Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.
What does it mean that God will judge? We hear from Isaiah the words, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Judgment is also described by Saint Matthew from the words of Saint John the Baptist: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
What’s more, our Collect from last Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, has these words: “He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.” And of course those words are carried into two important and authoritative statements of the Catholic faith, first into the Apostles’ Creed and later, historically speaking, incorporated into the Nicene Creed, and point to, and thereby express, what is called the doctrine of God’s judgment. And so we have yet another layer for our Advent prayer and reflection—the intersection of the Bible and creedal doctrine with liturgical season.
So what are we talking about when we are talking about the doctrine of God’s judgment? And how does the doctrine of God’s judgment relate, and even enlighten, the themes of the season of Advent — of Expectation in Week 1, Hope in Week 2, Joy in Week 3, and Acceptance in Week 4? And how can we speak of such a doctrine of judgment — apparently which involves winnowing, clearing, gathering and burning — when our God’s very nature is Charity, whose very nature is to give Himself to His creation completely and genuinely?
Let us understand and grasp first and foremost that we are in the presence of God. We are in the presence of a Judge—a divine Judge, a Judge whose own logic far exceeds any human logic conditioned by time and space. We are in the presence of a Judge whose power is immeasurable—a small example of which is that animals who are natural enemies can be made to peaceably coexist—predators such as a wolf not devouring the lamb, but dwelling with it. The image I have is of the wee lamb, cold under a mid-December moonlit sky, seeking refuge with the warm body of the big wolf, snuggling close to it for heat and strength—God’s power filling the knowledge of both animals, filling their hearts and minds subconsciously, and doing so merely by His presence. We, too, are in the presence of this Judge, and He is in our presence.
We must also understand and grasp that this divine Judge acts. He is not passive and distant; he is present and operational. He is always at work, and He wants us to let Him work on us. He wants us to let Him use His axe on the roots of our sinfulness, He wants us to let Him burn the chaff from our habits, to raise the stones of our self-imposed burdens to the heights of glory. He yearns that the unfruitful dimensions of our day to day living become not merely fruitful, but bountiful with the Holy Spirit. He yearns that our hearts be on fire—that is to say, our very being, aflame with the presence of God—that every person we encounter in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces might have their hearts strangely warmed not by proselyting, not by persuading them by fancy words, not by pestering them with pamphlets or emails, but by our loving presence, which represents Jesus—so that through us, Jesus can walk with the residents of our neighborhood at first unknown, just as the resurrected Jesus walked with the two confused disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Only by His presence did they come to truly know Him.
In Advent, we are reminded as well as that Jesus our Judge acts the more we prepare for Him to come. He acts the more we remember that He is everywhere, and that He has created all things, and fills all things with His blessing. He acts the more that we turn our lives to Him, the more we completely reorient who we are and what we do by the character of God who gave Himself to us and died while nailed to the Cross.
And here we begin to see the true meaning of God the Judge, of Jesus who will come to judge both the living and the dead. Jesus, by being the divine Judge, teaches us how to pray. Jesus, by being the divine Judge, teaches us how to live our life. Jesus, by being the divine Judge, teaches us how to worship God. By our Judge we learn religion. And we learn religion because when Jesus judges, He directs, He coaches, He guides. And when necessary, He corrects, He rebukes, and He condemns. When we delight in His will and walk in His ways, He feeds us so that we are renewed and sustained—that we indeed are filled with Hope, for He is the God of hope. When we do not delight in His will and when we do not walk in His ways, when we veer off the path significantly, He stings us, He burns us, He smites and slays the wickedness in us that has led us off path and separated from the path, and therefore separated from Him. For He is the path to the Holy Mountain—no one, not the living or the dead, comes to the Father except through Him.
Brothers and sisters, ponder this in your hearts this week. Ponder that our God of unquenchable love yearns and groans to be with us. Ponder that all of the Old Testament—of God coming to His people and the people’s disobedience taking them far from him—is summarized by the words of Saint John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Ponder that our divine Judge is actively present everywhere, in all moments of our life, in all places we go, in the brightness of the day and the darkness of the middle of a moonless night. He is everywhere because His love for us is so immense that we cannot escape it. And ponder how this fact of our divine Judge’s presence in all places brings us profound encouragement. If God is in all of us, then our first task, and constant task that ever requires our vigilance, is to work to find harmony with each other. We exchanged the peace with each other not to say hello, but to recognize the harmony with others that Jesus fosters. Let us continue to seek harmony with each other through prayer. For when we do so, God will send forth to us His increase. The increase of the harvest is completely up to God—he will send new disciples not when we think we are ready for them, but only when God decides—judges—that we are ready to receive new disciples, when we show the fruits of our prayer and harmony.
To find this harmony with one another—let us praise, let us rejoice in God! Let us always remember that Christ has welcomed us into His mystical Body. For Jesus the divine Judge is also Christ the bearer of all mercy. He judges—that it, according to the situation—He directs, He coaches, He guides, He corrects, He rebukes, He condemns—so that in so doing, we follow in the example of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, who opened herself to God and allowed Him to speak to her in whatever way He might want to. Prayer is like a window through which the light of God shines. Let us continue in Hope and prayer this week to keep this window open.