Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Sunday of Advent: Beyond the End of the Nose

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28

"Among you stands One whom you do not know, the One who is coming after me."                   - St. John the Baptist, John 1:26b, 27a

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me ... [yet] truly do I [also] tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." Jesus the Christ, Matthew 25:40, 45

"Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  Jesus the Christ, Matthew 28:20

So the big question is this: Is the Christ to "return", or can it be equally stated that He never really left?  There is no denying the Resurrection just as there can be no reasonable denial of the Ascension when the apostles witnessed for themselves the Lord being "carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51b).  But we also remember that awesome Day of Pentecost when the promised "Helper", the Holy Spirit came down and the Church born; when "there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind [that] filled the entire house where [the apostles] were sitting.  Divided tongues as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them" (Acts 2:2-4).

We continue the spiritual journey begun that day through Advent not as a countdown to a Holy Day commemorating what has already taken place, but rather as a continuing spiritual assessment of whether we the Church have properly maintained and defended the fine tradition of St. John the Baptist in having adequately "prepared the way of the Lord" - OR - if not, what we must be prepared to do as we remember not only to celebrate that great and awesome day when Heaven touched the Earth but to remember that the Promised Land of the Kingdom which is to come is still just beyond the horizon.  If we are to continue to be the Body of Christ redeemed by His blood, it is necessary that we continue the spiritual journey and resist the temptation to call it "good" and "done" come December 26.     

Yet this is exactly what will happen for many because fatigue will finally settle in.  We have all seen the energy so many put into preparations for the coming Holy Day, and I honestly cannot think of a better time than for Christmas to fall on Sunday because, quite frankly, a good Sabbath rest will be in order.  There is also no more appropriate thing to do than to worship the Lord on His very special day which, if we think about it, is truly a marvelous day for all of humanity.  As we are reminded in the lighting of today's candle, we anticipate with great JOY that something wonderful is upon us!  And we look forward in joyful anticipation because everything we are excited about and can be excited about is that which has yet to be revealed - just like an unwrapped Christmas gift!

The question remains, however.  Did the Lord ever really "leave" so much so that His return is something we anticipate, especially when while He walked among us He taught us such profound lessons - AND - gave His Church the certain Promise that He will "always" be with us?  When we are baptized, when we make a profession of faith, when we are confirmed in the Church, and when we repent of our sinful ways and obvious mistakes; we are aligning ourselves with Christ and are making that public confession so that we speak in His behalf, we act in His behalf, and we bear witness to that which we know to be true.  This, my dear friends, is the Church, the Body of Christ.  

The Spirit of the Lord continues to teach us and to guide us, that very essence of the Holy God and Father who reassures us when we doubt, who comforts us when we are afraid, and even jerks a little knot in our spiritual tails when we get a little too full of ourselves or stray too far off the path of the righteous journey.  The Holy Lord promised Joshua that as long as he remained faithful to the Law which had been imparted to Moses, as long as he "meditated on the Law day and night", as long as he did not add to or take away from that which has been written, the Lord promised that "I will not fail you nor forsake you" ... and ... "I am with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:5-9).

I think it is safe and a faithful thing to be able to say with confidence that the Lord is with His beloved Church.  It is a wonderful and reassuring comfort to know with certainty that as long as we follow the Lord faithfully and "meditate on His word day and night", and as long as we do not "add to or take away from" the Word of the Lord, He "will not fail [us] nor forsake [us]".  And let's face it: there are many days when so many of us have our doubts for this one simple reason: we see with our eyes and hear with our ears that evil appears to flourish - in and outside the Church.  Even the so-called "Occupy" movement has captured the attention and imagination of many because whether we agree with these people or not, we can see how excess wealth can so easily corrupt. 

We've known it all along, but we have been conditioned to turn a blind eye to it because it no longer shocks us.  We've just learned to work around it.  And if we are to be honest with ourselves; as long as we are doing ok personally, we just don't get that fired up.  It is not until we lose our own jobs or our own homes or when our own investment portfolios begin to shrivel that we finally appreciate the gravity of the situation.  It is like the saying that came from Nazi Germany attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller: "When the Nazis came for the communists I remained silent, for I was not a communist.  When the Nazis came for the social democrats I remained silent, for I was not a social democrat.  When they came for the trade unions I did not speak out, for I was not a trade unionist.  When the Nazis came for the Jews I remained silent, for I was not a Jew.  When they finally came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

Pastor Niemoller took a lot of heat from German citizens - and ended up imprisoned by the Nazis - because he refused to let himself or the nation of German citizens and especially Christians off the hook who had turned a blind eye to the atrocities of their day.  They knew what was going on, but it was safer for them to pay homage to the Fuhrer than to admit that evil flourishes when decent people remain silent.  As long as the Nazis were not coming for them, as long as they had jobs and money, there was no problem.  This narrow mindset is called "not looking beyond the end of your own nose", and it is a travesty when Christians allow themselves to get so caught up in such narrow visions without remembering Christ's own words: "Whatever you do (or don't do) for the least of these, you do (or don't do) for Me."

The magnitude of evil, however, is overwhelming.  It is not until we are actively engaged in such spiritual warfare that we can finally and completely appreciate the raw power of evil, and then finally realize our own limitations in the face of such evil.  Yet even when evil seems to triumph, when evil seems to get its own way, and when we finally realize that evil itself cannot be stopped by humans alone; we remember the Lord's assurance to the prophet Isaiah that the coming Day of the Lord will be "the DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD" (Isaiah 61:2).  Evil will finally have its comeuppance and will face the full fury and wrath of our Holy Father.

Until that glorious Day, then, the faithful Church waits; but we wait with the joyful knowledge and assurance of faith that until that time when the Trumpet shall sound, our Lord has assured us that He will not "fail nor forsake" those who pursue Him relentlessly and follow Him faithfully.  Yet until that Day is upon us, the Church must tirelessly announce the coming of the One "whose sandal thong we are not worthy to untie"; the One who did come, the One who was crucified for our sins, the One who will come again.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

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