1st Sunday of Advent
you know the time in which we are living; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; Romans 13:11ff
Today the Church begins yet another new liturgical year. For two thousand years the Church has been renewing the cycle of her seasons and feasts, beginning with Advent and, in our day, ending with the Feast of Christ the King. For two thousand years the Church has been preaching the message of Advent that we heard today in the Letter to the Romans and St. Matthew’s Gospel: that we are to stay alert and be prepared to meet the Lord. For we do not know when the Lord will return to judge our lives and determine out eternal reward.
What, then, could possibly be more important for any of us than to be well prepared for that final judgement, and yet how many people through the centuries have heard this warning and have remained quite indifferent, continuing their daily lives as if Christ were never coming to render judgement on their lives.
Moreover, Jesus knew that this would be the case, sad to say, that very few people would be ready to meet Him when He returns in glory: For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In [those] days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. 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.
Now, Jesus is speaking in this passage specifically about His second coming, in glory, when He will judge the living and the dead. And Jesus forewarns that many if not most people living then will not at all be ready to render an account of their lives. They will be like the people in Noah’s day who were totally unprepared for the flood, that is, they will be totally unprepared to render an account of their lives to God, and, like those in Noah’ day, they will be swept away by the “flood” of God’s judgement. So it will be at the end of time, says Jesus, and this warning also is meant for us today.
We many not be alive at the second coming of Christ, but this gospel still challenges each of us personally. Each of us will meet the Lord one day at our death, and we will be judged by Him. So are we really prepared here and now to meet the Lord, should he come this very day? Indeed, are we even concerned about preparing ourselves for judgement by God, for, as Jesus warns, “for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, also speaks of our personal day of reckoning drawing ever nearer. This is a simple statement of fact since every day we live, we are one day closer to the day when Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead, and also one day nearer to the day we will leave this world and render an account of our life before God. Moreover, Paul warns us that salvation will be ours only if we have actually thrown off “the works of darkness” and “put on the armor of light,” that is, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” and made ‘no provision for the desires of the flesh.”
Thus, this warning applies to each of us, whether we are alive at the second coming or not, and we must be ready every day. Paul says we must wake up if we have fallen asleep in our Christian life. St Peter says we should not grow lax because the Lord’s coming seems delayed. The fact is that each of us will one day die, and that will be our personal day of judgement, even if the world we leave behind continues to await that awful day of judgement. When we die, our judgement, our day of rendering an account will not be delayed till the end of time.
Catholic doctrine teaches us that each and every person will be judged immediately when he or she passes from this world, and that moment could be as sudden and unexpected as the second coming itself. We know neither the day or the hour of the final judgement and our own death can come like a thief in the night. So each of us is challenged by these readings today – we must each ask our self, am I ready to meet Christ, am I really living my life so as to be prepared for that moment when I will stand before my Creator, Redeemer and Judge?
Why are most people, including most Christians so unconcerned and therefore so uninterested in preparing for their judgement? There are several reasons I can think of in our day. For instance, today there is a loss of the sense of sin in our society, a phenomenon which has been noticed even by some psychiatrists. Fewer and fewer people are conscious of any real sinfulness of their lives and actions and thus are less and less capable of appreciating the gravity of their situation before God. Thus it doesn’t even enter their minds to prepare for their judgement.
Another reason may be the false presumption that pervades our society and even our churches, that, in the end, God does not really care about our sins, and thus God will not punish anyone in the life to come, at least not in the fires of hell. In short, most people today, even if they believe in an afterlife, seem to believe that everyone is going to heaven regardless of how they live in this world. Even most Christians today seem to ignore the warnings of the bible about judgement and hell. So why would such persons be concerned about a judgement when they believe that a merciful God judges no one and everyone will be ultimately be admitted into Heaven?
And, finally, there may be this lack of concern simply because of the tendency of our human nature to put off till tomorrow what should be done today. Even people who do not deny sin’s reality and who do believe that God will judge all and punish some eternally still tend to put off to tomorrow any serious effort to make ready to meet the Lord when he comes. The problem here is not caused by a false presumption regarding God’s ignoring sin and justice. It’s perhaps a false presumption regarding how much time I have in this world. In the former cases, people will be totally unprepared as in the day of Noah. And in the latter case, they will be prepared, but not as well as they might have been had they not wasted so much time in their lives doing nothing about strengthening their spiritual life to be better prepared to meet the Lord.
The first two roots of this lack of preparedness I believe are the products of serious misreading of the Scriptures. The fact that Jesus died for our sins should not lead to radical ideas like universal salvation. Indeed, that very truth of Jesus’ self-sacrifice for our sins should make us realize that our continuing to live in sin is an even graver insult to God’s love and generosity than the state of sin before that merciful act of Christ. If anything, sins after the sacrifice of Calvary are if anything more grave and more deserving of punishment for the simple fact that they show gross ingratitude to the Father and the Son: to the Father who gave up his son for our salvation and to the Son who surrendered himself for our salvation. That was the thought of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and it should keep us far from any presumptuousness like universal salvation.
However, it seems to me that most Church-goers at least are in that third category of people, those who take sin and the judgement somewhat seriously, but who tend to procrastinate or put off getting really serious about eternity. We do not pray enough; we do not practice enough self denial, we do not do enough penance for our past sins. We do only what is strictly necessary to be in the state of Grace, to be minimally ready for the judgement, but we do not do much more than the minimum. It’s as if we were saying, we are satisfied to be mediocre Christians, tepid in our spiritual life, to do just enough to get into Heaven, but not much more.
Advent is great season of spiritual awakening. Advent tries to rouse us from our slumber, from our spiritual laziness, and prepare us not just for Christmas, His first coming, but even more importantly for Christ’s final coming and for our personal judgement, for the moment in which our place in God’s Kingdom will be set for all eternity. St Paul speaks positively when he says “our salvation is closer than we first accepted the faith.” Surely our salvation is what we are all living for if we are believers, even if weak believers. Surely salvation is our genuine hope if we believe in Christ and are truly grateful for His death on our behalf! Yet we run a risk of falling away from that promise if we are willing to do only the minimum to hold on to it. How often Christ said that from those who are willing to do the minimum, like the man who buried the one talent in the parable, we may lose it all, that the little we have may be taken away from us.
There is no more serious business than the salvation of our immortal souls. Advent is a beautiful cry from God to stop dawdling and get prepared to meet Christ, which means to begin to strengthen our spiritual life through prayer and self-denial and penance for our sins. We must not presume that God’s justice will be overlooked in the final judgement, that God does not care about our sins. His Son died a terrible death for our sins, and that should warn us how much God cares about sin! And there is simply no basis at all in the Scriptures, including the words of Christ in the Gospels, for thinking that the final judgement will not separate the sheep from the goats. That is why for two thousand years the Church has begun her year in Advent with this appeal to wake up and get prepared and ends the year with the same message. Who of us knows for sure whether we will hear this appeal another time? Now is the time of our salvation. Now is the time to make a healthy Church’s new year resolution. I will put my soul’s health first in my concerns, and be better prepared to meet Christ on his return.