1st Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
It's that time of year where we are reminded over and over again that we must wait on the Lord. Wait for his coming among us as the Christ Child; wait for his return as our Just Judge. If our job is to wait, then we wait. But waiting doesn't mean Doing Nothing. What can we do—while we wait—to grow in holiness, to grow closer to God? The prophet Isaiah urges: “Walk in the light of the Lord!” Paul admonishes: “Throw off the works of darkness!” And Jesus warns: “Stay awake!” What's behind these admonishments and warnings? Isaiah prophesies: “[The Lord] shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples.” Paul also says in prophecy, “. . .our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Jesus, pointing us toward his return, says, “. . .you do not know on which day your Lord will come. . .you must be prepared.” What can we do during Advent? Throw off the works of darkness. Stay awake. And walk in the light of the Lord. In other words, we can prepare ourselves for judgment under Christ.
That sounds ominous. Judgment under Christ. Scary. We've been trained by decades of bad Catholic catechesis, by bad preaching, by Oprah and Dr. Phil to think of judgment as a bad thing, as that sort of thing that hateful people indulge in to make themselves feel superior. We've been trained to avoid judgment, avoid passing sentence, avoid drawing conclusions about the words and deeds of others. And there is some truth in this training. Who are we to judge? We're sinners too. None of us is worthy is bang the gavel and decide another's fate. Fortunately, none of us will sit in the Final Judgment Seat. None of us will weigh how ready anyone else is to live with God forever. It's not a matter of judgment being a Bad Thing; it's simply a matter of recognizing that the Just Judge isn't me. Or you. Or anyone else who might pop up to claim the job. Judgment under Christ is a daily event and a future event. Everyday someone dies and goes to their judgment. And everyday we come one day closer to the Final Judgment. Advent is set aside to give us some time to ponder the weight of our sins, to think on the truth and goodness of our words and deeds. Are you awake? Are you ready? Then throw off the works of darkness and walk in the light of the Lord!
As always, Paul is here to help us defy the Enemy and find the Lord. He writes to the Romans, “Brothers and sisters. . .put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day. . .” And what does “properly conducting ourselves in the light of the Lord” look like? Paul answers by telling us what ungodly conduct is. He says, “. . .not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy.” All of these are works done IN darkness b/c they are works OF darkness. Apparently, Christians in Rome at this time were having trouble distinguishing btw the Works of the Lord and Works of the Enemy. Like Christians everywhere and in every-time, the Church in Rome needed to be reminded that one day each of us and all of us will be presented to the Just Judge for judgment. If we have spent our redeemed lives avoiding the Light and wallowing in the Dark, then the Just Judge will honor our commitment to the Dark and allow us to dwell forever among our preferred company—those who chose to live outside the grace of his Father. Thus Paul admonishes us “put on the armor of light” so that the works of darkness can be clearly seen and defeated.
But he goes even further, writing, “. . .put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Put on Jesus Christ, which we did at baptism, and no make no provision for the flesh, which is what we do—or don't do—when we walk in the light; that is, we don't plan to sin, or we don't set things up just in case we decide to sin. We could think of this as “avoiding occasions of sin,” but that's too weak. What Paul is saying here is much stronger: get out of your life all provisions—all supplies, all plans, all contingencies—that allow you to fall back into indulging the flesh sinfully. Here's another way to think about this: if you decide to go on a diet, you don't stock up on Fritos and ice cream the day before you plan to begin. If you decide to stop smoking, you don't go out and buy a carton of cigarettes. . .just in case. Your intentions going in matter to your success. If you “make provision” for failure, then failure will follow you until it catches you. By “putting on Christ” you arm yourself with more than you own good intentions, you bring to the fight against sin the strongest ally you can possibly get. With the Final Judgment looming, who better to fight on your side than the Just Judge himself? The one who died for you in the first place!
As we start this Advent season, it's a good idea to remember the Good News Christ came to deliver, the Good News that Christ is coming to deliver: we are no longer slaves to sin. There was a time when we could not not sin. It was our nature to be disobedient. But b/c Christ died as one of us, rose again from the tomb, and ascended with our human nature to sit at the right hand of the Father, we are free from disobedience. Our way back to God is open, our path to Him is clear. There is nothing btw us and God but our own will to be free. The Final Judgment of Christ isn't a threat; it's not a scare tactic wielded by an angry god to frighten us into compliance. In fact, the Final Judgment is a promise of mercy. Who sits in judgment? The one who died for us on the cross. Knowing that Christ sits in the Judgment Seat, knowing that he is the one who will weigh our love against our apathy should thrill us! What might frighten us just a little is the hard truth that nothing is hidden from him, nothing is left in the darkness when his divine light is shone on the human soul. Thus we hear again and again in scripture: “Stay awake! Be on guard! Stand ready!” Any moment, every moment could be the moment when we are called to account for a lifetime.
For the next few weeks, we wait on the Lord. We will wait for his arrival as the Christ Child at Christmas. And we will wait for his coming again as the Just Judge. The mystery of faith reveals that the coming of Christ as a child and his coming again as a judge are the same event. Though separated in time, these two historical events are eternally identical; that is, from all eternity, outside history/outside time, our redemption through Christ and our final judgment by Christ are accomplished simultaneously. At the moment of his birth, we are judged forgiven. The question for us is: do I receive his mercy and live accordingly; or do I reject his mercy and live as if he were never born? Advent is our special chance to live according to the just judgment of the one who died to free us from sin. With his birth less than a month away, we have the chance to put his judgment ahead of us, to locate it on a particular day and live toward that day, knowing that it is coming soon. Between now and then, Christ urges us to remember the Good News he came to deliver. He urges us to recall again that we are the beloved children of his Father. We are forgiven. All is forgiven. What we must do is receive His mercy and live as children of the light.