Advent is topsy-turvy. It begins with an end; the annual reflection of Christ’s return and the end of the world. Then ends with a beginning –the birth of Christ. So before Christmas comes crashing in early, as it tends to every year, we pause this morning to consider the end. Jesus turning our attention from this life to the next- warning us to be prepared, spiritually, at all times- for we know not the hour of his return nor of our death. Remain in grace, is the message, have faith, lest we die and fall foul of God’s judgement.
That aspect of Christian teaching- that we will stand before God to be judged is unnerving. Perhaps that is a good thing for fallen man often needs such warning to consider his true vocation. So be challenged by this Gospel… but don’t tremble too much or despair. Remember that this judgement of God is good news. The message of our faith being that we are worth saving. Why else was he born in Bethlehem? Jesus came not to condemn but to save. To bring salvation if we would but fulfil our true vocation and respond to God’s love. We need not fear judgment if we live as God desires.
And don’t confuse Advent with Lent. They can appear the same; but where Lent is all about turning inwards in an act of self examination, Advent is the opposite. It is about looking beyond self as we seek the Lord in hope. We are to look to the heavens expectantly, hungering for Christ’s coming. We are to cry out for our salvation. We must hope! But such hope isn’t easy in a world as frequently disappointing and corrupt as this. Well- take courage- it has ever been thus. Just listen to Isaiah’s lament in our first reading. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, so that we fear you not? Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!!
Lamentation- crying out to God- is very much part of our spiritual heritage. The Old Testament teaching us that the believer has always cried out to God in time of frustration. It can be cathartic to cry out from time to time. To question where God has been? Why is He silent in the face of injustice? Why absent when disaster strikes? Where is God’s wrath when the poor are oppressed? Why do those who abuse and enslave get away with it?
Advent isn’t only about hope then. It is a time for complaining. For having a good moan. A time to survey the squalor of this world and genuinely lament it. Naming sin for what it is. Opening eyes to all that is damaging. A time to acknowledge the mess, recognise the failings, lament the indifference and apathy. For when we lament we recognise truth. We discern how very desperately this world, ourselves, the church, needs God’s love. Yes only when we acknowledge the darkness do we appreciate the need for the light of Christ coming into the world. The realisation that we need a help that is beyond ourselves helps us to abandon any pretence of self sufficiency. Humbled we listen, afresh, to his voice. We seek the life of grace.
Advent is short and soon followed by Christmas; a time to realise God is not actually absent or silent or disinterested but, in fact, already here amongst us. There in the tabernacle day by day. He has provided His presence and it is there- for us to use- if we would but draw closer to him. If we would accept the gift he came to bring- the gift of personal sanctification. Perhaps the problem is not his absence in this world so much as our absence here- kneeling before him?
As I look back at this past year lamentation is easy. Much seems gravely wrong at present. In the political realm. In the culture. Especially in the church. But when honest I must accept that the wrongness, the apathy, also dwells in me. So as I lament, throwing out questions at God, I must embrace his response; the questions he throws back at me. God says, but what of your faith? What was your response to this world? When did you seek to be the solution you claim to desire? If you really want me why do you hold back? Why are you not yet sanctified?
The most frightening verse in all of scripture is where Jesus asks if- when he returns – He will find any faith on earth? A chilling thought. Though he will never abandon us, it seems we might- all of us- choose to abandon him. So God asks for a little faith…..because faith breeds hope and hope compels us to keep going. To trust that he is working his purpose out. To trust that in the end all will be reconciled in him.
One of my favourite saints is Pope St. John Paul II. For he was a living embodiment of hope in the face of darkness. Suffering through Nazism and Communism he never gave up his faith. Never lost hope in God. And so he triumphed! Whenever you face darkness remember that despair is satanic. It seeps into hearts and souls causing depression, disillusionment and defeat – chief weapons of the devil leading only to denial of God’s goodness and spiritual death. But faith breeds hope and hope brings confidence. It is a thing patient and filled with forbearance –and willing to suffer. As in these grave and uncertain times I think it must. But it wins in the end. So do not despair- he is coming. In fact- he is already here. And you can receive him by faith at this very altar. Nobody is stopping your path to sanctification but you…
(NB: This homily was inspired by an article I found on the internet but couldnt find again! So credit for some of the outline should be with someone else- then I over worked it heavily)