2 Pet 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Last Sunday somebody picked me up on something I said in my sermon. If you remember (which I know you all do), I was preaching about the fact that the Second Coming, the end of time, could come at any moment. And I said that if Jesus came back this afternoon it would make me realise how many of my priorities are all wrong.
Well, this person asked, wouldn’t I be aware of my SINS if the end of time and the Final JUDGEMENT were to arrive this afternoon? Wouldn’t I be asking myself when I’d last been to CONFESSION and whether that confession had been ADEQUATE enough, or whether it had only been half-hearted?
Well, I said, that would be a different sermon. In fact, today’s sermon.
As I said last week, the Church starts our preparations for Christmas by reminding us of the Second Coming. So, as we heard again in our second reading today, St Peter warned that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” in the night (2 Pet 3: 10, c.f. 1 Thess 5:2; Mt 24:43). There will be a judgement. And so St Peter warns us to “live holy and saintly lives” (2 Pet 3:11) “while you wait”(2 Pet 3:14).
In a related theme, today’s Gospel text has the call of St John the Baptist to “prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3). That call was issued to prepare for Jesus coming as the Messiah 2000 years ago; and it is re-issued to us today to help prepare us for Christmas –when Jesus can come again into our hearts.
At the end of time He will come whether we want Him to or not –come as Judge.
But now, and at Christmas, when He seeks to come as our loving Saviour, He will ONLY truly come IF our hearts are READY for Him.
And our hearts prepare for Him the same way St John the Baptist said back then: REPENT –turn from your sins, as we do especially in the sacrament of Confession.
But, it seems to me, there is an irony, a difficultly, in seeking to prepare for Christmas by turning from our sins. And the problem I see is this: a great many of us get so caught up in worldly busy-ness before Christmas that we are even LESS able to pause and see our sins than we normally are. As the saints down the ages have frequently warned us, worldliness clouds the intellect, it stops us seeing clearly.
So how do I clear my intellect? How do I remove the fog of worldliness?
One important way is to recall that all these worldly things will not last. As we heard St Peter say, at the Second Coming the sky will roar, the elements will catch fire, and the earth will burn up (1 Pet 3:10) –and all our worldly Christmas purchases will burn up with it.
My possessions, including by Christmas ones, will be burnt up and be gone.
My bodily beauty, such as it is, will all be burnt up and be gone.
The only possession that I will have left is whatever love is, or is not, in my heart and soul.
That, and my sins. My sins will be with me -the sins I have not repented of, the sins I have not confessed to have them wiped away, those sins will cling to me as I face the judgement.
We are not reminded of this just to frighten us. We are reminded of this because it is true. And, in particular, we are reminded of this TODAY because it is essential if we are to enter into Christmas with a heart centred on God, a heart full of love and not a heart full of possessions and turkey.
Let me bring this to a very practical conclusion: Go to confession before Christmas. We are frequently recommended to go at least once a month. We should especially go before Christmas and Easter. Next Saturday morning there will be a visiting priest here for confessions. The Monday after that we will have 5 priests here in the evening for confessions. There will be Polish confessions here the Sunday before Christmas before the Polish Mass. These dates are in the newsletter -note them in your diary. And, before that, think of the burning fire on that terrible Day. Think of what will and will not endure in your life.
Because if we focus on what endures (love endures (1 Cor 13:1)) we will also focus on what is most important for making the Christmas festival true and happy. Let us “Prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3).