Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of God. In a couple of weeks, the readings will focus on the coming of God in the flesh to dwell among us in the Nativity of our Lord. But the readings today focus on preparing for when that same person comes in glory and justice at the end of time.
So I would like us today to focus on two key words: one is justice and the other is preparation.
We know that our Lord will come in justice on the day of judgment. And that can be an intimidating thought. We know in our moments of brutal honesty that we do not deserve eternal life in heaven, and that we only get it because of God’s love and his mercy. But do we appreciate how true justice cannot be separated from the same love that is at the heart of mercy? All the other virtues derive from the virtue of love. That means that there cannot be real justice without love. So let us focus on the love that is part of the day of judgment so that we can appreciate the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of the justice that will be dispensed on that day.
God made us in his image, and he made us for communion with him. It is his heart’s desire that he be our hearts’ desire. What he desires more than anything is for us to desire him more than anything. And because of the original sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a lot of the time we do not desire God more than anything.
How God responded to that original sin reveals how much he loves us. He let Adam and Eve go. They had made their choice, and he let them go where their choice led. Most of us have made a choice that we soon regretted, and we regretted it deeply. I am sure that Adam and Eve quickly and deeply regretted their decision to follow Satan instead of following their creator.
God our Creator gave us in his image the freedom to choose. Adam and Eve chose poorly, but God respected that choice in his justice. He respects our choices today. That is the measure of his love for us; he loves us so much, he will let us walk away from him.
Most of us are here today in church because we don’t want to walk away from God, in fact, we want to return to God. We hear his voice, and we are responding. Because of our fallen nature, we don’t often respond the way we wish we would respond. Because our thinking is unclear, and because our choosing is somewhat corrupted, we make bad decisions. I know I do. But God loves us through those bad decisions. He loved Adam and Eve through their bad decision.
Now there are always consequences to decisions. And Adam and Eve were no different. The consequences of their decision were that they could no longer remain in the garden of Eden. But as they were leaving, they heard the promise that God would find a way to call them back. God promised to call them back into the relationship that He made them for. And he makes that promise to us. His justice is grounded in his love. He is coming in justice at the end of time, but he is coming in love to call his children home. The day of judgment for all who love Jesus will be a homecoming. Thursday was Thanksgiving, and many of us were in family homes surrounded by our relatives. So imagine the perfect Thanksgiving celebration, with all of the joys of family and none of the fights of family. For those who claim the name of Jesus, that’s what the day of judgment is going to be: a day of love and celebration and blessing.
Let us now consider our second word: preparation. Those of us who claim Christ as our king are in a special situation. We are in the world, but the kingdom of Christ to which we belong is ultimately beyond the world. Father Romano Guardini was a famous German priest in the 20th century, and in one of his meditations before Mass he wrote this:
Essentially a soldier, the Christian is always on the lookout. He has sharper ears, and he hears an undertone that others miss. He is never submerged in life, but keeps his head and shoulders clear of it, and his eyes free to look upward.Romano Guardini
I think this is a great description of how we are supposed to live in this world without being “of” this world. We must always be preparing for life in the next world. And we have to be willing to behave this way even when we feel so alone. The power of the crowd cannot be overstated. Guys will do things in a crowd they would never do on their own. The Christian life means always doing the right thing even when everybody else is not only doing the wrong thing but trying to get you to do it with them. The Christian life is not for wimps.
And it’s understandable when we run out of strength. We are never alone; God is always inviting us and the devil is always tempting us. So it’s a lot of work to be as Father Guardini describes and to keep our ears sharp and our eyes bright. Father Guardini explains the consequences:
When this awareness and watchfulness disappear, Christian life loses its edge; it becomes dull and ponderous.
Without a posture of preparation, Christian life loses its edge. Without its edge, Christian life loses its heart. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans exhorts them this way: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Whenever you’re doing something that requires concentration and you lose your edge, you frequently fall asleep. As Christians preparing for eternal life, we have to keep our edge.
Jesus in the gospel today reminds his disciples that there was no two-minute warning before the flood in the days of Noah. He says: “They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the son of man.”
We must commit to preparation because God’s love and God’s justice are linked. He loves us enough to keep inviting us to turn back and live his life in the world today. But he wants us to make our choice independently. Everybody rushes to get on the train when they know it’s the last train leaving the station that day. We will not be told things like that. So we must remain committed to a posture of preparation every day so that when the last day comes, he will recognize us as his sons and daughters. He will look on us with love on that day of justice, and we will look on him with love because we were prepared for his coming.