evil Masterminds. But to hear our Lord tell it, that’s not necessarily so. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us the parable of the sheep and the goats. What is remarkable about the parable is that both the sheep who are saved and goats who are condemned don’t appear to have the slightest idea that they were pro- or anti-christ. “Lord,” they ask, “when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison?” They just thought they were schlepping through life, doing little stuff that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things when, unbeknownst to them, their little choices were, in fact, monumental choices for-or against-Jesus Christ as he was present in each of their neighbors. What seems to matter in the case of both sheep and goats is not their conscious involvement with some grand plan that they understood (much less masterminded) but rather their faithfulness-or faithlessness-to such little light as they had received and understood. And, in both cases, that faithfulness and faithlessness is expressed, not primarily by mastery of a theological formula (as important as that can be if we are to understand the Faith) but by their love of the human beings in all their concrete bodily needs, emotional pain, and spiritual struggle. Love a human person and you love Christ. Mistreat a human person and you mistreat Christ. No conscious involvement in any larger movement or conspiracy is necessary for that to be the case.
And that makes sense from a Catholic perspective, for the heart of Catholic faith is not merely that God exists, but that he took on our humanity. Many people simply cannot, in their hearts, stand that idea. For them, spirit and matter are permanently separate. If they act on that loathing of incarnation, whether they be Christian or atheist, they are courting the spirit of antichrist. And, make no mistake, many such people are Christians who, whatever they say, are horrified at the notion that deity and humanity intersect and that God continues to meet us through physical means like the Eucharist or through a visible Church of flesh and blood people.. Similarly, New Age people say things like “I believe in a God who is purely spiritual” and by it they mean “I believe in a God who has nothing to do with matter, which is intrinsically evil.” Still others, fancying themselves secularists, say “I believe there is only matter and energy and that God does not exist and has nothing to do with the physical universe.” All these notions are precisely what John is warning against. It is the deception of antichrist, rejecting God the Son come in the flesh, even if we happen to think it is true Bible Christianity or the New Age or Enlightened Scientific Thought. The scandal of the Incarnation remains a scandal. It also remains the Truth. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.