Homily: “On the Four Last Things, Part 1: Death and Expectation”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent, 2018.

The action of God Almighty, of Jesus Christ, King of the universe is afoot. Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals Himself in glory. Our Lord teaches that there will be signs in sun and moon, and stars—the roaring of the sea and the waves: heaven itself shaken. The prophet Zechariah spoke of the valley split in two, in such way that reminds of an earthquake. Let earth receive her King, indeed. Let heaven and nature sing: while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. All of these mighty acts of God are acts of Him casting away the works of darkness—because just as every visible thing is under the charge of a holy Angel, the good angels of Light, there lurks close to every perceivable thing—every creature whether animate or inanimate, visible or invisible—there lurks close by an unholy angel of the darkness. The holy angels invite us to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and to regard the creatures of this earth as made by Him with the purpose of each creature to give glory to God. The unholy angels of darkness, on the other hand, seek to tempt us into self-centeredness, tempt us to use the creatures made by God for selfish benefit, not God’s glory: ever-tempting us to pride, not humility.

Of course the purpose of the Christian journey that begins in Baptism is to grow evermore in our ability to share in God’s joy. Joy as pure, as spontaneous, as natural as the joy we find in the birth of a baby. And so our hymn before the Gospel—Joy to the world—is a petition. We are asking God to bring the joy of heaven revealed in Jesus Christ to all the world. That His kingdom, which is already come, continues to do so until the End of the Days: until the “eschaton,” which means “what’s last.”

There indeed is in Advent a dual character of “it is here already,” and, just as palpable, “it is not yet here.” The perfect image is a woman entering her ninth month of pregnancy. She knows all too well just how much the baby is here already—and that the baby is not yet here. This is why Our Lady, blessed Mary, provides us again with an example of the Christian life: want to know what Advent is really about? Put yourself in Mary’s shoes, in her ninth month of pregnancy, in all ways that your imagination allows: and that is what Advent is like. Already and not yet. And it fits, as well, to connect Mary with Advent. The Church from her early days saw Mary as the fulfillment of the prophesy of daughter Zion—Mary representing Zion, and the prophesy about Zion in the Old Testament culminating in her: Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, the Psalmist sings—out of Mary, perfect in her beauty, God reveals Himself in glory.

This rich sense of expectation, then, is prominent, not just in Advent, but permeating the whole of Christian experience. Change is in the air—change, because something new is happening, something new is coming to be. Jesus taught His disciples to look for signs, so that they would know God’s kingdom has come. And note that the signs Our Lord speaks of are not all easy, pleasant, and comforting. These signs involve fear and foreboding—perhaps some of us feel a kind of fear and foreboding at the prospect of at least six months of traditional liturgy of Rite I using the idiom of sacred English. The signs that God gives of His immanent actions in the world, within our conditions of time and space, are given to us for our discernment—that we can perceive His will for us, that we can perceive His calling to us—our vocation as a Parish.

Saint Paul taught the parish church at Corinth that “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” Death gives way to life. Embracing our Baptism as mature Christians involves a continual process of letting go the things we love, and offering them to God. That process of letting go can be painful for a Parish. What a Parish has done in the past provides a sense of identity to a Parish—this is who we are, because this is what we have done. Being Baptised people does not mean we give up our past or try to forget about the past. Being baptized people, rather, means living into the dual character of Advent—living into the dual character of a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy. That dual tension of knowing that the Kingdom of God has come near through our Baptism, and knowing that something new is coming, but it is not yet here.

When God reveals to a Parish His vocation for them, it indeed is a new birth, a new creation. We have been crucified with Christ. Our old selves have begun to pass away. Let us be open, alert, and watchful. Because as the death of our old selves continues to transpire, our expectation of something new to come is well-warranted, directly from the teaching of Our Lord.

Let us pray. O Holy and ever blessed Spirit, who did overshadow the Holy Virgin-Mother of our Lord, and caused her to conceive by a miraculous and mysterious manner; be pleased to overshadow our souls, and enlighten our spirit, that we may conceive the holy Jesus in our hearts, and may bear him in our minds, and may grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ, to be a perfect in Christ Jesus. Amen.”