1st Sunday of Advent (2020)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Why do you let us wander away from your ways, O Lord? Why do you harden our hearts so that we do not fear you? Both good Advent questions! The answer to both these questions is: He loves us, that's why. He allows us to wander from Him b/c He loves us. He hardens our hearts so that we no longer fear Him b/c He loves us. God's love for us entails the gift of our free will; that is, that God loves us gives us free will. And that free will can and does stray from the Way. And straying from the Way too often and for too long eventually turns the human conscience to stone. God does not do these things to us; rather, He allows us to do them to ourselves. Isaiah laments, “. . .you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” By delivering us up to our guilt – by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our sin – we are blind to His presence. And so, we have Advent, a short penitential season before the coming of the Lord in the flesh, to sort ourselves out. To get back on the Way. And return to Christ who is the light of the Father in this world. For this reason, we wait; we watch; we anticipate, and we expect. “He will keep [us] firm to the end.”
What is “the end”? The end of the world? The end of time? The end of the age? The end of my life, your life? Or, does he mean until we reach our goal, our telos – The End for which we were created? Maybe he means all of these. Maybe the end of my life is the end of time, the world, the age for me. I can only reach my supernatural end after my natural life is over. Christ will keep me firm in the faith until then. But I'm the member of his Body, the Church. My personal end can't be The End b/c the Church will go on after I'm dead. Maybe he means the end of the Church – the goal for which his Body was created. That end is the New Jerusalem, heaven. So Christ will keep me and you and the whole Church in the faith until we all – together – reach the end for which we were all created. Heaven. “He will keep [us] firm to the end.” True. But he won't do it w/o us. He won't keep us faithful against the choices we make in freedom. He won't keep me/you faithful against the choices you and I make in freedom. He loves us; therefore, we are free. We are freed to choose our supernatural end. Freed from every burden that prevents us from making his life and death our life and death. So, we wait; we watch; we anticipate, and we expect. He will come again.
If “the end” is the supernatural goal for which we were created, when does “the end” arrive? Today? Tomorrow? Ten years from now? Fifty? “You do not know when [that] time will come.” We don't know. We can't know. Like the hour of the master's return home from abroad, we don't and can't know. In fact, we don't need to know. We are expected to be prepared regardless. Should the servants slack off just b/c the master is away? Should we grow spiritually lazy and foolish just b/c the Lord hasn't returned yet? I remember a bumper sticker from a while back. It read: JESUS IS COMING! (Quick, look busy!). The faithful Christian is always busy with the Lord's work. Not just b/c we know he's coming back but b/c doing his work is who we are. When he will return is entirely irrelevant to our mission and ministry. The day and hour of his coming again is a trivial bit of info that makes not a jot of difference in how we live our lives. Faithful servants cook, clean, wash, tend the herds caring not at all when the master will be back. Faithful Christians preach, teach, do good works, love, forgive, show mercy, and sacrifice, knowing that Christ will return but giving no thought to when. Why? B/c when doesn't matter.
What matters is our faithfulness. Remaining faithful means never forgetting who we are and where we came from. It starts in humility: “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” We are the work of His hands, and we do His work with our hands. For the gift of being, the gift of just existing, we owe Him our thanks and praise. This alone – sincere and habitual – is enough to keep us on the Way. But still we stray. Still we long for the false freedom of lives w/o Him. Or, at least, lives where we get to decide what is of God and what isn't. And so, we have Advent to sort ourselves out. A short season to thump us gently back onto the Narrow Way before the Christ Child arrives at Christmas. We know he is coming in about a month. He does every year. What we don't know is when he is coming for the last time. He will hold us firm in our faith while we wait, until the end. No question. The question – maybe an Advent question – is: will I remain faithful while I wait? Will I choose to stray? Will I walk away from the Way b/c I will no longer trust God's promises? Do not forget who you are and where you came from. You belong to Christ!
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