Readings for Sunday, December 11/ 3rd Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 | Psalm 146 | James 5:7-10 | Matthew 11:2-11
As we come on this Third Sunday of Advent, we come with this rejoicing spirit about us. This Gaudate Sunday as it's often called is where we light the rose colored candle and have the option of wearing the rose colored vestments and things are supposed to seem to have a little extra pep in our step spiritually speaking as we know that the time of the Lord draws near, that Christmas is just a couple of weeks away. The prayers of the Mass also echo that same reality. In fact, the word "gaudate" for Gaudate Sunday draws it's place from the first words of the Mass - the entrance antiphon - quoting St. Paul's letter to the Philippians as he writes to them saying, "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near."
It's good for us to rejoice, but it's that latter part, "for the Lord is near" - for many it's a time of rejoicing, but for many others it's a reality of fear that the Lord is near, a concern of the heart. This came to mind as I was thinking of my own experiences in that same reality. And the memory came to mind from my experiences with my parents. Two instances of when my parents came: one of which where I was rejoicing and another which filled me with fear. Rejoicing - it was a time when I was at the house and still pretty young, and there was nobody else at home. It was at night and things were dark, and I was scared because I had heard a noise and I was pretty sure that noise was someone in the house about to kill me. And so, I grabbed my handy golf club and walked around the house ready to bash whatever it was that was there to attack me. I searched every corner of every closest of every room and nothing was there, but there was still this great concern in my heart. And so when my parents drove up in their car in the drive way, it was this great sigh of relief, "They're back! I'm safe. Good." It was this rejoicing knowing that I was safe in the care of my parents. An opposite time was when my parents went to go to the LSU football game and left me at home saying, "Brent don't invite anyone over and don't go anywhere. Just stay here. Play video games, do whatever." They left, and I figured I at least had about four hours or so, so I called my friend Stephen. Stephen came over, he called some other people who came over. We had a pool party in the backyard, and then we decided to go ride bikes around the subdivision, and so off we went. We were making laps and having a good time, when Stephen's mom walked out of his house as we rode by and said, "Brent! Brent! Come here." So I rode over and Stephen's mom said that my mom said I needed to come home right now and that she was waiting for me. The return of my parents was anything but rejoicing in that moment.
Rather it was a great a great fear because I know I was about to get torn up. And it was this recognition that both of those instances were very similar: my parents were gone, I was by myself, and depending on what I chose to do, one filled me with rejoicing at their return and the other with fear. It's the same with Christ Jesus.
Our Lord Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father and reigns in glory now and we await his second coming - whether He comes back and He finds us in rejoicing or fear depends upon us and how we have chosen to live. Last weekend, I spoke about the reality of reconciliation of how the Lord comes to us at Christmas and how He took on our flesh that first Christmas day. A time of rejoicing. A time of being reconciled with God, of not only humanity, but all of creation, is drawn to God, as if pulled by a magnetic. But it hasn't been completed, yet, of course. And so we wait for that final reconciliation, when all things are finally one with the Lord. And that day is the second coming of Christ where the fullness of everything comes to the end - the Last Day.
The Last Day, again, can be a thing of rejoicing in our hearts or it can be a thing of great fear and trepidation. Depends on how we are experiencing our relationship with God in the moment. Where are we with the Lord? This time of year, at the end of Ordinary Time, as well as the beginning of the Advent season, is a time where the Church invites us to reflect upon those things, what the Church calls the "last things" - death, judgement, heaven and hell - the four last things. They are not pleasant for us to reflect upon. Most of us don't take great jot in reflecting on our death and judgement, it's not something we sit and dream about all day looking forward to. Most of us. And yet, it's a reality that every single one of us will face. Jesus Himself tasted death, as did our Blessed Mother. St. John the Baptist, of whom none born of women was greater, he too tasted death - a beheading. Every single one of us, everyone who calls himself a human person will taste death. Whether we are ready for it or not, it will come. And the Church invites us indeed to prepare. Reflecting on that, the Church has said from the beginning, that upon the death of a soul, the death of an individual in this world, they are immediately standing before the judgement of God. They are immediately standing before the Lord and He weighs our life. Were we merciful? Did we show love? Were we forgiving? Did we seek to serve others and the Lord before ourselves? Were we consumed with sin? Were we attached to the things of the world so much that we prefer them to God? And all of these questions will come forward to give us one single answer: Do we desire the Lord above all things or not? And that's the question.
The answer to that determines where we go. For those who die before the coming of the Lord, there are three options for us at our judgement: heaven, hell or purgatory. Hell is the place of eternal separation from God, eternal isolation, eternal pain because we are not even able to love. We won't be able to love anyone else or concerned with anyone else because we will be so concerned about self, and it's a pain for us, a suffering, and a grievous and it goes for all eternity. In the opposite direction, we have heaven, the place where the righteous are called to enter in the heart of God, where we have the communion of the saints, being joined with others, with the saints and the angels, to be filled with all joy, all peace. Where there is no suffering whatsoever, and it too last for all eternity. The great majority of us, I think or at least I pray, will go through purgatory. The place by which our soul is cleansed, purged, of attachments. It's not God punishing us, per say, but us needing to be cleansed to enter into the One who is all holy Himself, to enter into God. Those three places will be the options before us. Purgatory - everyone who goes through purgatory ultimately winds up in heaven, so even there in the midst of purification, there is still great joy because you know you will one day get to the heavenly gate.
That's the course of the normal life of each of us who are called to death before the coming of the Lord. But for those who are still living, things will be a little bit different. On the last day, when the Lord God comes in His glory, we know not when, we know not how, but He will come. The scriptures like it to a bolt of lightening that strikes in the sky, as it may strike in one place, but as it goes forth, it's seen all throughout the area. And such the same with Christ. It's been pondered before, who thinking in very earthly terms, have said that if the Lord comes, surely He'll have to come in time zones. He'll come in eastern time, so that I can see it on the news, we can report, and we have at least a good half hour or so to be able to straighten things up before the Lord comes. If only. But no. When the angel blows the trumpet, as Revelations says, the Lord will be made manifest to each and to all at once. And then each of us will stand to be judged, even without tasting death, there will be judgments. It will be the last day. And at that last judgement, things will be a little bit different because for the souls who have died before the coming of Christ, they will stand as souls. Those who are heaven right now, hell, purgatory, are just souls. They don't have a body. But we profess every week in the Creed, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." We are not talking about the body of Christ; we are talking about your body and mind. We will have bodies at the end on the last day. We don't know what they will look like. We don't know if they will be a little leaner. Maybe I have a little more hair on top and a little less grey, who knows. Whatever our body will look like on that day, it will be glorified. It will be different, changed. And then everyone will stand before God. Those who are still living when Christ comes will stand before Him body and soul. Those who have died will be raised up and will receive their body again. They will receive their body again. From dust we were created, to dust we will return, but then God recreates us again from the dust to give us a body. And so everyone will stand before God, the living and the dead, and will be judged once more. Except at that judgement, there is no purgatory. It's heaven or hell. Period. And it's not that there is an option to change. It's not that those who were in hell before of an opportunity to experience contrition and repentance of heart and they can get into heaven now. No. They are simply condemned in their spirit as well as their flesh. And such the same for those in heaven. They can't have done something bad, they couldn't have messed with the angels a little too much, cause a little ruckus in heaven and now merit hell. Rather, they have their salvation in the spirit as well as in the flesh. And in the end, there it will remain. Flesh and blood in heaven. Flesh and blood in hell. Depending on how we experience our Lord's coming, whether with fear or with joy.
So the Church invites us, challenges us, compels us in a sense, to reflect upon these things, to give them serious attention. All throughout the Church, the saints over and over again have encouraged us to reflect upon the last things because if we don't reflect upon them here and now, we won't be prepared for them when they come. If we don't prepare for death now, when death comes, we feel like we have some work to do. How often it is seen. And so we prepare for the Lord. As we contemplate this second coming of Christ, whether there is fear or rejoicing in heart, if there is rejoicing, good, may it increase - if there is fear, rejoice, because there is time to be reconciled. Again, this time that we have on this earth, however long the Lord permits, is a time to be reconciled with ourselves, to be able to turn away from sin, to be able to detach ourselves from the things that are unhealthy for us, to reconcile ourselves with others, and to be reconciled with our God.
It's the normal course of the Christian life - to draw more and more into the heart of God, and more and more in union with one another. If we are ready, good. If we are not, get there. It's the call of Christ. He's coming. We called upon Him and He will hear us. Come Lord and save us. Come, o come, Emmanuel.