Sunday, November 27, 2005

He's coming . . . but is He safe?

(1st Sunday of Advent-Year B; This homily was given 27 November, 2005, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.)

By now I am sure you have seen the ads for the upcoming movie Narnia. Based upon the series of books called the Chronicles or Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, it promises to be one of the best films of the year. If you have ever read those books, you know that it is a fantastic story.

The magical land of Narnia has been taken over by the evil White Witch, and she casts a spell over the whole land, making it a permanent winter. Four young children enter that magical world and soon find out that the great lion, Aslan, is on the move and he’s coming to break the spell and overthrow the White Witch once and for all.

The story of Narnia—as you may already know if you are a C.S. Lewis fan—is written really as an allegorical tale or metaphor for the story of our redemption. The great lion, Aslan, represents Christ who has come to save us from sin and evil—the “spell” cast over our own world—and to give us new life, a new relationship with God. It is a beautiful and highly symbolic story.

There is a powerful scene towards in the beginning of the Chronicles or Narnia, when the children first hear about the coming of Aslan. They are talking to one of the animals of Narnia, Mr. Beaver, and soon discover that Aslan is a lion.

Naturally the children are a bit nervous about meeting up with a lion, so they ask Mr. Beaver: “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver looks at them for a moment, and he answers, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Today we begin the holy season of Advent, a time to prepare for the coming of Christ, the King of Kings. It’s a great opportunity for us to remember the real story of our faith. What we celebrate is the coming of the one who is not afraid to step into our lives and challenge us to live the Gospel in a radical way, even to the point of giving Him our very lives. That is who we wait for this Advent. Christ is coming, and He’s certainly not safe. But He is good.

Christ comes into a world that resists Him, even rejects Him, but remains ever in need of the help and healing that only He can give. He comes to break the power of evil in this world, to destroy sin by His own suffering and death. Christ is willing to go to the cross, to suffer a bloody and excruciating death in order to bring us back into a right relationship with God.

There is nothing safe about that! When Christ comes, He means business. That is why He tells us four times in the Gospel this morning to be watchful! Be alert! To be ready for Him when He comes.

The prophet Isaiah—who we read from every Advent—understood what the coming of the Lord meant, and even more importantly, why He was coming. In that first reading this morning, Isaiah laments the condition of the people of Israel who are dwelling in the land of captivity, far from their homeland, and far from God. He says:

Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;all of us have become like unclean people,all our good deeds are like polluted rags;we have all withered like leaves,and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
—Isaiah 64:4-5

Isaiah understands their condition; he knows why they are in captivity. They have sinned against the Lord. Isaiah knows that. But he also knows the solution. With great longing for God he cries:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,with the mountains quaking before you.
—Isaiah 63:19

That God would rend the heavens and come down; that is the only thing that will bring hope and healing to the human condition so enslaved by sin; that God Himself would rend the heavens, come down to this earth, and set us free. He’s done that! That is the coming that we celebrate each Advent, as we sing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

He is coming. Emmanuel is coming, and He’s certainly not safe. But He’s good. Are we ready for Him? Are we watching? The verb Christ uses in the Gospel, when He commands us to be watchful and alert, is an active verb. It does not mean that we watch like we are watching TV. We watch as people who are in need of a redeemer, and as people who are expecting one to arrive.

Like the prophet Isaiah, we are ready to admit that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, we are captives longing to be set free. Advent is a time when we make our hearts ready for the coming of Christ by clearing out the things that get in the way of our relationship with Him.

This Advent, I would recommend one gift in particular that we can give to ourselves that we will never be sorry for, something that will open our hearts up to the coming of Christ like never before: Confession. It is the very sacrament instituted by Christ to take away our sins; it brings us healing, a new beginning, and a restored relationship with God.

It may be a little uncomfortable to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially if it has been a while since we have been. But maybe Jesus wants us to be a little uncomfortable this Advent; maybe that is the very thing we need to help us grow closer to God and to make us more like Christ.

After all, He is coming, and although He may not be safe, He is good. Let us make these next four weeks the greatest preparation we possibly can as we watch and wait for the coming of the King of Kings.