Rosy Sunday was yesterday. Gaudete in Domino semper. Rejoice in the Lord always. But Advent is a season of penance and waiting. Metanoia, or repentance, turning to God. The Eucharistic readings for yesterday were certainly turning us to hope, to Gaudete. From Isaiah, the desert will bloom, the weak fear not because God is coming, the blind see and lame leap, but the highway is only for the pure and chosen. James exhorts patience. In Matthew 11, Jesus assures John’s people that he is the one. Waiting. Some anxiety, but promise. But today’s Daily Readings bring back the reality that we are not living through a rejoiceful time, and we can’t grasp at the cheap grace of the secular Christmas season. We have made the Lord very angry. Shall I list the sins? Do I need to? How many desolating abominations are in our temples? How many disasters are driving us to flee? It feels too much like an end time creeping up on us for comfort. And yet … And yet we are always called back to hope. The Lord will forgive us. At least his Israel will be saved, even if punished. At least the true of heart will find and follow the straight path. Is that the Gaudete in the depth of a very grim Advent? How much do we need that Holy Child now? Our salvation doesn’t sound so out-of-the-world pious now, does it? We need saving. Hanging on is hard.
Zechariah (1:7-17) has a vision of the Angel on the Red Horse patrolling a peaceful world, but the Lord blames that world for complacency. Can peace not always be to the good? Apparently more is expected of us. But God loves Jerusalem and it will be uplifted again. John of Patmos (Rev 3:7-13) grants the church in Philadelphia approbation for living up to its name, Brotherly Love, for standing up to the false synagogue and exhorts them to hold on a bit longer. But in both these readings there is a call for repentance, deep repentance. Just as much as in Lent, Advent does not call for self-evaluation, but rather not evaluating ourselves at all, but being so open to God the Holy Spirit that we can feel the Grace of God’s love in the coming of that Child and that makes us change, makes us turn to God. Because not to is discomfort, fear, anxiety. An inner joy is what the peace that passes all understanding feels like. Anything else is a false Messiah. Joy is not the sparkly happiness of a boxed gift of diamonds or the trending toy. That is a transient pleasure, but it passes. God’s peace does not pass, although in times as dark as these it may feel pushed down.
Matthew 15:24-31 is really about the author of Matthew talking about the impending End Time. In the early days of Christianity, if in Matthew’s community of Jesus Jews, or in Mark’s and Luke’s communities of mixed Jews and Gentiles, or in John’s fairly separated Christian community, and certainly in the Apostolic letters, it was felt that with Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension the End of Time was actually near. In the lifetime of those living, or at most their children’s generation. That made a holy and righteous life more critical. None of this everybody-is-loved and therefore everybody-is-saved of today’s world. There were rules, and not living by them was as much a ticket for eternal damnation for the individual as the repeated warnings and punishment meted out was to God’s chosen Jewish people in their long history of migration and inter-tribal wars. Be good or be damned. But be foolish and stumble and there may be a way back through the mercy of God and those promises made between God and his people.
Matthew paints a grim picture. An abomination on the altar of the Holy of Holies was a reference to an actual pagan statue of a god placed there in times past. But this is real today. What are our holy of holies? Our altars in our churches where we are fed by the Body and Blood? Yes, but also the tables of our secular world. Empty dinner tables where children, the old, the underemployed starve. The tables in our houses of legislature where self-interest trumps mercy. The judicial bench where money and class determine justice. And we are told to flee, taking nothing, not looking back. How many fled the megafires in California and the floods in so many places? Or the bombing and ground fighting in the Middle East? We, too, are experiencing and making an End Time. Can we face the Great Judge with this on our souls? The warnings in Scripture should not be taken lightly, old fashioned tales believed by the uneducated and superstitious, metaphors, means to control the meek. Hear them as real as today’s headlines. But this is not a call for Kool-Aid and tinfoil hats. This is a call for repentance, confession, seeking forgiveness, placing our hearts in fear and trembling before our God, letting ourselves be healed. Not punished. Healed. No individual or even community can fix all the pain and ills of the world. But the Incarnation and the Cross are the remedy, and the more of us who submit to the mercy of God and carry our Cross and go forward to bring the Kingdom, however we are called, however small we are, is what we are called to do.
The Roman Catholic church had lists for parishioners to go through and write down all the times they said a bad word or took a paperclip (because small things become big things, and they were right there), and all the rest. This is well and good and may be the foundation for formation, but it falls short of the kind of repentance, turning to Salvation that these readings are pointing toward. Finding our way is a lifetime job, but Advent is a good time to start. So start considering the End Time. As Real. Not a week from Thursday (I assume), but whenever it is, it is real. And that judgement seat is real. And the possibility that we won’t just get a gold star and halo for turning up, but face the consequences of our actions. This time of birth is a time to think about death. They are connected through the Cross and Resurrection. Sometime this month is a good time to make a confession. Start fresh with God in this new liturgical year and with the birth of the one who came to forgive. But first you need to pray, read, seek guidance. Trust in the Spirit to begin to lead you to a renewed life. And we are promised over and over by Jesus and the Prophets that God will save us, will forgive us and bring us to his mountain, to a new Jerusalem. Eventually for all at a mystical yet incarnate time after death we will rise from the dead to eternal life. But also as we live here and now, working, practicing our faith, we are learning to build the Kingdom, to bring the Light into the world. Let us pray:
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Collect for Advent 3)
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.