Awaiting Christ’s Second Coming with excitement

(An experiment with the audio recorder didn’t work, so there is no mp3 file of this homily.)
2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B: Dec. 4, 2011
Isa 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85; 2 Pet 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Last year I realized something about this Advent season. That word “Advent” of course translates the Latin Adventus; and what I realized, and discovered was true, is that Adventus translates the Greek Parousia. Most of you are saying, so what? But any of you who are sort of Scripture nerds like me know that that word Parousia lights up the sky. For that is the word used in the original language of the New Testament to speak of Christ’s Second Coming.

And this filled the apostles with excitement and anticipation as they proclaimed the good news about Jesus Christ. And so St. Peter proclaimed, shortly after Pentecost, “Repent, therefore, and be converted … that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment and send you the Messiah… , Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the times of universal restoration.” (Acts 3:19-21) In today’s second reading we hear St. Peter speak of “hastening the coming (the Parousia) of the day of God.” And we read, at the end of the book of Revelation, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ … Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:17, 20)

This fired the apostles with excitement—this anticipation of the return of Christ and the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth and all that that would bring.

So, how excited are you about Christ’s Second Coming? How much are you looking forward to it? Let’s put it this way. You’ve been up for a few hours today, right? Have you thought, “I wonder if Jesus will return today? I hope he does! Come, Lord Jesus!” No? How about yesterday? The day before?

Okay, I have to admit, I haven’t either. Although if things are going very badly, if everyone’s against me, and nothing works, and it seems like I’m carrying too many burdens, then I do think: wouldn’t it be great if Jesus would return today and this would all be over? Do you have similar thoughts at times like that?

If you find that you don’t look forward to the Parousia, the Advent, the Second Coming of Christ as much as the apostles did, then you should be asking: Why not? And really look for the answer. And I would suggest three answers that you should consider.

First, is it that you don’t actually believe in the Second Coming? Maybe, like those St. Peter was addressing in today’s reading, you look at these 2000 years without his return and think that that means he never will come back. Or, maybe someone has told you that it’s just metaphorical: that it really means that the world will get a lot better, or people will get a lot nicer, or something like that. Then please understand that the belief in Christ’s literal Second Coming is taught by the Scripture and by the Church. In a few minutes, we will confess that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” This is the truth, and it is a source of hope.

Second, maybe you don’t get excited about the Second Coming because you think that what follows will be sort of dull, in comparison to this earthly life. This is a mistaken belief that will probably disappear as soon as you actually think about it clearly. For how could we possibly think that being united with the Creator of this whole universe, and everyone and everything in it, of all that is beautiful and wondrous and amazing, could possibly be boring? And yet this is what materialists have been trying to get us to believe for the last couple centuries—and I know I used to believe it, subconsciously, until I finally examined it. When we begin to grasp the true blessedness that awaits us in the Resurrection and the New Heavens and New Earth, then we can begin to look forward to Christ’s return.

Third, maybe you don’t look forward to it because you are apprehensive of terrible apocalyptic events, such as those portrayed in movies. And St. Peter’s description of the heavens being dissolved in flames and the elements being melted by fire doesn’t sound so great either, does it? But we should recall St. Paul’s statement (Rom 8:18, 22) that “the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us,” and are like “labor pains” before the joy of new birth. We can trust our Lord to bring us through safely; and it will be worth it.

So, you might want to take some time later today to examine your heart and see whether any of these factors—disbelief, a belief in a dull heaven, or fear of apocalyptic events—might be leeching away the excitement and hope that you should have regarding Christ’s Second Coming.

But how then do you prepare, during this season of preparation? This was the mission of John the Baptist, as we here in today’s Gospel reading: to prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. And how did he prepare the people of his time for our Lord’s first coming? He preached repentance. Repentance: not so much an emotion, is a choice to change; to change, to turn in our internal thoughts, attitudes, and intentions; to turn in our outward actions away from sin and toward truly good actions.

Making these paths for the Lord can mean dramatic changes: like filling in a valley, lowering a mountain, or smoothing out rugged land into a plain. It can be hard. But it is worth it—to become free from the sin that harms us; to be ready to welcome our Lord at his coming; to be ready to welcome him into our hearts even now.

And so I urge you, with John the Baptist, to make this Advent season a special time of repentance. To examine yourself carefully, to see whether there are any sins you need to turn away from. Perhaps you think of something immediately; or perhaps there may be something more subtle, that will take more reflection to discover. Perhaps you know that you do something that the church teaches clearly is a sin, but you have felt that you disagree. I urge you to turn away from this as well, for the church’s moral teaching is right, and your sins are hurting you, even if you don’t know it.

Then take those sins to that great sacrament of mercy, confession, the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. You can go to confession this morning, at 11:30; or at other times throughout the week. Two weeks from now, on December 18, there will be several priests here for a special parish penance service during the afternoon. But whenever and wherever you go to confession, please do go, so that you may be fully prepared to welcome the Lord—as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus!

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