Homily for Populus Sion (2006) [Malachi 4:1-6 / Romans 15:4-13 / Luke 21:25-36]
Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, Your salvation comes!” (Introit) Have you ever noticed that sometimes the very same event is the source of great rejoicing for some and great disappointment for others. Think of how St. Louis reacted to the outcome of this year’s World Series compared to the way that Detroit did. This same event being greeted differently by different groups is the key to today’s readings.
In the first reading, Malachi describes a day coming, burning like an oven, when the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble and that day will set them ablaze. But the self-same event, the arrival of that day, is for those who fear God’s name, the rising of the sun of righteousness, with healing in its wings, in its rays. The thing to understand is that it is most definitely the same event. For “a day comes” precisely when “the sun rises.” So the day that is a terror to the arrogant and the proud, will be a day of joy, indeed of giddiness to those who fear the name of the Lord.
The reference is clearly to our Lord’s second Advent. When He returns in glory, when He appears again upon this earth, the brightness and light of His appearing will be fire - either terror or joy to all human beings. The way Dr. Luther once put it is that if you long to be free from your sins, if you long to be healed of the sorrows you endure in this age, then the glorious Appearing of Christ holds no fear – it only means that His cleansing fire will burn up the sin and arrogance and pride of your life and bring you a healing will be full and complete: the sins gone, the sorrows wiped away forever.
BUT if you love your sins, if you are very happy in your rebellion against God, if you are among the arrogant – that is, if you insist that you will live you lives your own way, and disregard the commandments of the Lord, living and doing as YOU see fit, then that day WILL be a day of terror to you, for on that Day you will suddenly see the Truth, the Light, the Holiness that rules the universe and to whom you must give an account, and you will shrink in terror before Him. His fire will consume the sin you’re holding onto and so it will consume you.
But while the arrogant who despise God and His Word and His ways are shrinking in terror, a totally different moment in occurring for you who fear His name. You will see Him. Shining before You. The One who was born for you and for all in Bethlehem, taking on human flesh to make common cause against the enemies of the human race, against all the pride that was eating us up and destroying us, against all the devil’s power and death itself. You will see Him who for love of you went to a Cross and offered Himself up to the Father as the perfect human life – offering Himself in exchange for you, in exchange for all the people of the world who will humble themselves to receive this gift. You will see in Him the scars that ever cry out for your pardon and that are eternal testimony of the unspeakable love your God bears for you. The Risen One will be before You, the Child of Mary raised from the dead in a body incorruptible, and you will see Him and run to Him. “You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Joy, because seeing Him you will be healed at last from all the sin and trouble that you so despise, from all the weakness and the constant falling and the tears of repentance, healed of all the sins that eat away at you and that you fight against, and yet that burden you still. That will all be gone. It will be an eternal spring that awaits you!
And notice how our Lord picks up the exact same theme in the Gospel reading. He minces no words that for the unbelievers, the time of the end will be a time of terror. “People fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of heaven will be shaken.” But when these events begin to unfold, when creation itself begins to reel and crack open all around us, it is a moment for His people not to tremble and cower, but to stand up, raise your heads, look to the skies and shout for joy. Why? “Because your redemption is drawing near.”
Our Lord Jesus invites us to think of the signs of the end as the tender buds of spring – when we see the trees break out and the buds swell and open, we know that the winter has past, the Spring has come, and summer itself is near. Just as we love the spring-time and don’t dread it all, so our Lord invites us to see in the terrifying signs of the end, the cracking up of the cosmos, the actual moment when eternal joy arrives for us.
And so He warns us against giving our hearts and minds and attentions just to the stuff of this world – a world which is passing away. “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation (that is hangovers) and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly as a trap.”
He warns His own lest we become so in love with the pleasures and concerns of this life, that we forget that it is a passing life, and that what endures is still to come. He warns us not to love the things of the world so that we look upon His coming not as our liberation from sin and death, but as the spoiling of our fun and our concerns. He warns us not to settle down here – none of us can find on this earth our final home. None. And to imagine it is, to treat the things of this life as the be all and end all of your existence, to cease to long for the day of Christ’s return and your liberation, is to find yourself unprepared and for that day to take you like a trap.
“But stay awake, praying at all times that you may have strength to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man.” Stay awake means not falling into the drowsiness of settling down into this world, and letting its petty cares and pleasures consume your life. Stay awake means when you can’t sleep in the middle of the night to get up and watch and pray for the return of Christ. To pray for strength for yourself, for your family, for your friends and neighbors, that God protect you and them from falling so in love with this life that you forget the better and lasting life that is coming at the Day of the Savior’s return – the day of your redemption.
The Church during these Advent days speaks the Lord’s words of hope and warning to all of us. And she petitions our heavenly Father to stir up our hearts to make the ready the way of His only-begotten Son, so that the Day of His appearing will be a joy and not terror. Already in the Holy Eucharist we are given a foretaste of the joys of that day – for the One who is coming, comes to us even now, mysteriously giving to us that very Body and Blood that we will one day see. The healing begins, but the healing will only be complete on that glorious Day of His return. That is our hope and the Scriptures were written that we might have such hope. (Epistle) Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, Your salvation comes!” (Introit) Amen, He comes!