“My kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate during his Passion, but Jesus is King and Lord of the universe. He will come, so be awake. He will come to destroy the creation that God willed into existence. But he won’t destroy us. We were made in God’s image, and our souls are eternal. When Creation is destroyed, we won’t be. It doesn’t end in nothingness for us. We will survive. Somewhere. Either in the bliss of God’s presence or the suffering agony of his absence. If you have been paying attention to the theme of the readings for the past eight or nine Sundays, you might be getting a little down, for we have had two solid months of “judgement Day is coming.”
As Advent begins, we are getting ready for the coming of Christ in the manger on Christmas night, but the lectionary is still talking about his second coming. In today’s Gospel we are warned to watch. I think why the Church spends so much of the year reminding us of the second coming is because the Devil spends all his time distracting us from thinking about it. Who spent this weekend shopping? Did Judgment Day pop into your head while you were online or at the mall? Probably not. If I hadn’t been preparing this homily, it probably would not have popped in mine.
Between the Lord’s prayer and these recent Sunday readings, it should be clear that as Christians we must focus only on two days: this day and our daily bread, and the day of judgment when we die. But the Devil distracts us from today, which is the only time we have been promised, and he lures us into regretting yesterday and worrying about tomorrow. Yesterday is done. Tomorrow may not come. God gave me today, and he will judge me one day. So as a Christian, it’s just today and the day of judgement that are important to me. So I must be watchful for the Devil’s trick. He whispers into my ear what might have been yesterday, but I must focus on today and the day of judgement. When he whispers into my ear how uncertain tomorrow is, I must focus on the day that he has given me.
Sometimes I ask myself why did God set things up this way? Why did he give us in the Garden of Eden the freedom to choose between Good and Evil? And why did he set us loose outside the Garden of Eden where evil rules and the Devil dominates the world? The prophet Isaiah asks that question in today’s reading this way: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so we fear you not?” To put that another way, the prophet is asking God, “Why did you do this to us?” As if we had no choice in the matter, for we do not like accountability. And in the response for the Psalm today, we repeat our preferred solution to the problem, “Lord, make us turn to you.” Again, as if we had no choice in the matter.
All these readings over the past couple of months have been about judgment at the end of time, and the simple fact of the matter is that we will be judged on our choices. We do have the freedom to choose, so we are encouraged and we are challenged to choose wisely. The fate of our eternal souls depends on our choices.
So, why did God give us the freedom to choose when so many of our options are perilous? They could cost us our lives, our eternal souls. Why, God, why?
The most satisfying answer I have found is that he wants us to freely come home to him. We are the creature, he is the creator, so in that way we are like the other animals in his creation. But he gave us free will and eternal souls, and in that way we are like him. Made in His image, he wants us to choose him. He won’t force himself upon us — he won’t make us turn to him — but he never withdraws his invitation to return home in safety.
To those of you who are or have been parents of teenagers with driver’s licenses, let me take you back to the day when you sent your beloved child out onto the wild roads of Atlanta on their first drive all alone. You, as the loving parent, knew the dangers the child would face even if the child didn’t. But you gave the child freedom behind the wheel of the car all by himself. And your deepest desire was for him to return home safely.
I think that’s how God looks at us. He gave us all this power and all this freedom, and he desires that we use it for good and to glorify him and to return home to him safely. But he knows, just as the parent knows, but the child does not know, that there is a great deal of danger in front of us and around us no matter where we go in this world.
So we are warned today to watch. Just as you told your teenager to watch for those other drivers, all of whom are either crazy or stupid, God tells us to be aware of those external dangers and ways that the devil will lure us away from God. But as a parent of a new driver knows, not all the dangers are outside the car. That’s why you begged and pleaded with your child not to play with his phone while he is driving. In the same way, the devil works on our interior. He whispers to us, and he knows the most effective messages to pull us away from God and the place we were meant to be forever, which is heaven. The devil hates it when a soul goes to heaven. The devil is driven by pride and hate and rage and ambition. He hates peace and kindness and gentleness and self-sacrifice. So watch how the devil attacks you.
When you are tempted to ask God why did he do this or that to you, think through that trick of the Devil to the gift of love that God truly is. God is Love. God is pure Gift. Everything good comes from Him, and everything from him is good. God loves us enough to let us choose what we really want. And our choice can be as simple as turning to him. That’s all he needs. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “God will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And there is nothing that the Devil can do about it, as long as we stay awake to his tricks and always turn back to our Heavenly Father.
This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.