Incola Ego Sum

Incola ego sum, et apud te peregrinus. “Oh God, I am a stranger, and with you a wanderer.” This verse is from the end of Psalm 39, which was not our Psalm today, but it is an excellent way to begin the season of Advent.

Advent is about the coming of Christ. As we have been reading in the Scriptures for the past few weeks, he will come at the end of time in justice, when he will separate the sheep from the goats. He will gather unto himself those who love him, and those who do not love him he will cast into Gehenna. So Advent is a season to prepare ourselves for that moment at the end of time when Jesus comes in judgment.

Advent is also a season that prepares us for the coming of Christ in human form at Christmas. He came in mercy as a baby to share our human experience. Like us in every way except sin, he came as the Son of Man to take upon himself all our sins and redeem us. He, who is without sin, gave up his life so that we might die to sin.

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“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.

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17 out of 100

p1000783.jpgWhen I was a freshman in college, I took Calculus II because in high school I had earned college credit for the first part of Calculus. And I was doing great in that class until we got to something called Taylor series. And for some reason, my brain hit a brick wall and I could not understand the what or the why of Taylor series. The professor gave us a test and gave us every advantage: it was an open-book, take-home, test that wasn’t due for a whole week. And I got a 17 out of 100 on that test. I just couldn’t do it on my own.

Our lives are in some ways an open-book, take-home, test. Our lives are a test for our eternal destiny. The test isn’t done until we receive our particular judgement at our death, and the grade is eternal life with God or eternal death without God. And the grim picture painted in the Old Testament seems to be that we will probably get no more than 17 out of 100 on our life-long test if we rely exclusively on our own talents and abilities. We simply are not good enough to earn Heaven on our own merits. Continue reading “17 out of 100”

The King is Coming as an Infant

The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_MaryThis is the fourth and last Sunday of the season of Advent. Advent is the season in the church year when we anticipate the coming of the King. The King is coming. We know he is coming in the flesh in just a few days, when he comes as a little baby born in a manger because there was no room at the inn. We know he is coming in all his glory at the end of time, when the world as we know it ceases to be, and he makes a new creation and gathers into his heavenly kingdom all who loved him. And we know he is coming each and every day in how we choose to live the days that he has given us.

Why did our king choose to come in the flesh in the way that he did? The Christmas story is perhaps the best-known story in all of human history. We have been reminded in the readings over the last few weeks and today that he was born in meek and humble circumstances. Our Advent season has been a season of waiting for the coming of the King. The history of the Hebrew people was one sustained experience of waiting for the coming of the King, the descendant of David whose rule would be everlasting, and whose kingdom would never end. Continue reading “The King is Coming as an Infant”

Mary, the handmaid of the Lord

The Ark of the Covenant and the Temple of the Lord were important physical manifestations of the presence of Yahweh in the lives of the Israelites. God was the creator of everything, willing it into existence in the creation story by saying, “Let it be so.” Adam and Eve, the first human persons, were his greatest creation. They were conceived without sin, they were full of grace, they were made in his image and likeness. Only when they chose to follow the serpent did the fullness of God’s grace depart from them, and suddenly they were ashamed of their nakedness and had to leave the Garden of Eden.

Even as he evicted them from the Garden, God promised Adam and Eve – us – he would in time send someone to bring us home again. Much of the rest of the Old Testament is a story of humanity’s repeated efforts to live well without an intimate relationship with the God of our being. But God kept calling us. And we kept turning away from him. Continue reading “Mary, the handmaid of the Lord”

Preparing for his coming

After two months of Gospel readings about the day of judgment at the end of time we are given in the readings today a picture of who it is that will judge us in the General Judgment. We had story after of story of a day of reckoning, and there was Gehenna and locked doors and wailing and grinding of teeth. Those readings did not seem to suggest that the Day of Judgment is going to be a good day. Yet this is the day we Christians look forward to expectantly. Why is that? That day will be great because we know who will judge us on that day.

Our judge is a loving judge, one who tells the prophet Isaiah to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” to tell her that “her guilt is expiated.” Jesus Christ, who will sit in judgment is Jesus Christ who died on the Cross to expiate our sins, our guilt. Our judge that day is also our Redeemer.

The day of judgment will be a day, as the Psalm sings today, when “kindness and truth shall meet” and where “justice and peace shall kiss.” Our God of Justice will acknowledge on that day the times we were kind and gentle with others. He will recognize on that day the times we stood firm for the unchanging Truth, which is God. He will commend us on that day for our willingness to stand for justice against the great and small tyrannies in our lives, and when we were the peace that stilled the stormy seas, the peace that surpasses our understanding.

Advent is the season of preparation for the Lord’s coming. On one level, we are preparing for that day that marks the end of time when, as St. Peter writes, “the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” On another level, we are preparing for the way of the Lord, like John the Baptist a voice crying out in the desert. The reading from Isaiah describes this Lord for whom we wait: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom.”

That sounds like a Lord worth waiting for. Even an impatient fellow like me can wait for a Lord who “leads his sheep with care.” St. Peter reminds us that we cannot time the Lord’s arrival, for “the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” In his letter, St. Peter gives us a plan of action for this period of preparation before the Lord arrives.

According to the Apostle, we should be the kind of people who are “conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion.” The season of Advent is a time when we can recommit to that kind of life. That kind of life is hard to choose when all around us the world is getting and spending in the Christmas Shopping Season. It takes work to avoid the many mall criers calling us to consume things that will ultimately not satisfy us, but here in this place God is calling us to consume Him, and in so doing be consumed by Him and swept up into his embrace of love and peace where kindness and truth shall meet.

Here at the parish, we have many opportunities for prayerful preparation for the Incarnation, that enfleshment of God we are waiting for in this season of Advent. You may have noticed our Mass is more subdued, as we do not sing the Gloria during Advent, and we don’t use incense as much, or maybe just don’t use as much incense.

Next week we will have a great sequence of beautiful liturgies and services to support our community in its preparation for the coming of our Lord. I invite you to come next Sunday evening and let our choirs sing praise to God along with Bible readings that foretell of the Messiah in our annual Lessons and Carols service.

Next Monday, we will have many priests here for our Advent night of Confession and Reconciliation. Talk to these gentle priests and be reconciled with God, washed clean of your sins and become as pure as the lambs that wait in the manger for Jesus.

And then we will have two days to absorb the wisdom and devotion of a great priest, our very own Monsignor Lopez, as he leads our Advent parish mission.

All of these events are opportunities for us to receive great gifts of peace and wisdom. Perhaps we should use this coming week to take action and prepare ourselves for those events next week.

To prepare for Lessons and Carols this week, try to listen to something other than the secular Christmas tunes that are on every radio station and Spotify playlist.

To prepare for the sacrament of reconciliation, perhaps we should spend time in prayerful reflection of the choices we made that pulled us away from God. If you’re like me and your mind sometimes goes blank when you walk into the confessional, maybe you can write your stuff on a small scrap of paper and then afterward tear it into tiny pieces and throw it in the trashcan as a sign of accepting God’s absolution.

To prepare for Monsignor Lopez, try to be a bit more like him. When you say your prayers, don’t rush through them. Remain in silence for a minute after you’ve said your prayers. Simply share a warm smile and a kind word with the next person you meet.

Advent is a time of prayerful preparation for the coming of our God. We await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Let’s use the days ahead so we can be with him at the Incarnation, found without spot or blemish, and at peace.