We Await a New Earth

The Second Sunday of Advent 2014 (B)

But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earthin which righteousness dwells.Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Advent is for us a time of grace and preparation for His coming, the advent of the Lord. Indeed, it is not simply a time of preparation for the Christmas celebration of the Lord’s first coming, but more importantly a preparation and heralding of his second coming, when “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” [Isaiah 40:5] This 2nd advent of the Lord is what the Church is always preparing for, always moving forward toward, the glorious coming of Christ.

We believe that Christ will put an end to death and to evil of every kind by the judgment of the living and the dead, and we rejoice that He will establish the “new heavens and the new earth in which righteousness dwells” as St. Peter says in today’s second reading. This is the burning hope of the church and the basis of her longing for the return of her bridegroom. This time he will come not in weakness but in the power and glory that is his already in heaven where he already sits at the right hand of the Father. It is this hope and yearning of the Church through the ages that provides the ultimate horizon which guides her every action in this world.

To be precise, the season of Advent is a special time when the church looks both backwards and forwards at the same time; indeed she looks backwards at the first coming of Christ in order to more deeply appreciate the greatness that she looks forward to in his second coming. In Christ’s his first coming, He came into this world in the weakness of our humanity so that we might identify ourselves more closely with Him because He has taken on our lowliness for the purpose of our redemption, that is, in order that He could suffer and die for us. Christmas recalls for us that stunning act of Almighty God in which He lowered himself to come among us in this world in order that He might raise us one day to share His divinity and heavenly kingdom.

However, the Second coming is not the manner of the first. In stark contrast to the humility, poverty and weakness that God assumed in the first coming of Christ stands the glory and power that will mark his second coming. Then He will come in His glory to judge the living and the dead, to establish the final kingdom of God by his power, and to utterly transform this whole universe beginning with our own resurrection.

The second coming, then, will also be the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in today’s first reading:

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated;

That prophecy pertains in different ways to both comings of Christ. By mentioning the guilt that is expiated, the passage points to His first coming, when Christ made expiation for our sins by His suffering and death. But by mentioning that Jerusalem is to have an end to her service, the passage points also to the second glorious coming when Christ will put an end to the service of the Church and establish His kingdom in power. Likewise prophecy is pointing to the second coming when Isaiah says “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm.” This cannot refer to the first coming of Christ since He did not then come with power but in weakness and did not rule by his strong arm. In the first advent of Christ and until the end of time He rules only by truth, gentleness and love, and does not impose his rule by force.

But this will not be his sole way of ruling when he returns in glory, for then

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

In the end, no one will be able to deny His truth when he returns in glory. Then everything shall be made “plain” by the destruction of every power that opposes the kingdom of God, and he will truly rule by “his strong arm,” for at last the divine power will establish the kingdom and will enchain all opposition.

St. Peter also speaks of the way that his glorious second coming and rule will transform even the material universe, for “then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire.” But that does not mean the material creation will be annihilated. Indeed the Church joyfully looks forward to that tremendous moment as the beginning of a new creation, no longer marred by man’s sin and the evil of Satan and his followers. For as 2nd Peter says, “according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” It will be a new creation in which evil no longer has any place. The damned will not be transformed and thus will not be part of the new creation as such.

That is our sublime hope as Christians, even if the world does not believe any of this and thinks that we are deluded. But it is the world in opposition to Christ that is deluded, thinking that man can create a paradise on earth by his own means. It believes this madness even while it can see the disintegration of every human society through history. No matter how many towers of Babel man builds, they always come tumbling down.

That is why Advent also has a warning for us here and now. Because we live in such a world, we have to be especially prepared for this second coming. For as St. Peter warns us today, quoting the Lord, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” [in the night]. The world will not be prepared because of its scepticism and unbelief, but surely we who believe should not be unprepared. Peter puts it bluntly, “Since everything is to be dissolved in this way” he says, “what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” If the very heavens are to be dissolved in fire, how must we pray and watch to avoid the fire that never ends and is never quenched.

He goes on to warn us not to be fooled by what seems like a delay in this promise, for ‘The Lord does not delay his promise, he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If God has delayed bringing this world would end up to our very day, then we have to recognize that it is simply part of his mercy toward us to give us the time for repentance. We dare not waste this opportunity.

Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” was the message of John the Baptist at his first coming, and many from Jerusalem were going out to confess their sins and be baptized, but not all. Some delayed, and Christ passed by, and they did not enter the kingdom of heaven. The Church on the second Sunday of Advent recalls in her Gospel these words of John the Baptist, and addresses them to us who now await the second coming: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” We must not delay for that day is surely coming. We must joyfully prepare the way for the Lord into our hearts, then, first in order to be properly prepared to celebrate the memory of his first coming at Christmas, but even more importantly to be ready to greet him when he comes in glory to judge the living and the dead and make all things new.

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