Sunday, November 24, 2013

ADVENT Week 1: Prepare For The Great Repeal. A Homily for 12.1.13 from Matthew 24:37-44.

December 1, 2013
1st Sunday of Advent
Year A
Matthew 24:37-44
(edited and revised from a previous 
Homily posted 11.21.10)

This Sunday we begin a new church year; we do so by observing Advent. I could say, "Celebrating Advent," but I'm not convinced that Advent is about celebration, at least not the first two weeks anyway. In the gift that is Advent the church reminds us that we are called to wait. In fact, if we get the correct cadence of Advent there is this waiting that includes an ache inside of us, a deep aching for the presence of GOD that nothing else can fill. 

Think about Advent in this way:
We see the brokenness of the world, the violence, the hate, the greed; we see the poor, the cholera filled slums and the swollen bellies of perishing children, and we have this continuous, dull pain that causes compassion and sadness to well up and flow out in prayer:
O LORD Jesus, how long? How long?

Ere we shout the glad song
Christ returneth Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Amen
(from Christ Returneth | H. L. Turner / James McGranahan)

But it is precisely here where the struggle for us, within our hearts and daily practice, occurs at the deepest level of our faith-lives. Many of us in the church, especially in the West, do not really ache at all; we do not long for the living Christ — appeared and present. Even in these difficult times things are still going too well for most of us, and we do not wish anything to restrict us or mess with our agendas and our fun.

I mean, let’s face it, we do not live like most of the world. We have material wealth and the power to structure our own lives, which silently makes Jesus' words from today’s text strain our desire and dilute our passion. We have so much invested in this present kingdom that it is unbelievably difficult to have any time or talent for the coming of the Christ’ Kingdom. This is called cultural captivity.

Thus, the words of today’s TEXT are an especially important reminder for us of what is truly important as we come to this Advent Season. In today's homily we will first look at the days of Noah as a metaphor for what I am calling the Great Repeal, and then we will look at Jesus’ language of exclusion as a way into the heartbeat of an Advent longing.

“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."
There were nothing special about the days of Noah. They were days of ordinary time -- one following the next, attention on present investment and absorption on the self and the security of the self. Then suddenly, everything shifted and the world changed, overnight.

This type of change is called discontinuous change, which may be defined as:
Non-incremental, sudden change that threatens existing or traditional authority or power structure, because it drastically alters the way things are currently done or have been done for years.  (for more go here)
In discontinuous change what was once normal, therefore, caves and gives way to a new normal. I cannot read these words from Jesus in today's text without thinking of the Exodus, the early poetry of the Prophet Isaiah, and finally the Canticle of Mary from St. Luke's Gospel.

What we are about to think-through may be understood as the great repeal.  And it will come on that day when the LORD Almighty refuses any longer to be pushed out of our existence. It is that day when the LORD reminds us that the earth is his and the fulness thereof.

First, let’s think about the Exodus
Think of it! One moment you are the Pharaoh -- on top of the world, and the next your economy is a smoking pile, wrecked, and your nation stands as a crumbled monument to a you, a most stubborn leader. You now are heart-broken, mourning both the loss of your family and your wealth, which you have just given away, all in the name of your own greed!

It is startling, is it not, to think about the repeal of greatness, and how swiftly this dismantling can occur. This should bring us up short and serve to remind us that no nation, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, can forget the truth that we reap what we sow.

Second, let’s think about the Isaiah’s Prophecy

Listen in on Isaiah’s sweeping indictment on Judah and Jerusalem:

For you have forsaken the ways of your people,

O house of Jacob.
Indeed they are full of diviners from the east
and of soothsayers like the Philistines,
and they clasp hands with foreigners.
7 Their land is filled with silver and gold,
and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
and there is no end to their chariots.
8 Their land is filled with idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their own fingers have made.
9 And so people are humbled,
and everyone is brought low—
do not forgive them!
10 Enter into the rock,
and hide in the dust
from the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of his majesty.
11 The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.

(Isaiah 2:6-11)
Notice, the land is filled with sorcerers and soothsayers — for they have ceased having there ability to hear the word of the LORD; they have affiliated with the Assyrians in alliance, for they no longer trust Yahweh for protection; their commerce coffers are full of silver and gold, but this unending treasure only substitutes for the security found in the blessing LORD; their land is full of warhorses, for their endless chariots offers them a self-assure power that in reality is no power of protection at all; and the final indictment against the people is how they worship the things they have made with their own hands.

The nation is all about the self, their own power, wealth and defense, but all of this will be taken away when, as the text proclaims:
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low, and the pride of everyone shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.
This text must serve to remind us that GOD is creator and we are not. That is, we are his creation; we are the creature who submits to his will, a will which is good, and beneficial, and how the creation was meant to be good all along.

Or, said differently, Isaiah’s prophecy reminds us that GOD resists the proud. St. James writes in this regard:
Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God[b] yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. (James 4:4b-7a)

Third, let’s think about the Magnificat

In the Magnificat Mary is proclaiming that the broken, the poor, the anawim (the dispossessed) will one day be made whole, and that the proud will be brought low. Her words are well worth hearing and heeding again:
"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.'" (Luke 1:46-55)

What is this, if not the great reversal of reality. What is this if not the assertion of Yahweh’s power on behalf of the forgotten people. Remember: The unimportant ones in the eyes of the world will one day be seen by all as GOD sees and values them now, even in their anonymity.


Second, the language of exclusion must bring us up short, and is clearly difficult for our ears:
one will be taken, and one will be left
The difficulty for us sets-up like this: We are sure we will be fine, but we worry that everyone else will not be included. 

First, are we fine?

This takes us back to the previous thought concerning the pride of life which we all share. That is, the normal state of the human heart is to place the self over all else, and this selfishness is at the very heart of sinful (yes, I still use that word when no one is looking) choices.

Said differently, we, you and I, are sinners to the core, and will always be such, unless the LORD himself gives us a new heart and a new desire, and then it is still a daily struggle. Or, we could say it like this, repeating St. Paul’s pithy axiom:
So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. (1 Cor. 10:12)

Second, Not All Are fine?

Clearly, we would wish that all would be included on that Day — the day of the great repeal, but such will not be the case. Not because GOD is unfair, but rather because he is immanently fair. He gives us the freedom to choose the building of our own lives, and he allows us to become what we want to become. Which means to tell us that one is only left out should one chose to be, and some, surprisingly, will choose this path.

Third, It Matters What We Do?

But wait, there is more here. Because the destiny of our made-in-the-image-of GOD humanity is based upon our day-in and day-out actions, then we must take seriously the truth that it greatly matters what we do. Our behavior causes ripples that never cease, and our actions influence the world beyond our capability to know. This is the power behind Jesus' golden rule, the modern equivalent being: We should only act how we would wish the rest of the world to act.


The upshot of this is that we must prepare our hearts for that day of days, that day of the great repeal. To be sure, we know that in this world of chaos there simply are no guarantees; there are no promises other than the LORD's promised presence. On this we can rely. Therefore, we must confront ourselves with the truth that this day may be our last day; that this hour we may hear the end chime.

How do we prepare for this?

It is clear that we must be sure that all is right between GOD and us. That is,  as hackneyed as it sounds, we must prepare to meet our GOD. To be honest, I do not know much what this means, other than to proclaim the message of the King himself -- “Repent and believe.”


To repent means to have a change of mind which leads to a change of action. That is, our behavior is to daily change and bend toward the Son of Man — his life and teachings and actions. It is not enough, then, to offer him our Sunday mornings and save the rest for ourselves. This brings us to a mere shadow of faith and leads to the pride of religiosity. Instead, we must somehow break the stranglehold of the cultural captivity within us and come to truly offer ourselves to the Jesus-way, the narrow-way. Said differently, what Jesus offers us supremely in the Gospel is not only a new life but a new way to live as well. Finding this is the heart of ADVENT.


To truly believe is to present the living, risen Christ the culmination of all we are, offering ourselves to the one for whom we wait, the one we cannot now see, but still believing that in that day all will be made right, including the end of the self-life which so plagues us now. It is only by this freely offered life — for that is the only way one can truly know that one’s faith is genuine — that we begin to discover that true life lies not in what we accumulate (the pride of life), but, strangely enough, in what we give away (sacrificial love and reconciling forgiveness).