29 November 2015

Keep Judgment in Advent!

NB. OK. My excuse for this one: still on allergy/cold meds.

1st Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

We begin this evening our month-long waiting. Waiting for the birth of the Christ Child at Christmas, and waiting for his coming again as Christ the King in judgment. This year – like every year for the past 2,000 years – we will remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. And – as we always have – we will observe a season of anticipation, a time before the celebration to prepare ourselves to receive Mary's child as he should be received. This season of expectancy also prepares us to wait in faith on the second coming of Christ as King and Judge. We know the date of Christ's birth among us. We know when it's time to welcome him with feasts and gifts and time with family and friends. So, we are always ready. . .just in time. However, we do not know the date of his return as King, when we will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” So, we must always be ready. . .just in case. Therefore, we cannot let our hearts become drowsy; we cannot allow our minds to be numbed. We have four weeks to practice patient waiting. Stir-up your hearts and minds and prepare yourselves to receive him – the Christ Child and Christ the King!

We know Christmas is close. All the signs are there. Decorations. Carols. Black Friday sales. Sign-up sheets at work for the Christmas pot luck. Plans made with family. It's hard to miss these signs. Everywhere we turn, Christmas is standing right in front of us. Red, white, green. Santa Claus. TV specials. Gift lists. The signs of Christmas' coming are obvious, glaringly obvious. And b/c Christmas' imminent arrival tends to push Advent aside, we tend to forget that Advent is a season of expectancy for BOTH Christmas and the Second Coming, Christ's return to judge the living and the dead. If I were the Devil, I wouldn't change a thing about our current treatment of the post Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas season. I wouldn't shed one tear for poor little Advent's terrible plight. Why? B/c while God's children are focused almost exclusively on celebrating Christmas, they aren't getting ready for the Second Coming. Let them exchange gifts. Go to parties. Decorate til their hearts burst. Anything to keep them from seeing the signs of and making preparations for receiving Christ their King. Anything to occupy their hearts and minds other than their final judgment and eternal disposition.

Now, lest I sound like some crazy old priest who hates Christmas, let me say: I'm not suggesting that we turn Advent into a Lent-like dirge of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Advent is about preparing for the joys of Christmas! BUT it is also about preparing ourselves for the Second Coming of Christ. And if you think about it, this makes sense. He comes at Christmas as a child to save us from sin and death. He will come again as King to sit in judgment of our faithfulness. Our salvation deserves celebration, and our judgment requires preparation. We know how to celebrate. How do we prepare? Jesus warns his disciples, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and [the day of judgment] catch you by surprise like a trap.” Carousing, drunkenness, and anxiety – all three of these are distractions produced by the world to lull our hearts and minds into a spiritual coma. They are each designed to take us away from our careful preparations, away from our duty to be vigilant against sin and death. Is it enough to avoid carousing, drunkenness, and anxiety? No. It's a good start. A very good start. But our preparations for final judgment must be more substantial, deeper, more serious than simply avoiding sin.

While we avoid sin, we also turn ourselves toward God and receive every grace He has to give us. This means being awake, alert to His voice as He calls us to service. It means listening with the ears of Christ to those who long for God's mercy, who desperately seek His love; those who – for whatever reason – cannot or will not hear Him speak. At one time or another in our lives we have probably all deafened ourselves to God's voice. Why? He is telling us something we do not want to hear. He telling me that my favorite sin is in fact a sin. He's telling me that my preferred opinions are false. Maybe there was a crotchety old priest who said something dumb in the pulpit. Maybe your parents are horrible Catholic hypocrites. Maybe the Church takes a public stand against some issue you fervently support. Whatever it is – your ears close. If you can be here this evening, giving God thanks and praise, imagine those out there who can't or won't be here b/c they have stopped listening for God's voice. How will they hear about His love and mercy? How will they know that they no longer have to live in sin and suffer death? Our preparations for judgment must include being the merciful voice of God to those who cannot/will not hear Him speak.

Avoiding sin and being God's voice of mercy to the world are excellent starts on our Advent preparation. But there's something more we need to do. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, urging them “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus. . .” We're in trouble here if we think that “holiness” has to do exclusively with moral goodness. Holiness leads to moral goodness, but moral goodness does not exhaust the meaning of holiness. To be holy is to be “set apart” from the world's influence and power. Not physically set apart, necessarily, but spiritually separated. Think about the daily decisions you make. How do you decide? Do you consider costs, consequences, and usefulness first? Or do you think first about how this decision will affect my relationship with God? Do you think about your needs first, your wants first? Or do you first think about others – family, neighbors, God? To be set apart from the world means to be separated from the way in which the world understands itself – as an independent accident of the universe with no dignity or purpose. We are holiest when we think with the mind of Christ; when we understand ourselves, all of God's creation as possessing inherent dignity and divine purpose.

If we will stand blameless in holiness before Christ the King on judgment day, we will prepare ourselves now, tomorrow, the next day, the next, and so on. . .until he returns. This doesn't mean giving up the joys of Christmas, but it does mean moving into the Advent season keenly aware that we are making ready for BOTH the Christ Child and Christ the King. Our hearts and minds can be made drowsy by the flashing lights and excessive partying and exhaustive shopping and family tensions. We can be swallowed up by the rip-tide expectations of the world and left rung out and beat up by the demands of secular culture. As children of God and siblings of Christ, we are freed from any expectation, any worry, and anxiety that moves us away from our faith; anything or anyone that demands that we put Christ in second-place behind whatever the world thinks belongs in first place. Spend these next four weeks cleaning out your heart and mind, removing whatever keeps you from receiving all that God has to give you. Prepare yourself for the birth of Christ and his coming again.


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