1st Sunday of Advent 2011
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.
For how many centuries were the people of Israel waiting for the Lord to come and rescue them, his chosen people: “Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage”! And then, when he did in fact come, most of the people of Israel were not ready, they did not recognize him, though he was their bridegroom and eternal lover. They were not ready and they missed his coming, and some so firmly rejected him that they conspired for his death. How tragic was that blindness.
You see they were looking for a glorious figure, a Messiah so utterly unlike the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. They wanted to have a Messiah whose coming would shake the mountains and would be accompanied by the great deeds of the past when God split the red sea and tumbled the walls of Jericho. They were not ready for a Messiah who would be born in a stable, grow up in obscurity and nothing of the royal trappings that would make his mission clear for all. They were not ready, and they missed their invitation to the banquet of life.
They were not ready, and so they were found wanting, not in the condition that Isaiah prayed they would be found: “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful.” The vast majority were not found “doing right” nor being “mindful of His ways,” and only a small remnant was found ready to welcome him because they were the little ones, faithful to his ways which they had learnt from his own holy word.
In today’s Gospel we once again hear Jesus exhorting us, like Isaiah, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” The time He speaks of is the time of His return to judge the living and the dead, to separate the sheep from the goats, to establish His kingdom in glory, and hand over everything to His Father. The early Christians longed for and prayed that this day of the Lord would come soon, in their lifetimes so they would see the triumph of Christ and His kingdom over the enemies of God. They prayed, Come Lord Jesus, the final words of the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse of St. John, Come Lord Jesus!
Why do we not pray those same words with the same fervor today? Is it perhaps because we are not ready to meet the Lord in our present spiritual condition? But that’s dangerous because he could come anytime to be our judge, not simply at the end of time, but at our death as well. But if we watch and pray and struggle to be ready for the second coming and the final judgment, that is the surest guarantee that we will be ready for his immediate judgment upon our death. Long for his second coming and you will be ready whenever He comes.
Or even if we are not totally unprepared in that radical sense, perhaps we do not yearn for, prayer with fervor for, His second coming perhaps because we have become too materialistic, so tied to this world and its worldly attractions that we no longer have a proper sense for evaluating the Spiritual Kingdom and its infinitely greater value and happiness than this world can ever offer us? Should we not desire the end to all evil and all suffering and all death; should we not desire the eternal triumph of good over evil, where only good will envelope us and envelope the world transformed by His glory? But all this can only happen by His power, by his return in glory to judge, to transform, to glorify, to finally separate the good from the evil. Longing for his coming means longing for all that and more, for God as our Happiness.
Or, thirdly, perhaps we do not pray and yearn with fervor for His coming because we are just afraid that we will not be strong enough to survive the trials and tribulation that will accompany his Parousia, His return in Glory. But why should we be fearful if we are on guard, staying awake, living righteously, seeking forgiveness, making amends?
Moreover, in the 2nd reading, St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, promises us the powerful protection of the Father, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God Himself will keep us firm to the end, irreproachable on that Day of Judgment. Indeed, St. Paul expanded on this idea in His Letter to the Romans “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”
This is the faith of Christians, that God who has not even spared His Beloved Son, so much does he desire our salvation, will not abandon us. Since He has redeemed us in His Son, will He not by that same grace keep us firm to the end, if only we remain faithful to Him? If we do our part, if we do our best to live the new life He has given us, do our best to avoid sin and to live a virtuous life, do our best to repent when we fail and turn to Him for forgiveness and mercy, He surely will not abandon us at the end, anymore than He abandoned Jesus who died for us and was raised for us.
Advent recalls the long desire of the Israelites for the coming of the Messiah. Christmas recalls the joy in the hearts of God’s faithful ones when he at last came into this world. But that first coming was not to end in joy for all. So Advent is also pointing us beyond the confines of this world, beyond the limits of time and human history to that much greater and more wonderful, triumphant return of the Lord of History and Eternity. What joy even the thought of that glorious coming brought into the lives of his faithful down through the ages, the faithful dead form ages past, and what even greater joy will it bring to those who will be the faithful living at that moment. It should also fill us with joy today, and that is why the Church through the ages cries out with one voice in her liturgy and Scriptures, Come Lord Jesus! Bring your promises to fulfillment and glorify your Church and the whole of creation with her.