Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


November 27-28, 2010, First Sunday in Advent Cycle A

This may be a strange request after listening to Jesus telling us to be awake and aware but I would like you to close your eyes for a few seconds. While you have them closed, focus on the most vivid image of Christ that comes to mind. When we did this exercise in an adult breakout session of Generations of Faith several years ago, 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 am not going to ask for a show of hands but I would guess that not too many of you focused on Christ as Savior, either. I say interestingly because then, as now, we were entering Advent, the season when we reflect on what it means to say God became one of us to save us.

Today’s Gospel reading is not that easy to understand if we try to understand it as Jesus giving a prediction. Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew’s Gospel contain several stories about the end times. In this Gospel these stories are positioned right as Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem to suffer, die, and then to rise again. The stories in apocalyptic language about the end times are intermixed with several parables about what the disciples 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 a role that all of us have in the story of salvation.

The earliest Christians had a very short sighted 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 timeline for 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; in other words, they started to see the story of salvation, not just as spectators, but as participants.

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 one of 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 when people finally get around to beating 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, this Christ we are called to put on in the fullness of Christian discipleship, 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 whole story. On next Sunday evening, December 5 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, with Jesus as our head and us as the body of Christ. 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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