Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2nd Sunday in Advent December 3-4, 2011

Populus Zion – The Second Sunday in Advent
December 3-4, 2011

One area I wish I was better at is time management. I tend to work best on a deadline. If something isn’t due today or tomorrow, it’s easy for me to put it off. One exception to my usual habit of procrastination was when a brilliant but highly unpredictable professor in seminary told us that we were going to be tested on his book entitled, “A Latin Ecclesiastical Glossary.” The book is only 53 pages, but it’s 53 pages of Latin theological terms all in very small print. “When is the test going to be?” “Sometime this quarter,” he replied.
Seriously? He’s not giving us a date? How am I supposed to get ready for that? One more question: Which terms will be tested? “All of them.” Of course, the book is filled with great phrases to help the seminarian spice up his life, like media gratia instrumenta iustificationis (The means of grace are the instruments of justification).

A week or three went by, and there was no mention of it again. Most of the students assumed he’d forgotten about it, and so didn’t study the book, of which each horrible page has between 40-50 Latin phrases. Now if you’re going to memorize all 53 pages of this beastly booklet, you need to be pounding away at it every day. The test is coming, but you don’t know when. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the theory that the test is just a myth, that there really won’t be one.

It wasn’t a myth. The day finally came when the professor walked in six or seven weeks later and started passing out the exam. Howls of protest went up, with seminarians muttering about how unfair it all was, that the professor hadn’t given adequate warning. “I told you there’d be a test!” he barked.

The Day of the Lord is coming, the day of judgment. There won’t be a test; the kingdom of God has no entrance quiz. Sins—your sins—are atoned for in the death of Jesus. But for those who reject that, those who eschew repentance and live as if God did not matter and as if they mattered most, that day will come as a snare, a trap, a day of judgment and wrath. I’m sure the cry will go up, “You did not warn us!” Maybe we all really should make signs that say “The End Is Near!” and go march around Old Town. That would likely not be effective, although acting as though the only deadline we have is the number of shopping days left is what Jesus has in mind when He says, ”Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”

The season of Advent is particularly the time for disciples of Jesus to be reminded that our lives will come to an end, perhaps sooner than we imagine, and the world will come to an end, perhaps sooner than we imagine. Your inbox will still be full, tasks uncompleted, emails and phone calls still unanswered. And it doesn’t matter. One thing matters: Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

How can we be “counted worthy”? That sounds like there is something I need to do, something I need to accomplish, so that the Lord will count me worthy. Whenever we come to a difficult passage of Scripture, or something we don’t understand, we must apply this little rule: Scripture interprets Scripture. We interpret the difficult passages in Scripture in light of the clear ones. And Scripture is very clear on the matter of human worthiness, as it is written in Psalm 130: If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?” No one stands before God because of how much good he has done. No one stands before God because of how much sin he has avoided. No one stands before God because of the amount of his offerings or sacrifices or the amount of emotion he has felt. Good works are good, avoiding sin is good, tithes and offerings likewise are good fruits born from a good tree. But they do not make you worthy to stand. Nothing you do can make you worthy. “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? But,” the Psalm continues, “with You there is forgiveness, therefore You are feared.”

Mark well the word Jesus uses to comfort us in the face of ecological disaster, a cosmos breaking apart, our world coming undone. When everything is in chaos, when men are frantic and having panic attacks because the end has come, Jesus says straighten up and lift up your heads – why? Because your redemption draws near. See how he cannot discuss judgment without discussing redemption! To be redeemed is to be rescued as a slave from bondage, as a prisoner from the dungeon. You cannot effect your escape, you cannot purchase your freedom. You were redeemed not with gold or silver, but, the Scripture says, with the holy and precious blood of Jesus as a lamb without blemish or spot. Your redemption depends on Jesus, not yourself. Your standing before the Son of Man on the day of judgment depends on Jesus, not yourself.

And that’s what faith is, saying “I trust in Jesus and not myself for salvation in the day of chaos and fear, the day of apocalypse and judgment and the end of all things.” And that is what carries you through this day and the next, as you bear your crosses. Everything has been accomplished already, Jesus is your redemption and your worthiness and your salvation, so what if your body is wasting away, what if your life is not as you had once hoped, what if the demons of hell itself come against you? We simply say, “I am baptized, I am a child of God, what can man or death or devils do to me? Nothing. Though the earth give way, though war rise against me, though Satan accuse me, though my flesh waste away and senses fail, I have lost nothing. I am baptized, I have forgiveness in Jesus, and therefore I stand against all of this and say, ‘Behold, my Redeemer comes for me and His whole Church.’”

So don’t let carousing and drunkenness, drinking parties and making a good impression distract you from what matters. Don’t let your lusts carry you away from your Lord and His Word. Don’t let the cares of this life weigh you down so you forget the One who cares for you.

The return of Christ is drawing near, and you are made ready by abiding in Jesus, living in and from the Word He speaks to you and the Sacrament by which He joins Himself to you. Repent, Receive His forgiveness, and say with fervor those ancient words repeated in the Sacramental Liturgy: “Come, Lord Jesus!” Amen.

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