Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle A
Friends, last week, if you were here and heard my homily, you heard me say that what we celebrate in Advent is really a continuation of our celebration of Christ the King, just from a different perspective. I said that while the Feast of Christ the King acknowledges and celebrates that the Divine Son of God united himself with our human nature so as to establish God’s definitive kingdom here on earth, the season of Advent spurs us to remember that this very same king will one day return in all of his glory to take his kingdom back unto himself. Jesus’ exhortation to “stay awake” because we will know neither the day nor the hour on which he will return is our urgent Advent message: for Christ himself said that on that day (the day of the coming of the Son of Man) “one will be taken, and one will be left...” meaning, “one will be lifted up into glory and one will be left to descend into eternal death. Jesus gives no indication as to who will be lifted up and who will be left except to imply this: that those who were prepared for that day will be lifted into heaven, while those who failed to make preparations will be left behind. I thus exhorted us to make our Christmas preparations more about preparing for and hailing the coming of Christ our King so that this day will not catch us unaware and, thus, left behind.
This Sunday we continue to focus on Christ the King. In the reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear just what kind of king Christ will be. The kings of the world would nearly always rely on fighting wars and making a name for themselves by great military victories and then would use their power and influence over others to take advantage of them. And this was not just for the wicked pagan kings. No, we need look no farther than the great Israelite king, King David, to see that this pattern holds. On the feast of Christ the King, we heard how the Israelites acknowledged that David deserved to be king because of the great victories that he won. Later we would see how he would use his power and influence to take advantage of his people when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and then compounded his sin by trying to cover it up: ultimately making it so that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was killed on the battlefield so that David could take Bathsheba for his wife. David, of course, humbled himself before God and sought forgiveness, but it nonetheless illustrates the pattern that even the best worldly kings tend to fall into.
Isaiah paints a different picture of the king who is to come. This king will be a king upon whom the spirit of the Lord will rest, making him wise and just beyond any other king the world has seen. He will not use force to rule over peoples; rather, the wise words that come from his mouth shall be the power by which he will slay his enemies. Nor will he take advantage of the people; rather, he will judge the poor with justice and do right for all peoples throughout the land. Under this king, there shall be unprecedented peace and harmony; and not just among people, but throughout nature: for the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid... In other words, this is the king who will restore right order to the universe, the king who will lead us back to the Garden of Eden.
We see that Christ, indeed, is this king by his ministry recorded for us in the Gospels. How many times did he confound the scribes and the Pharisees by disarming the traps they had set for him by his wise responses? And how about the Roman rulers, too? John’s gospel records how Jesus’ words confounded Pontius Pilate and left him literally washing his hands of Jesus because he could not withstand the power of his words. And how many times did his disciples seek to retaliate with violence only to have Jesus rebuke them for seeking to use worldly means of gaining power? Jesus was just in his public ministry, treating everyone equally and favoring no one. And his miracles—especially his miracles of healing—show that he came to restore right order to the universe so as to lead us back into Eden: that is, the kingdom of God.
Friends, this is the Christ—the great King—whose first coming we are preparing to celebrate and whose imminent return we are called to anticipate. Both of these demand that we listen to John the Baptist who calls us today to prepare through repentance. Why repentance? Because when the King comes he will look to have his kingdom in order, with his subjects doing the work he gave them in the manner that he instructed them to do it. Now I know that, as persons who live in a free society—one that was founded in response to throwing off the rule of a monarch—it may be difficult for us to live as subjects of a king who has absolute authority over us. Nonetheless, that is what we are called to do and that is what Jesus expects of us when he returns.
Remember, however, that his is not the king/queen of England, but rather the great king who the prophet Isaiah foretold would come, and so we should not be afraid to make ourselves subjects of this king. In fact, we should have a healthy fear of not submitting ourselves to this king and his order, because, as John the Baptist relates, He is coming with his winnowing fan in his hand to clear his threshing floor; gathering his wheat into his barn and throwing the chaff into an unquenchable fire. The wheat are those who have subjected themselves to his authority and the chaff are those who haven’t. The wheat, therefore, will be taken up into glory on the last day and the chaff will be left to descend into everlasting death.
Our task of preparation, therefore, is one in which we examine ourselves—soberly, yet seriously—and ask ourselves, “In what ways am I denying to be a faithful subject of my king?” The answers to these questions are what we call “sins”: ways in which we have denied to act as faithful subjects of our king. Then, having identified those things, we must make a positive decision to turn from those ways and subject ourselves to him with our whole hearts, minds, bodies, and strength once again. This starts with a good sacramental confession and continues through changed behaviors and attitudes. The former is simple enough to complete (there are many opportunities for one to make a confession every week). The latter, however, will take a good amount of work. You’ll know that you’ve done it, however, when you’ve detached yourselves from your wants and desires and seek rather to know and to do what God wants: which is to spread the good news of Jesus and to relieve suffering wherever you are able. My friends, this is true repentance, and this is the way that we are called to prepare for the coming of Christ our King.
Last week I warned you all about a specter running around called “The Christmas Spirit” that convinces people to believe in a domesticated Christmas: a Christmas that’s all about family reunions, meals, and shared gifts. This, I argued, is a false spirit, because the true Spirit of Christmas is the one that leads us to prepare for and to hail the coming of Christ our King. This week, we see clearly who is this king for whom we are preparing and the way for us to prepare for him to come. My brothers and sisters let us earnestly take up this work of repentance with great hope in our hearts: for Christ our King loves us and longs for the day when he will return to take us up into his glory. This Eucharist, in which his advent is made present to us even now, is the guarantee of this truth. Let us, then, not be afraid: for his kingdom of justice and peace awaits us.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – December 8th, 2019