Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44


November 28, 2004, First Sunday in Advent Cycle A

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Every mass we remember the story of salvation when we recite that memorial acclamation. That short formula is a reminder that the story of salvation is the real never-ending story. In a way, Advent is an expansion of that short acclamation with the same purpose: to remind us that the story of salvation is an ongoing story. And it is a story in which we have a major role.

I would like you to close your eyes for a few seconds and focus on the strongest image of Christ that comes to mind.

When we did this exercise in the adult breakout session of Generations of Faith, people came up with a wide variety of images, all of them important aspects of Christ. But interestingly enough, no one focused on the image of Christ as Savior. I say interestingly because we were doing this exercise as a prelude to understanding Christmas by looking at it as part of the story of salvation history.

Today’s Gospel reading is not that easy to understand if we try to understand it as Jesus giving a prediction. Chapter 24 of Matthew’s Gospel is full of stories about the end times. In the Gospel these stories are positioned right as Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem to suffer and die and then to rise again. The stories about the end times lead right into several parables about what his followers should be doing leading up to these end times. Taken together, these warnings that we must be aware and awake, with the stories of the talents and the bridal oil lamps and the great judgment scene reveal how important is the role that all of us have in the story of salvation.

The earliest Christians had a very compressed understanding of the story of salvation. In simple terms, they saw it as something that started with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and they expected it to end within their own generation’s lifetime with the second coming of Christ. As the decades passed after Jesus’ death and resurrection, they started to expand that understanding. They looked back through their experience of the resurrection and started to see origins of the story of salvation in the life of Jesus and the birth of Jesus, and in the preparation for that birth in the centuries of the story of the people of Israel, and then in the Gospel of John all the way back to creation and before. They started to move their vision of the end out past their own lifetimes. And in the broadening of that understanding of the story of salvation, they started to move from an understanding of the story as something that happens TO them, to an understanding of the story as something that happens IN and THROUGH them, a movement from that of spectator to participant.

The type of participant we are, I would suggest, is very tightly tied to our image of Christ. There is so much talk about spirituality today. People use it to mean things that are not physical, or things that have to do with the essence of human beings, or things that transcend the reality in which we live out our lives. But when we talk about Christian spirituality, we are talking about the very specific spirituality that Paul urges us to in that passage from Romans: we are to put on Christ. Every time we celebrate baptism here, we have the godparents hold up the white garment that represents the newly baptized putting on Christ. In the waters of the font, we die to our false selves and rise to new life in Christ. This Christ that we are to put on is the Christ who is coming at the second coming, the Christ who is coming at the end of the world, the Christ who is coming to make people beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. And this Christ is not just Jesus. This Christ has Jesus as its head but it needs us as the body: the arms and legs and heart and lungs and eyes and ears.

This Christ that we put on in baptism, and in the fullness of Christian spirituality, is the Savior of the world. Without that understanding the story of salvation makes no sense. Creation makes no sense; the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago makes no sense; the passion, death, and resurrection of the Son of God make no sense; and the coming of the Son of Man makes no sense.

So let us prepare for the celebration of Christmas by remembering the story. On Sunday evening December 12 we will gather here to listen to that story again. Hopefully in remembering the story, we will get the point that we have a role as active participants. Christ is the savior of the world. That implies that we understand that we all need saving. In understanding our call to be the body of Christ the savior of the world, we see that this saving work of Christ involves our preparedness, our awareness, and our efforts. Without our active participation, the story makes no sense.

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