Sarah Palin vs. the Librarian

So strictly speaking, the librarian was not asked to censor books; she was presented with a hypothetical situation and asked what her reaction might be.  And again, strictly speaking, only an inferential connection can be made between this question and her subsequent dismissal, and were I to insist on this connection I would be rightly accused of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Nevertheless, I can't be the only person in this country who finds the idea of a city librarian being dismissed for her lack of support for the mayor a little ridiculous.  Lack of support?  What does that mean?  She clearly wasn't insubordinate or incompetent, or she would have been fired for those reasons.  Did she not cheer loudly enough when the mayor gave a speech?  Was she not sufficiently sympathetic when the mayor was having a bad day?  Since when does being a city employee entail wholehearted support of the city executives' policies and priorities?

If the woman was doing her job, Sarah Palin had no business dismissing her.  If the actual reason for the dismissal was her refusal to violate principles that any librarian learns while getting an MLS, then Sarah Palin attempted a wrongful firing.  And the idea that a mayor has the right to summarily get rid of employees that don't pass an ideology test is repulsive. 

All of which is to say that this situation stinks pretty much any way I look at it.
  • Current Music
    Iszoloscope : The Audient Void

PZ Myers

For a man who doesn't believe in God, he's awfully obsessed with religion, isn't he?  "There is no God, and I will destroy Him!"

The whole spectacle of neo-atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens, Myers et al.) continually attacking religious belief makes me wonder why they're devoting so much energy to attacking something that they claim a) has no power and b) is on its way out anyway.  You'd think they could see that the vehemence with which they go after the religious only empowers and legitimizes their targets. 

Remember, kids, the opposite of love isn't hate.  It's indifference.

Christmas 2007

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Merry Christmas!

Since you were just yesterday subjected to a lengthy tirade from me, I thought I would keep it short tonight.  I would like to share with you this evening one of my favorite Christmas poems.  It's by Robert Southwell, a sixteenth-century English poet and Roman Catholic who was martyred in 1595.  The title is "The Burning Babe."

AS I in hoary winter’s night   
  Stood shivering in the snow,   
Surprised I was with sudden heat   
  Which made my heart to glow;   
And lifting up a fearful eye            5
  To view what fire was near,   
A pretty babe all burning bright   
  Did in the air appear;   
Who, scorchèd with excessive heat,   
  Such floods of tears did shed,            10
As though His floods should quench His flames,   
  Which with His tears were bred:   
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born   
  In fiery heats I fry,   
Yet none approach to warm their hearts            15
  Or feel my fire but I!   
‘My faultless breast the furnace is;   
  The fuel, wounding thorns;   
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;   
  The ashes, shames and scorns;            20
The fuel Justice layeth on,   
  And Mercy blows the coals,   
The metal in this furnace wrought   
  Are men’s defilèd souls:   
For which, as now on fire I am            25
  To work them to their good,   
So will I melt into a bath,   
  To wash them in my blood.’   
With this He vanish’d out of sight   
  And swiftly shrunk away,            30
And straight I callèd unto mind   
  That it was Christmas Day.

As we celebrate the joy of God's Incarnation as Man, let us be careful not to allow our adoration of the infant Christ to degenerate into mere sentiment.  Jesus is not cute!  We cannot forget that God became Man in order that he should suffer and die, having taken upon himself the sins of the world, reconciling the creation with its Creator. 

The mystery of the Incarnation is manifest to us this night.  Let it shine like a beacon in our hearts and in our lives.  God has become Man, so that Man may become like God.  Christ is among us, and ever shall be : thanks be to God.

May all the blessings of this holy season be upon you and your loved ones. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

(no subject)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In today’s Epistle, the Blessed Apostle Paul reminds his readers of who they are; out of what they have been saved, and what is now expected of them. “…As you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” In other words, even as before receiving the Gospel they used their bodies and minds in ways which sunk them deeper and deeper into sinfulness, so after receiving the Gospel they are to try to use those minds and bodies in ways which encourage and deepen their righteousness and holiness.

Many of us, I’m sure, can tell hair-raising stories of our past behavior. If we’re honest, we can even recall things that are more recent that we ought not to have done, or that we should have done, but didn’t. And of course our relationship with God requires us to look at our behavior critically, without flinching, before we can really begin to improve. We have to be candid, at least with ourselves and our Maker, about our flaws—which is a gentler way of saying, our sins.

Each of us here today is on a kind of journey, or path, toward God. Most of the major Catholic and Protestant catechisms teach us this within the first couple of questions. And all orthodox Christians are in agreement that the thing which separates us from God—the reason we have to journey toward Him rather than just reaching out and finding Him--is, very simply put, sin.

And what is sin? Many people, rather carelessly, think of sin as somehow synonymous with crime; the transgression of some statute or other, punishable in proportion to the damage caused by it. This is understandable in a secular society; after all, the function of secular law is to protect people from each other, and (at least not primarily) to protect them from themselves—unless, of course, it gets legislators re-elected, but here I am in danger of sliding from sermon to political editorial, and I must abandon that potentially fruitful digression. The categories of “crime”and “sin”overlap, to be sure, but they are not synonymous. A sexual act between two people, married but not to each other, is not a crime in most parts of this country, but it is certainly a sin, and a mortal one to boot. In the same way, concealing a political refugee from immigration officials who intend to deport him to his country which means to execute him for holding prohibited views may be a crime, but not a sin.

Put most simply, sin is the deliberate disobedience of God’s will. There is really nothing more to add to that definition; it covers any occasion which might be described as sinful. The first sin of humanity, in the Garden, was one of disobedience : it was God’s will that Adam and Eve not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and yet they ate of it. The most recent sin that you committed, whether mortal or venial, active or passive, was one of disobedience : I can guarantee it. Whether you stabbed your brother in the back in a fit of rage or simply took a pencil home from the supply cabinet at work, you disobeyed the will of God, and that is the primary characteristic which marks an act as a sin.

But we’re all Christians here, right? And so we’ve left all that behind, haven’t we? The reality, of course, is that we have not. If we really had left sin behind, we probably wouldn’t need to be here. I’m sure we’ve all heard someone we know say, “I used to go to church, but I got tired of it because everybody there is a hypocrite.” I have always found this amusing, in a sad way, because it’s tantamount to saying that you used to enjoy hospitals until you found that they were full of sick people. If we weren’t sinners, we wouldn’t need church.

All of which shouldn’t give us the idea that sin is okay. It is most certainly not okay. But what the Blessed Apostle is getting at here is this : you have made a decision to become Christians. You belong to Jesus now, just as before your baptism you belonged to the Prince of this world. And just as your behavior before you joined the family of God sunk you deeper and deeper into the mire of sin which separated you from Him, so your behavior now should bring you ever closer to Him. When we were the servants of sin, says Paul, we were free of righteousness; but now that we are God’s servants, we should be free from sin. The end of these things, he says—referring to sin—is death, and the fruit of holiness is everlasting life.

With such a choice before us, you’d think it would be easy to make the right decision all the time. Unfortunately, as I’m sure we’re all too aware, our ancient foe doesn’t want that to happen; and deep down inside, I suspect there’s a part of all of us that doesn’t want that to happen either. We human beings are far too comfortable with our homey vices for our own good; far too unwilling to break our cozy habits, even when they have ceased to bring us the most meager crumb of pleasure. In this respect, sin is an addictive substance, like heroin : the early forays bring a wickedly sharp thrill, all the more enjoyable for being illicit because you feel like you’re getting away with something, but then you find that more and more of it is necessary to capture that initial frisson : and finally, you wind up continuing it wholly out of habit, because you are unable to stop, even though it brings no joy at all, and even though you have come to loathe yourself for it. If you’ve ever known someone who was addicted—really addicted—to such a drug, then you know what I’m referring to. And if you’ve ever known a human being, you’ve known someone with the same relationship to sin as a junkie has to heroin.

For addictions, of course, there are treatments. Most of them are effective, but they can only be lastingly effective if the addict really wants to stop. You can take a junkie into rehab, put him through detoxification, monitor him while he’s in the hospital to make sure it’s all out of his system, clean him up and all the rest, and if he doesn’t really want to stop taking the drug, then he’ll be back on it within a week. He has to realize he has a problem, and to want to solve it. Likewise, for sin, there is a treatment. It begins with the baptism of the sinner, continues with instruction and regular worship, his confirmation, weekly reception of the sacrament (at a minimum), and confession as needed. But in order for this treatment to be effective also, the patient must be committed to making an effort—however miniscule—to throw off the yoke of sin.

We are promised that if we make this effort, we will receive assistance, and that our continued efforts will bear fruit. We must trust this promise, and never allow ourselves to despair that our efforts are in vain—for despair is a victory for our enemy. We must remain committed to our course of treatment.

The wages of sin is death. Death, as in the grave; death, as in the deadness of our spirits to God’s grace; death, as in our eternal exile from His presence. But the fruit of holiness is everlasting life, through and in Jesus Christ. We are being reminded of the choice that lies before us; the choice we made at our baptism, the choice we make each time we rise from our knees to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, the choice we are faced with each time we are tempted to do those things we ought not to do, or to leave undone those things we ought to do. The blessing or the curse : the choice is ours. May God give us grace to choose life, that we may live.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

(no subject)

But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I suppose one of the first things to ask is why, in the middle of Trinitytide, we wind up with a gospel lesson which refers us back to the Passion.  After all, in the midst of summer, the Passion is a bit out of place in the sequence of readings; certainly we get enough of it in the week before Easter that we could afford to leave it alone for the rest of the year?

Well, that's certainly a point.  But today is the Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord, and there's a very good reason we're reading this particular passage today.  Today's epistle speaks of the sacrifice of Our Lord as being worth more (because of the nature of the being that was sacrificed) than all the blood sacrifices and offerings of Temple Judaism.  And the gospel lesson actualizes that with a very graphic image of the outpouring of Jesus' blood after the crucifixion.

Christians speak of being washed in the blood of the lamb, referring to the famous words in the Revelation about the saints who had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.  On the face of it, this is an absurd statement; being washed in blood doesn't make you clean, but dirty.  And especially for Jews, who had a whole list of taboos around the topic of blood, this statement must have seemed bizarre and offensive.  But the Lamb we are speaking of is an offering without spot or blemish : a pure offering, a holy offering, an immaculate offering (to paraphrase the Roman Canon).  His blood is untainted by sin; the outpouring of his blood upon the earth re-sanctifies it, and redeems his creation. 

But that's certainly not all that's going on in the lesson.  One of the possible introductory rites for the Mass is the Asperges, which is a formal reminder of Christian baptism.  In this rite, the celebrant proceeds through the church with a holy-water sprinkler, and sprinkles the congregation with it while an antiphon is sung.  In Eastertide, the antiphon used is the Vidi aquam : I saw water issuing from the right side of the temple, and all they who came to that water were saved.  This is an explicit reference to baptism, of course; and baptism is a form of application of the blood of Jesus Christ, which alone can remit sins.  In Baptism, we are baptized into the death of our Lord in order to share in his resurrection : recall how he said, "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink ,and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"  Jesus was referring to his death, and our baptism is, among other things, a way of recalling that death and participating in its benefits.

There is also a manual action of the Mass which this passage recalls.  Shortly after this sermon, during the Offertory, I will pour wine and a few drops of water into the chalice before consecrating the elements.  This action is an intentional reference to this passage.  There is a wonderful chant in the Roman Rite, which originated in the 14th century, and which many fine composers have subsequently set to music of their own composition, among them Mozart and William Byrd : the Ave verum corpus.  The words, translated into English, read :

Hail, true body,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Truly suffered, sacrificed
On the Cross for mankind,
Whose pierced side
Flowed with water and blood,
Be for us a foretaste
In the trial of death.
But why was this most Precious Blood shed?  It was shed, first and foremost, out of love for a broken creation.  St Paul tells us that without the shedding of blood is no remission of sin : hence the sacrifices required by the Old Law for transgressions.  It's important to realize, though, that these sacrifices were not in themselves sufficient.  They were accepted by God as the offerings of the truly contrite, but in themselves they could never repair the broken relationship between God and man.  There is no way that a bull, however fine, could make up for the damage that adultery, or the maiming of another human being, represents.  But God graciously accepted the sacrifices, and though they were far short of sufficient to mend the wrong that had been done, they were imputed to the contrite as though they sufficed--not solely on account of their contrition, but also with a view toward the greater sacrifice that was to be made in the fullness of time.  But now the full, final sacrifice has been made.  Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, willingly gave himself to an ignominious and painful death so that we might be saved from the consequence of our sins, and so that we might share in everlasting glory.  The sacrifice of God himself on the Cross more than suffices for our misdeeds; the sacrifice of the Infinite is of infinite value.  This is not an invitation to further sin, nor is it to be concluded that we may sin freely and lightly; it is rather a reminder that we have always the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Precious Blood of Our Savior, to plead for us before the throne of God Almighty. 

After Mass today, we will leave this place, and most likely, we will continue to make mistakes.  We are not perfect, and our perfection (which God wills of us) will take time.  The evil nature of humanity cannot be overcome in a day, and even saints are hard-pressed to overcome it in their lifetimes.  We will fall into sin, and we will drag ourselves back to God to be forgiven.  Our sins will pain us, and the need for forgiveness can be a source of almost crippling shame.  But the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us of all sin; and if we approach God with penitence and contrition, we will be forgiven, and given another chance.  Thanks be to God for the outpouring of his Precious Blood upon the world, to give us a second chance, a third chance, a seventy-times-seventh chance; for his infinite love and mercy for his creatures, and for the hope of eternal salvation.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The magpie sees something shiny...

...and picks it up.

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless,airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

--C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
  • Current Music
    The Haters : "GLSAM"


Ordinary Weekend

I lost my job on Friday, I went drinking to forget
My luck it had been down so long but I could change it yet
Sat down and started talking with some guy sitting there
He bought me drinks all afternoon until I didn’t care
He said was I in need of work, some money could be found
I said is it above the law? he said it’s underground
I said I need the paycheck now, I got debts here and there
He smiled and asked if I could drive and I said anywhere

In this weekend of ordinary dreams
Everything was not just as it seems
Take a look around at the faces in the crowd
And you’ll see where I’ve been

We met up on the Saturday, I thought it was us two
But I had not asked questions not knowing what to do
Twelve of them were in the van, thirteen including me
Twelve pairs of eyes were staring back at me, suspiciously
And so I just sat down and drove, took them to some track
And drove past the security guard while they hid in the back
They made me stop, and got out there, and I heard a couple of shots
I hoped they were in self-defense but I knew that they were not
They were not...

Not in this weekend of ordinary dreams...

I drummed my fingers on the wheel and waited for the boys
Had a smoke, I had a few, I got very paranoid
And still they hadn’t come back there, so I just drove away
Deciding to play safe and get my share another day

On Sunday, he came round my place, I asked him where they’d been
He said they’d left another way and only I was seen
He said that we should cash the van and did I want my share
I didn’t like the way they’d left but by now I didn’t care
Didn’t care...

Didn’t care for this weekend of ordinary dreams...

He drove me to a back room with a single swinging light
Someone said the fish are starving, ain’t it time they had a bite
And I felt sick and stupid and damned my own brown hair
Forgetting that the price you pay must far exceed the share
Someone pulled a knife out and they stabbed me in the back
They tied my hands and bound my feet and threw me in a sack
They took me to a lakeside and they threw my body in
I could hear them laughing, they said you can sink or swim
Sink or swim...

So hear you desperate women and hear you desperate men
Don’t take your life for granted
Don’t live your life in vain
But if you think that you can change it,
Hope you know you can’t go back
Just go down to the lakeside
Watch me floating in a sack,
In this sack.

--John Wesley Harding
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Sexagesima 2007

  Up, Lord, why sleepest thou?
  Awake and be not absent from us for ever:
  Wherefore hidest thou thy face?
  And forgettest our misery and trouble?
  Our belly cleaveth unto the ground:
  Arise, and help us, and deliver us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The text which I've just quoted is today's Introit, and is taken from the 44th Psalm.  It's difficult to hear, or read, these words and not be struck by their abjectness.  The author of this Psalm is clearly at the end of his tether; "our belly cleaveth unto the ground," he says, another way of saying that he can't possibly get any lower than he is.  He has reached the point at which he just can't stand it anymore; he feels that God has deserted him and his people, and wonders how much longer it's going to take before God does something.

And looking around at the world we live in, I'm sure any one of us can sympathize.  Wars in every corner of the globe; unscrupulous politicians who use their positions to enrich themselves and their cronies; ruthless businessmen for whom any profit is worth the highest of human costs (as long as it is not their own).  Decency can no longer be spoken of as common.  Morality is treated as a joke by self-appointed sophisticates who deride religion as a pastime of the deluded, and ethics as an unnecessary burden to be jettisoned in the never-ending quest for self-satisfaction.  But most of all, this passage makes me think of trouble in the religious sphere.  We might think the church should be a shelter from the trials of the world, but even here there is conflict : evangelical and catholic clergy alike are embroiled in scandal, and denominations and jurisdictions are wracked by heresy and schism.   There is hardly a major Christian body in the United States which is not experiencing division over issues of faith and practice.  Why is this happening to the Church, of all places?

We might wonder.  But a look at the history of our faith reveals that this state of affairs is by no means new.  In the fourth century A.D., there arose in Alexandria a priest named Arius.  Arius' claim to fame--or notoriety--is his development of a theological opinion that the Son (the Second Person of the Trinity) is not eternal God, but a being created by the Father at a specific point in time.  Apparently he was a composer of jingles as well; there are reports of a catchy little tune he wrote to the words "There was a then when he was not," which is supposed to have been quite a hit among the dockworkers of Alexandria.  Many churchmen of his time flocked to Arius' banner, convinced by his arguments, but many others, most prominently Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, disagreed violently, and maintained that all three Persons of the Trinity were co-eternal and co-equal.  The conflict raged over decades, with ups and downs and twists and turns to rival the most baroque of modern soap operas.  The fortunes of the Athanasian party suffered great hardship in their maintenance of the orthodox faith; Athanasius had at one point to flee to Rome, and after having been restored to his see was once again forced to flee, this time to the desert to hide out with some monks.  It's important to realize that this was not a matter for snooty prelates to debate at endless sessions in a sparsely-populated conference room; this was something that every man in the street had an opinion about, and over which people frequently came to blows.  The parallels with modern controversies hardly need to be drawn.  This disagreement had, and has, far-reaching consequences for the Christian religion; indeed, it forced the Church to define very clearly what it believed and how that belief was to best be expressed, so as to not give rise to further disagreement and mistakes. 

Eventually, of course, the party of Arius (the Arians) was defeated, and Athanasius' formulations came to be accepted as orthodox.  But this was by no means the last such disagreement.  The Christological controversies of the fifth century, the eighth-century strife over images, the East-West schism in the 11th century, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation of the 16th century, the Calvinist Captivity of the English Church in the 17th, the disputes in the 19th century occasioned by the Oxford Movement and the Ritualists, and in our time the ongoing trouble in the Anglican Communion.  So we can see that, as Solomon observes, there is nothing new under the sun : the strife we are now experiencing is not a novelty to the Body of Christ.

So what are we to do besides petition God for action?  Well, there are always those who say that we should be tolerant and allow people to believe what they will.  This sounds very good and noble, and superficially very Christian; in a political situation this is indeed the best policy.  Freedom of conscience is indispensable to a healthy state.  But applied to an ecclesiastical setting, this course of action--or more properly, inaction--is disastrous.  The church can no more tolerate heresy than a healthy body can tolerate an infectious disease.  If not eliminated, disease will take the body over; if heresy (note that I do not say heretics) is not eliminated, there is a very real danger that it will dominate.  Note that I do not say "if heretics are not eliminated"; I am by no means advocating a return to the good old days of the stake or the chopping block.  But heresy is wickeder than schism, and it is much more preferable--and more honest--to separate from brethren who have gone astray than to maintain communion with those who have abandoned the faith.  You may start by tolerating one bishop's Unitarianism, but rest assured it will not end there; you will wind up with an entire college of bishops who can no longer endorse the Nicene Creed.  St Paul exhorts us, in the epistle to the Galatians : "If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that you have received, let him be anathema."   This kind of tolerance--the tolerance of the corn for the weed that chokes it--is simply not an option; it is really a way for us to avoid confronting what is wrong while patting ourselves on our backs for our niceness.  It is all too easy to mistake "nice" for "good", and in fact, the nice is sometimes the enemy of the good.

Of course, this is not to say that we should not be nice.  There is no reason we cannot be polite and charitable, even (and perhaps especially) to those with whom we disagree.  And we must not be too ready to brand those we disagree with as heretical; there is a big difference between saying that Jesus is not God and advocating four candles instead of six on the altar.  The Creeds are very helpful in determining what is essential to the faith and what is not; if you hear someone teaching contrary to the Creed, then you know something is very wrong.  And of course, this is also a reason why it is so important to have trained clergy; part of our job is to help make those distinctions clear, and to be available to answer those questions; and I hope none of you will be shy in asking them, even the difficult ones.  It's what we're here for, after all!

In the Revelation to St John, we are given an image of the martyrs--those who have died for the faith--in heaven, imploring God "How long, O Lord, holy and true?"  We don't have an answer for this question.  God will act in his own time, and will, in the words of C.S. Lewis, restore all names to their rightful owners.  All we can do is hold fast to the faith once delivered, that faith which contains the things believed always, everywhere, and by everyone, that faith which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church teaches.  And this means that we need to know what that faith is.  We can hardly be expected to exercise discernment in religious matters without some sort of yardstick with which to measure the truth.  We are all, clergy and laity alike, responsible for learning about our faith, and continuing to learn and grow in it; and the upcoming season of Lent is a perfect time to begin to dig deeper into the rich deposit of Christian faith and practice.    May we all use this holy season as an opportunity to grow in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Christmas joy

Since we are still in Christmastide, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers & friends a merry Christmas (and, of course, a happy [secular] New Year).

May God bless you all!
  • Current Music
    Cannonball Adderley & the Bossa Rio Sextet, "Once I Loved"

Advent IV

  Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
  And let the skies pour down righteousness:
  Let the earth open
  And bring forth a Saviour.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Today has the unusual distinction of being both the Fourth Sunday in Advent and the Eve of Christmas.  The Advent calendar, or indeed clock, is ticking down the hours; soon, this short penitential season will have ended and the feast of our redemption in the Incarnation of Our Lord will have begun.

The Introit is particularly appropriate since, on this doubly important day, we feel ourselves poised on the brink of Jesus' Nativity.  In the same way (since Advent is at the same time a preparation for the Nativity and for the Second Coming), we feel ourselves poised on the brink of his imminent return.  What does this mean?

Well, there is no shortage of alarmism and panic in the world.  Open your newspapers on any given morning, and enough news of hideous human behavior is presented that one might immediately conclude that Christ's return is long overdue.  Certain Christian fundamentalists seem to have taken to heart only those parts of the New Testament that chronicle in detail the end of the world, and have constructed painstaking timelines of the events which will lead up to the Second Coming--as if anyone could know for certain when it will happen.  Earthquakes : check.  False prophets : check.  The unification of Europe : check.  Conclusive proof that we are living in the Last Days.

And of course they're correct.  We are living in the Last Days.  What they don't know is that we have been living in the Last Days since the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost.  Maybe we'll see the Son of Man descending in clouds of glory; maybe we won't.  But ever since the founding of Christ's church--his Kingdom on earth--we have been living in God's endgame.  This is it, the final stage of his plan of redemption.  As Bernard of Morlaix wrote in the mid-twelfth century, "Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt; vigilemus".  We might know this phrase better as the first verse of a well-known hymn :

"The world is very evil, the times are waxing late,
Be sober and keep vigil, the Judge is at the gate.
The Judge Who comes in mercy, the Judge Who comes in might,
Who comes to end the evil, Who comes to crown the right."

And of course the hymn goes on for quite some time after that.  The words are marvellous, and if you don't know it already I urge you to spend some time reading it.

And of course, Bernard of Morlaix wrote it almost 900 years ago.  That doesn't make it any less relevant; we need to remind ourselves that God's time is not our time, and that although 2000 years seems like ages and ages in our human scale, in God's terms it is nothing.  The world is indeed very evil, but not really demonstrably more evil than it was in Bernard's time, or in St Paul's.  When we decry the state of the world and exclaim that it has never been as bad as it is now, we flatter our own wickedness.  For the Revelation to St John the Divine is not describing events which are still to take place; it is, I believe, describing events which are always taking place.  The church is always under attack and persecuted, whether from without by paganism and materialism or from within by heresy and schism.  The faith is always under pressure to conform itself to the standards of the world, rather than to keep to that which was once delivered to the saints.  The world opposes us because it senses that we do not belong to it.

And yet Jesus still stands at the door of our hearts and knocks; and yet we hear his promises and believe; and yet we wait for him to return.

  Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
  And let the skies pour down righteousness:
  Let the earth open
  And bring forth a Saviour.

Many of our Christian brothers and sisters--especially those in mainstream Protestant churches, although there are quite a few who call themselves Catholic as well--seek to downplay the reality of Christ's return.  One gets the sense that they feel vaguely uncomfortable about it; that such a big gesture seems somehow vulgar to them, as though God would have to have better taste than to break the skies open and come in glory with all his angels.  I suggest that such people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of an incarnate God to begin with; they have been seduced by the popular media and the post-Enlightenment mindset into an image of God as a remote spiritual presence, uninvolved with his creation and unconcerned with its fate.  Such a concept of the Divine is anything but Christian; it derives from the popular 18th-century conception of Deism, which posited God as a watchmaker who, having constructed the world as an intricate and self-regulating mechanism, then abandoned it to its slow decay and desuetude.

This is not what we believe, of course.  We believe in a personal God who is intimately involved with his creation, who continues to create, sustain and govern the world, who cares so deeply for it that he chose to become incarnate in flesh--as one of his own creatures--to take upon himself our nature that we might partake of his nature.  The Son of God became man so that men might become Sons of God.  And although we celebrate his Nativity in a particular season of the year, this glorious fact of the Incarnation is present all the year round; whenever we recall the ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, when we partake of his Body and Blood in the Mass, when we invoke his name in prayer for loved ones, for food, for ourselves.  

Let us therefore celebrate the coming of our Savior in joy and with hope, giving thanks for the Incarnation of our King and our God, and looking forward in quiet joy to his coming in glory, when every eye shall behold him, and when he will dwell with us and we shall be his people. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.