Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.
In this first week of Advent, the sense of expectation grows. Although the weather outside can often be frightful, nonetheless this is for the most part a season of warmth, for Christmas and all its wonderful remembrances is just around the corner. We are expecting a visit from Jesus—a particular kind of visit, where he visits us in His humility, as the long proclaimed and hoped for Messiah, as a child. Imagine the feelings, two thousand years ago, of Blessed Mary, now in her eighth month of pregnancy—how she was pondering the real meaning of the words announced to her by the Angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Pondering, and feeling this baby, the Son of God, in all the glory of the eighth month of pregnancy.
And there is a second visit that we expect, but expect in a different way. That is the visit of Christ in His Second Coming in the Last Day—His coming in glory. In this visit he comes to judge both the living and the dead.
And yet in our Collect, we ask God to give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. And so we expect a third coming of Christ—a coming in our hearts—to cast darkness out of our hearts, that the armor of light might shield our hearts. For with our hearts filled with this coming of Jesus, our hearts filled with light and protected with light, all of which comes from God, we are filled with Hope, and we may by His grace rise to the life immortal.
O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Our pilgrimage is toward unity with God. We will be in unity on His mountain, where He reigns as King of the Universe. Isaiah’s vision is “that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” We ponder that vision every Mass when we as the People of God confess our sin—our separation—from God over the past week; we ask God for forgiveness, that, in words that echo Isaiah, “we may delight in His will and walk in His ways.” We develop the habit of delighting and walking through the course of the liturgical year. All of it is a journey; the liturgical year as a whole feeds our habit of Faith. For the liturgical year—it has been called the “sacrament of the liturgical year”—continually opens our hearts, and invites us to open still further, to the character of God. “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord . . . come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
We hear in the Psalm, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” What a pilgrimage we are on, together, brothers and sisters. It is a journey during which at all times we are fed by Christ. Fed, even from our first moments knit in our mother’s womb. And let our gladness also be fed by our fellowship together; let the presence of those around us be the song that sings, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” We need each other for this journey into unity with God; we cannot do it alone; when we fall, we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Our Psalm further invites us to ponder that “our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.” What can this mean but that this sacred place, this hallowed ground, this burning bush, at which Moses was told to take off his sandals—this Church! this Altar!—is within Jerusalem, is even at its center. For the center of Jerusalem is the Burning Heart of Jesus, and this Tabernacle almost as His mother; and soon, this Altar almost as His manger. We come here to the Holy of Holies to be fed through Word and Sacrament, by fellowship and presence. And “because of the house of the Lord our God, we seek to do Him good”—meaning we are sent back into the normal world to love our neighbor, to do good by our Lord in our neighbor.
To do good by our neighbor—why? Because doing so fulfils the law—doing so deepens our habit of Charity, of serving God in those around us. What a tremendous thing it is to love our neighbor—doing so summarizes the Ten Commandments, says Saint Paul. It is a tremendous thing, and for it we must be awake—awake to everything around us. Let us go home and look at our homes, how we have decorated them, and how we have kept them. Are we ready for our greatest friend to visit us?
He has promised that He will. The Church teaches that He will, in our hearts. He will be “nearer to us than when we first believed.” We are growing—our journey has taken us still closer to Jerusalem, to the Burning Heart of Jesus. We are putting on the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord, when He comes, wants to find us loving God in our neighbor—that is, to be living our normal lives in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, but doing so with a place prepared in our hearts for Jesus.
From Saint Matthew we hear of the flood that takes people while they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. We hear that “two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left.” The difference between those taken and us is that, by our worship in liturgy, we are thinking about the coming of Jesus. We are savoring what it means to say, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”
“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming, ‘all flesh will see the salvation of our God,’ and ‘they will look on him whom they pierced.’ The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves; and they are saved. In his first coming Our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.” (Saint Bernard, Homilies for Advent, no. 5)
Brothers and sisters, let us watch with expectation the invisible coming of Jesus, that we will conceive the holy Jesus in our hearts, and bear Him in our minds. We must watch for this coming, because it is invisible. May grace fill our hearts. Whereas in the past, we might be cross with another person, may we be gentle; when jealous of another, may we be joyous; when stingy with our love, may we be generous and consoling. We do not know when this third coming of Jesus will be, but for it to come we must be watchful, we must be ready, we must be expectant, we must prepare our hearts, just as we would prepare a room for the visit of our greatest friend.
Cover image “Ikone Maria und Jesuskind” by Michael Beat is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.