RCL Year C Advent 1
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-9, I Thessalonians 3:9-13, Saint Luke 21:25-36

Today marks a new beginning, a new year of grace, as we begin a new Christian Year, whose Gospels, festivals, and fasts replay before our eyes and ears the story of Christ, how Christ came to win us, to save us, and to present us blameless before God.  It all begins today.

But it begins soberly and starkly.  You heard in the Gospel about the signs in the planets, the distress of the nations, the roaring of the sea and the waves, and all the calamities which mark the beginning of the end.

The New Year begins soberly and starkly because of our place on the time-line, the divine sequence of events, in which, in God’s mercy, we participate as well-beloved creatures and servants.  The most recent really big event was the first coming of Christ two thousand years ago as a baby to loving and devoted parents.  Quickly following his birth were his death and resurrection.  And the next really big event will be his coming again, which, the Gospel for today tells us, will see “the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”[1]  We live and breathe between the two, between Christ’s birth as one of us and his return in power and great glory.  Both of these arrivals, both of these advents, we call to mind in the first season of the Christian Year, Advent.

Every year I have my own failure of nerve about the advents of Christ.  Every year I know first hand how pleasant it is to think of the baby Jesus in the crib and how off-putting it is to think of Christ as Judge.  But he is our Judge.  And his judgment is the next big event.  The Gospels, the Church, and the Sacraments all have as their purpose preparing us to meet the Lord, preparing us “to stand before the Son of man,”[2] as the Gospel today tells us.  And they are given to us to give us the hope and assurance we need to meet Lord at that next big event.  As we hear in the Preface of Advent, heard in this Eucharist and throughout this season: “that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.”[3]

I have a suggestion for you as to how you may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing as your Judge.  Do you remember from years ago the Fram oil filter commercials, the ones which said, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”  The commercial suggests it’s better to pay a little more for a good filter today than to pay for the rebuilding of your engine later.  And something like those proportions pertains to divine judgment.  You and I can face divine judgment now, today: confessing to God our sins, repenting of those sins, and having those sins wiped away by divine forgiveness.  If all our wrongs have been removed by daily repentance and forgiveness, there will be nothing left to judge on Judgment Day.  We will be “pure and blameless”[4] on the day of Christ.  The other option is to avoid daily judgments which cause us to face up to our sins and sinfulness, and take our chances on facing God later—when all people will be judged.  That later judgment doesn’t seem to be as pleasant as pre-judgment day encounters with God, where, through Jesus, we have been promised that all our sins will be forgiven, where we will be justified, a word that can be translated, “Declared not guilty.”  Face your sins now or face them later. Face what God was willing, is willing, and will always be willing to do for you to save you from being your own victim, to redeem you from your just desserts, and to reclaim you from just punishment.

Very graciously, God has given us the time to face them now.  Facing them now is what time is for.  Facing them now is how we can face him later without shame or fear, and rejoice, truly eager to look for his coming.

[1] Saint Luke 21:27.

[2] Saint Luke 21:36.

[3] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 378.

[4] Philippians 1:10.