19 November 2006

Jesus is Coming! Look busy!

33rd Sunday OT: Daniel 12.1-3; Hebrews 10.11-14, 18; Mark 13.24-32
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital and Church of the Incarnation

If the God’s people were surprised at the first coming of the Messiah, we will be downright shocked when he comes again. His arrival marked the beginning of an age, a time set aside for us to hear the Good News preached and taught and a time for us to make a decision about our intentions either to grow in holiness with God’s help or to rot in sin without it. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit swept over the assembled apostles and their families and friends and opened the age of Christ by anointing those gathered with the fire of His spirit. They were lifted up, shaken, enlightened, and set ablaze with the sight of a mission so simple and grand that their tongues were loosed in a manic rush to say everything sayable about God, using every word known to every man and woman and child in creation. That polyphony of voices, that cloud of uttered spirit infected larger and wider crowds, bigger and longer histories and came into those human tabernacles as the rain of Miracle Grow necessary to give the Gospel of Jesus Christ a Body, the Body of Christ, the Church! From this fecund garden of the Holy Spirit sprouted more than 2,000 years of preaching, teaching, forgiving, uniting, celebrating, living, dying, and rising again. And yes, 2,000 years of what appear to be regularly scheduled and tremendously colossal boo-boo’s, assorted bone-headed decisions, and crackpot family members embarrassing us in the paper. And even so, we get up, brush off, and continue to brightly shine.

We fall and get up because we believe that the coming of the Messiah was the just the beginning of this sanctifying roadtrip. Without being perfect right now, we are convinced that we are capable of being perfected by a God who made us for perfection and gives us everything and everyone we need to work with His gifts for the completion of our holiness. We are made to be holy. And we can be if we will but use God’s gift of His Son as our template, our exemplar.

Perfectly human and perfectly divine, Jesus Christ is one man and one god—one person, wholly and entire the only Son of the Father and our brother in the Spirit. He offered for us on the cross one sacrifice for our sins and now sits forever at the right hand of the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews reads, “For by one offering [—not the many and necessarily repetitive offerings of the temple priests—] he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” There is no additional sacrifice necessary for our salvation. Nothing more we need do or can do to improve on or add to the redemptive work of the Cross and the Empty Tomb. We preach and teach and wait for the hour, the day, the month of his coming again—the birth of great power and great glory.

The advent of Christ’s first coming marked a period of preparation—the Law, the Prophets, his herald, John the Baptist, and finally, Mary’s fiat. The advent of Christ’s second coming, his return, is also marked as a period of preparation—the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the missionary work of the apostles, the universal establishment of his Church in the world (our triumphs, embarrassments, failures, and our holiest successes), the merciful work of the saints, and the development and defense of sound doctrine for teaching.

His first coming and his second mean that we are at once done and still working. Finished and still carrying on. The first coming of Christ saved us. His second coming will complete us. His first coming made our holiness possible. His second coming will perfect our holiness or see us dead forever. That’s hard to hear, I know. It’s harder to say, but this truth is gospel truth and its veracity testifies to God’s unfailing love for us. He loves us as Love Himself and love never dominates or forces; love never controls or condemns. If we choose to ignore this period of preparation, simply refuse to grow in holiness by failing to use our gifts for the good of others, then our Father will honor that decision. And we will live forever without Him.

The advent of the second coming of Christ—the period of preparation before his coming again—is the long, historical temptation of our souls to leap out to Love, abandon selfish will for charity, release an enslaved intellect to freedom in truth, surrender vice to virtue, and yield darkening despair to hope. Do these with God’s grace, his promised assistance, and listen again to the prophet Daniel: “[…] the wise will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice will be like the stars forever.” Those who lead many to justice. Those who bring many into a right relationship with God. Those who by their example of excellent holiness attract many to walk a path of service to others for God’s greater glory. These saints will shine brilliantly and hang in the heavens like the stars forever.

I started by saying: if God’s people were surprised at the first coming of the Messiah, we will be downright shocked when he comes again. Why? We will be shocked b/c we do not know when he will come again. We do not know how he will come again. We do not know what any of this second coming will look like. Jesus’ own description is so vague as to be useless: dark sun, darkened moon, comets, and “the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” He will come in the clouds with angels. He does tell us though to learn from the fig tree. We know that summer is near when the fig tree becomes tender and sprouts leaves. The lesson? Watch for the signs Jesus has given us and know that he is near. Is this helpful? Not really. Unless we say that the signs are constantly with us and so our vigil for his coming again must be constant as well.

Peter writes: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God[…]? Excellent question and one far more important than playing decoder games with biblical texts and the weather. Given the advent of the second coming, what sort of person ought you to be? And this is surely the point. You might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! He’s waiting on you. Me. All of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Add these to your to do list for next few months: hear and see the Word in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace; let your every word, your every move shout joy to the world; and repent, offer contrition, seek forgiveness, do penance, and for Christ’s sake—literally, for the sake of our Lord—live like a redeemed child of our loving Father!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:53 AM

    I am a born again Christian.