The First of Four Last Things of Advent. Bonus: Funeral Homily on same topic: The Mystery of Death /Transformation in Christ
Readings: Isaiah 2 A stream of people go up to The Lord’s mountain
Psalm Let us go up rejoicing
Romans 14 conduct ourselves in the Light
Matthew 24 Stay awake for the Son of Man.
Theme Advent 1 Virtue of Hope, The Last Things: Overcoming Death. *
Pre-Mass words at the chair: Today we begin Advent. Observe the first candle of the Wreath lit. We talk today about the First of the Four Last Things. Do you well know the Four Last Things, of Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell? Today we address the often skirted-around topic of death. One can try to avoid talking or dealing with death, but it is a reality unavoidable. It is an Advent topic worth of our time. Death comes every day. Thousands of Marylanders “pass on” daily. My next door neighbor mom, Claire, from my teen growing-up years, died on Tuesday in Bowie—I was at her bedside. In the news, I read of Michael, a young adult man who was a rap music star, who was shot to death in a recording studio in Baltimore as part of the record 312 homicides in the city so far in 2019. Very Sad. Also, resting anew in peace this past week is a man, David, who was in his late 50’s, a lifelong member of this neighborhood, and long-time husband to a lovely wife since their Paint Branch High days. I and the parish here hosted the Mass of Christian burial for him last Monday. Last night we had another funeral Mass here for a Ugandan immigrant, Henry, an elderly man who amazingly leaves behind 50 grandchildren. The Advent reality: Death comes daily, and eventually its day comes to everyone. With all my experiences around it for the Church, I can share some perspective, to talk meaningfully on death. Advent asks us to prepare for the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, as told today by the Savior’s own words in Matthew 24. Either the Son of Man will be seen by us in Glory, if we are the final generation, or we will see the Lord upon our death, before that End Time.
HOMILY Advent is about the Return of Jesus Christ, and our being ready for it. There is an ending of the broken earth and its peoples coming, and there is a pre-ending for those who will die before the Lord Jesus’ Return in Glory. So, with that fact: we start out soberly reviewing our readiness for the ultimate things. Advent is about ready to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, upon our earthly finish. We are in Advent season now, with a lot of attention heeded to the Last Things, and preparedness. But yes, it is December 1st now, and one may feel like it’s time to put up Christmas lights, and that’s ok if you do so, but also put some quality time into building your expectation of the Glorious Return of Jesus, that you (yourself, even more than your shining house or tree) would be shining yourself in faith! Did you hear from the letter of Romans today? “Conduct yourselves in the Light.” Meaning: One gets bright and brighter by looking to the Lord Jesus and reflecting of His Light. His Nativity is the Celebration on Dec. 25th we head on to. Christmas.
It may likewise seem like it’s the time right now to act on some good sales, like on a 58-inch Roku TV for only $132, which was on sale on Black Friday and Why Were They Open Thursday evening (?) at WalMart. But—if you were in line, and really needed that deal—then take that desperate shopping spirit and now apply yourself to being ready in due vigilance and readiness for The Lord,( ok?!) Who comes directly to you, when life on earth as you know it will instantly end at death. (Or in His promised Second Coming Arrival.) It’s not a morbid December theme, here, of speaking of these Last Things, but a sure and prudent one to consider how we are ready for Jesus in this New Advent.
The shortest Advent homily I ever heard was one of just four words. The homilist was Craig Everton, my classmate at Mt. St. Mary’s, giving it in our seminary chapel. He said: “Death— are you ready?!” Then, after a minute of silence, the homily was concluded. Four words. He really implied six words: “Death—are you ready… for it?!” But he preached it in four words. I gave that homily approach some discernment for you today. But, sorry, I have more words than that! But Craig’s homily worked, and I still remember it well—even have I memorized it whole!! “Death–are you ready?!”
These 25 days ahead are called Advent and it’s meant to be days of hope and expectation. Advent is the season when we highlight how each believer ought to longingly expect the Lord Jesus’ Glorious Visit to us. It comes either by His promised end-of-time appearance, to see the Lord coming on the clouds of heaven when “every eye shall see Him, every soul shall be pierced by His truth and glorious reality”(Revelations 1:7, Mark 13:26, Matthew 24:30, Acts 1:11, Daniel 7:13)—OR it comes by our physical death, and when (then) we go see Our Lord. In the first, of the End Times meeting, it would mean that you lived to be in the final generation coming. If that comes, then you’ll be seeing first-hand, then, of what the Catholic Church has passed on in hope from her start, that Christ will come in Glory (CCC 668-82) as clearly, fully, ultimately and spectacularly. His Rising from the dead, though, has already revealed this reality and power to us. Jesus is Alive! The Catechism says that “Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to Him. The triumph of Christ’s kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil…. Yet Christ is Lord of eternal life!” For it, we must prepare for Glory time!
For the many who will die or reach the Parousia*, hopefully, we will have learned by then to trust in what Jesus has done for us, in His fantastic promise, that, death (nor earth’s own end) cannot separate the believer from God and His love. Not anymore. Not after Jesus’ Resurrection. (We must overcome the lie or fear that death still could hold power over us. It cannot not. Not if we are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:38-39 proclaims it so. Read the lesson of all the epistle of Romans! Maybe that can be your Advent project.) We must come to understand this new realm of Christ Jesus, so to now see how death has been turned into a Door. Jesus has made that Door a way back in to friendship with God. By His Sacrificial Death and then the Resurrection, He has put the handle of opening paradise on our own side of the door, and He is helping us to learn how to live by trust and friendship with God, in Catholic Faith, so as enter into Glory by our turn of simple trust. Jesus shows us how to turn the handle over death, or even, to “look up, to our redemption being at hand.” Learning to look up (by faith) will also be a skill, like challenging death, as only fully known by the disciple of Christ Jesus. So either by seeing The Lord Jesus’ Return—OR—succumbing to the physical death that is common to all humanity—you will meet and see The Lord. The moment is a-coming!
That is the reason for The First of Four Last Things of Advent being as Death. We talk of it today. Judgment, Heaven and Hell are topics for other Advent Sundays.
I have said how Advent is a time of building our expectation of the Glorious Return of Jesus, that you would want ourselves to be shining in holy faith at His meeting us. Matthew’s gospel reveals to us that Jesus knows of our temptation to lethargy and of our slacking off religiously. In a moment captured in Matthew 24, Jesus pleads for us not to be caught asleep or unaware (or unready) to the glorious side of living. Jesus knows how many sleeping believers there are (–so let us not be one of them this Advent!). Jesus wants us to be warm, excited and awake to this season of hope, even before our Christmas finally gets fully into it. It’s Advent time (even if you slip in some pre-Christmas celebration). Don’t blow off Advent. Oh, that you and I would use the Advent Arrow Prayer phrase deeply and often: “Maranatha. Maranatha!” Which prays, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come, Lord Jesus!” It’s a prayer not just for a future Glory moment, but that of His reign to be taking us now in our hearts and minds and will, in His Church, the Bride, Christ’ Body.
We pray IN the Reign of God as a triumphant shout in the face of death. We pray in the realization that Jesus has won the victory, and can come anytime to claim His prize and end earth’s fallen story as we know it. So in our year-long acclamation in the Eucharistic prayer, we do sing or say: “Lord Jesus, come in Glory!” (In the Mystery of Faith.) Or in another, ‘We proclaim.. and we profess… this Faith, until You come again.” That’s a living here-and-now prayer of hope.
The Big Advent Point is: There’s More coming to life. There is More behind the Door. Glory is calling behind the Door.
A Last Things reality is that death has changed to become an interesting door because of Jesus. It opens to Glory, and it takes our own turning of the knob now by a believing faith, advent hope, and living love—but Jesus is that Door all ready to open Eternal Life for us. Some who keep insisting that they will not trust and give in to Christ will find themselves looking for another door or shoot or way around the main entrance in the AfterLife (Who is Christ, “the Only Way to the Father.”) It will lead them to a death experience as without Christ’ Help, which will be a horrible experience. We’ll talk of that consequence in Advent Sunday 4, but let us zoom in to the important Advent point of celebrating the power of life in Christ that wins out over death. And it’s not just an end-game reality, but a present one. As C.S. Lewis writes for an entire book of his, Eternity must be weighed in to the present moment of the believer. Christ is Coming Again is a present hope; not just a distant happy future. Have you read “The Eternal Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis? If you haven’t, then you should—to get his perspective on Advent’s present meaning. (I also have recommended two other Advent books, for sharing sessions in this season. See the bulletins.) The work of Christ is how He brings the Eternal Promise secretly into our own circle of life—right here and now. Alleluia!
We led off Scripture today with Isaiah’s prophecy ministry; it gave people Israel an interesting new hope, even if in some mystery power over death to it. Isaiah spoke God’s Word saying, basically, ‘My people: This is not all there is to life. One can die already captured by death, walking in the dark towards it as doom. OR. You can be a people of faith led by the Messiah Figure to somewhere great. There’s a Redeemer! Isaiah chapter 2, vs. 1-5 says: “In days to come” (that’s Advent talk) “the Mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established…raised above all… and all nations and her peoples shall have people streaming towards it.” (That’s more Advent talk.) So, God says, while we are not presently living in this mountaintop wondrous kingdom of The Lord, and it is beyond and ahead of us, we are members into it by our life in Christ now, and meant to respond in its victory already won. Like the couple (in Luke 24) who walked on to Emmaus with Jesus on that First Easter Sunday, we are called to go with the Risen Lord in journey (in a pilgrimage to the House of God). We have much to be converted in us as God takes Word and Sacrament to make us new. The Church is called to Glory by her Lord Redeemer Jesus. We should stream towards the Lord’s Mountain, indeed, and not just in being a line of people, but of a people in a stream of God’s grace. Jesus leads people of all nations and ages to follow Him, and get in the flow in His Mercy and Love and even Salvation power over death.
Parishioners and guests, I call you to find the Stream in Adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament this Advent, to Confession (a week from Monday night or other opportunities—or Wednesday at Riderwood), and to get in the stream of the Spirit in prayer life and Bible reading and pondering what Advent means, as we go towards Christmas 2019.
“Death, are you ready?” ‘Yup!
Bonus: A Funeral Homily, covering the same subject…
“I prepare a place for you. So that where I am, you also may be.” Thomas questioned Jesus for more explanation. Jesus said to Thomas and the others: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”
Our gospel of John 14 has some comfort that there already is a place* for us. Death catches God not off guard but very ready for us. Jesus’ Victory has set much in place. (A place could be a mansion, as one Bible translation puts it. I like that translation, and wouldn’t mind to be on the address of 777 Throne View Boulevard and Pearly Gates Parkway.)
I would like for us to try to understand death as in the light of faith today…
Dear friends, we are united today in sorrow at the death of N. The reality of death, with all its pain and sense of loss, confronts us at this moment. But, as we are united in sorrow, we are also united by something else… our Faith. Confronted with the reality of death, we must allow ourselves to be confronted with the reality of our Faith. The reality, I said! Not a maybe, or an I hope so, nor any thing of a fantasy in wishful thinking! A reality of our Faith is that Christ conquers death. We can win out over it in His care—Jesus Christ, Founder of The Church.
Our Faith opens our minds to the whole picture about life, death, and what happens after death. Only in the light of our Faith can we begin to understand what has happened (is happening)… and to not be found afraid, then, but to be pray for N. and one day for ourselves to be ready to open the Door right through death to keep going onward in Christ.
When in our Faith we speak about heaven, and resurrection, and the next life, we do not speak about these things primarily because they give us consolation and strength. They certainly do that, but the primary reason we speak of these things is because they are true. God has spoken His Word to us; we hear it in the Scriptures and in the teachings of our Church, and we respond to it by saying, “Yes, I believe; it is true!” God has broken the silence about death, and told us that He has conquered it! Death was not part of God’s original plan; it came into the world because of sin. Death is not from God; death is from turning away from God. Yet God did not leave us in death’s power. He sent Christ, and our joy is shared especially each Christmas for this Gift of turning things around in a Christ Child, Who then later in 33 a.d. died for our sins on The Cross, as Savior (living up to His Name, Yeshua, God saves. Then Jesus rose again and conquered death! Easter is the breakthrough of God speaking to the world through Christ, His Word, to tell us that He wants to give us victory over death in and through Jesus Christ! He foretold a Second Coming and ultimate Victory of Jesus Christ the Lord, and asked us to live into this New Advent.
Because of this realization of the changes Christ Our Lord has accomplished, a Catholic should not be silent anymore in the face of death! Many people, on coming to a wake or funeral, do not know what to say! Death seems to have the last word. But we who believe are not silent. We speak! Christ is Risen! Death has been conquered! The believer has a New Advent Door, and it has us say: ‘Death can’t keep us from God anymore. It actually leads us to God, and we welcome the meeting after our last heartbeat. If it so happens the Second Coming happens in our lifetime, when Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation, then for those who have held this New Advent longing, we shall be glad that we are going Home.
Death does not have the last word; life does! Christ the Lord does! Death is not the last period after the last sentence of the last chapter of the human story. We go on to another chapter to come! The story can finish fabulously in a person ready for their meeting of a Lord Jesus, Come to fulfill the Great Advent—in the Second Coming, as our body then will be given home for perfect life and union with our soul. And whenever death or the Lord’s Parousia* comes calling on us, the soul, filled with praises for God, in the Marantha spirit, can just pray: “ Come, Lord Jesus! I can rejoice in You, for I have been sneaked away in Christ from the dominion of death and transferred already into the Kingdom of The Father — a kingdom of eternal life. Jesus My Savior and Redeemer, You say to me: “Child, you do not belong to death! You belong to Me!” I joyfully agree with You, Lord! I surely do not belong to death! I belong to You, Lord!”
And I will turn the knob of death’s door to enter in to meet You, Good Shepherd Christ Jesus, for I shall not fear, for You have become the Way into Glory. So, let it be so! Amen! And if You should come first to Me, at earth’s broken story closes, in a Glorious Return, I pray I am one called to be with You forever in Life.