Anyone else feel like we’re living in some kind of weird time suspended state or something right now? It’s like this strange, world-wide Orwellian dystopia in which the world as we knew it seems turned inside out. Right is wrong, up is down. We’re all being put under house arrest and forced to cover our faces, prohibited from gathering with family or friends for fun and laughter and even holidays, even prohibited in gathering for worship. Our so-called leaders tell us that it’s our “patriotic duty” to submit to these oppressive tactics of our government.
Things are weird right now.
And, do you know what is wonderful?
The timing of Advent could not be more perfect right now. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is a time of hope and anticipation, but not just any hope and anticipation; it is the hope and anticipation of One who will come and set right the things that are wrong. Justice will prevail, the final reign of the Christ will conquer all evil, hope and promise and goodness will rain down from His being soaking everything in holiness and wholeness.
Man, don’t we need that right now?! I’m reminded of what Legolas says in The Lord of the Rings, “Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.”
It feels like we’re living in a time when all is forlorn. There is trouble in the world and our human society. There is trouble in the Church with corruption inundating and apparent capitulation to the world from some of our bishops.
It feels forlorn.
What a perfect time for hope!
Advent has traditionally been a time marked by the Church to celebrate the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ but also to mark the anticipation of the second coming of the Christ. The emotions expressed in our texts this week help us to feel this way as well; a longing, a yearning for something outside ourselves to come and save us.
Consider our Old Testament text, Isaiah 63:16-17, 19, 64:2-7.
We see here the longing for the return of “our father, our redeemer.” We get a sense that we don’t want to go back to the way it was in “the beginning, when thou didst not rule over us, and when we were not called by thy name.” There was a time when things didn’t make sense, the prophet says, when God didn’t rule over us and we had no identity and that was a dark time. But if we wait for our father and redeemer we, like the people of Israel can say with the prophet, “From the beginning of the world they have not heard, nor perceived with the ears: the eye hath not seen, O God, besides thee, what things thou has prepared for them that wait for thee.”
Wait for Him.
The Psalmist reminds us that our waiting is not for some vague esoteric reality. Rather, the reward of our waiting is our very salvation. Look at Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19.
“Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
We read this twice. It is repeated so that we may notice it, pay attention to it, meditate upon it. Turn us again. Return to us again, the Psalmist cries, and let us see your face. And the result of His return? We shall be saved. Our waiting is not in vain. Our waiting, our hope is for the salvation of our souls. It is more than just peace or no more sickness and no more death. It is so much more than we can even imagine. It is the very salvation we so desperately need. It is the antidote to forlorn. “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine: and we shall be saved.”
Wait for salvation.
In our gospel text, Jesus, the very One we’ve been waiting for, reminds us to “take heed, watch and pray.” We see this in St. Mark’s gospel 13:33-37. Like the parable, Jesus has gone into a far country and has given his authority to his servants over every work of the Church and commanded us to watch and pray. He may come at any moment or he may tarry long in that far country. It is our responsibility to wait faithfully.
Wait in prayer.
Finally, St. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, that we are to wait in the grace of Christ for the day of his coming. In Him we are made rich, through the confirmation of the life of Christ in us as we await His return. And how can we be sure? I mean, it’s been a long time and things aren’t going so well so how can we be sure? St. Paul tells us, “God is faithful: by whom you are called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” We can be sure because God is faithful.
Wait in assurance.
Two of the greatest writers and thinkers in the English language, I believe, are JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Their story telling has been profoundly impactful for me and many others. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a masterful telling of the salvation of the world. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, was also good friends with Lewis. Lewis’ telling of the story of salvation in The Chronicles of Narnia is wonderful. I grew up reading those books, not really understanding the story I was reading. As an adult, I have come to love the mythical beauty of both these writers.
The major figure in all the Narnia chronicles is the mysterious lion Aslan, who is a clear personification in mythical form of the Christ. He always comes and goes and disappears for apparently centuries at a time…much like Jesus. He has come and gone in one form or another (theophanies of the OT come to mind) until He was incarnated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And He’s been gone now for a long time.
Like Narnia, Advent reminds us that Good will come again. We read, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
The King will return and when He does, there will be no more winter in our souls. Only the sunlight and warmth of His love and the strength of His embrace.
Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Thy people await thee.
I’m a pretty independent type of chap. In that regard, I’m pretty typically American. And politically, I’m Libertarian so I really don’t want any type of governmental control over my life. The less the merrier as far as I’m concerned.
Americans used to all be that way. That’s kind of what drove us to independence from England. I’m oversimplifying it but we don’t like being told what to do. I mean, don’t tell that to the cancel culture of today though. It’s like everybody has to believe the same thing or be labeled as intolerant, racist, homophobic or whatever other name the main stream of society wants to call you…but I digress.
Suffice it to say that we don’t like being told what to do. We don’t like our government beating us over the head. It’s not like our government has actually had our best interests in mind ever.
But what if the ruler were good?
What if the king was benevolent? And what if that king turned our expectations upside down? What if the king, rather than being worried about extending and increasing his own power, extended power to his subjects? What if serving the king meant freedom?
We never see, in our modern world, a ruler who gives to those whom he rules. They all seem to be out for themselves. But not so our benevolent King. Consider our texts today:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
In our Ezekiel text (one of my favorite prophets by the way), we are presented with an image of a shepherd. But this is not just any shepherd. This is a shepherd who takes tender care of his sheep. This is a shepherd who rescues his lost sheep. This is a shepherd who takes care of the weak. But this is also a shepherd who judges, who shepherds with justice those who are strong and fat of their own devices. This is a shepherd who turns things on their head. We would think, in our minds, that the sheep that most deserve the attention of the shepherd are the strong ones, the ones who can survive with minimal effort from the shepherd.
I mean, if we’re honest, that’s what we would do. We wouldn’t want to devote all our time to the weak and lost and broken. But this shepherd does.
He’s not like us.
In our Epistle text, St. Paul presents us with another image. This is a regal and royal image. This is an awesome and powerful image. Christ is the “firstfruits” who has “destroyed every sovereignty,” every power and every authority. St. Paul tells us that “he must reign.” This is a nonnegotiable ruler. His power is ultimate, even over death itself and all will be subjected to Him.
This has quite a different tone than our Ezekiel text. This is one of absolute power and might and strength and awe and glory. There is a finality to this ruler, an overarching completeness. St. Paul uses words like “all” and “every” and “last enemy” to show us that this ruler is absolute.
This universal imagery and rule is echoed in our Gospel text. Jesus, referring to Himself, says he will come “in his majesty” and “all nations shall be gathered together before him.” But, unlike our Ezekiel text and Epistle text, Jesus mixes his metaphors. He opens with this universal rule and authority and then says he will separate the sheep from the goats, hearkening us to both the other texts. And we are again told there will be judgment. Those on the right hand are “blessed of” the Father and will be given possession of “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To those on the left, he says something starkly different: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Jesus is not just saying that they will be cast into damnation but says that their damnation equates them with the devil and his angels. This is harsh stuff. And why? Why are they cast out and equated with demons?
Because there is an ethic to the Kingdom of God which will be brought to its fullness when the King returns. This is not a kingdom like the world where the powerful take what they want at the expense of others. This is a kingdom that gives rather than takes.
Imagine a King who dies so that his people may live!
So now we ask:
What would it look like to live under the rule of benevolent King?
“The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing.
He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment:
He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for his own name’s sake.
For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.
Thou hast prepared a table before me against them that afflict me. Thou hast anointed my head with oil; and my chalice which inebriateth me, how goodly it is!
And thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And that I may dwell in the house of the Lord unto length of days.” (Douay-Rheims)
Behold your King!
Behold Him who ruleth over you and provides all your needs.
Behold the One who has set you in a place of lush peace and abundance, refreshing you with the water of His love.
Behold He who converts our soul and leads us to true justice.
Behold He who is with you constantly, comforting us in all our afflictions.
Behold He who provides us the feast of His love, even in the presence of the enemies of sin and death.
Behold His mercy.
Behold Christ the Lord.
Behold your King!
And He shall reign forever and ever.
Thanks be to God!