Matt (palaeologos) wrote,

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.


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