2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent

Fr. Joseph Levine; December 6, 2020
Readings: Is 40:1-5,9-11; Ps 85:9-14; 2 Pe 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

Jesus Christ, because he is the Son of God made man, is also the eternal One made man. He brought eternity into time in order to bring us who were held bound by time into eternity.

In today’s 2nd reading St. Peter alludes to God’s eternity when he says: with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The meaning is that both the short time and the long time are insignificant in comparison with eternity. Still, we need to understand that insignificance correctly.

You see eternity is not infinite time. Indeed, infinite time, without eternity might be a good way of describing hell. Hell goes on forever. Think of the worst day of your life and having to live it over and over again, like the movie “Groundhogs Day”. In hell, each second of pain seems like a thousand years and is followed by another second equally intense. Hell is not eternal, but it is unending.

What then is eternity?

The question is important because when we fail to direct our hope to eternity, we mistake Christian hope for optimism. Optimism expects everything in the world to turn out well; it is a strange sort of faith in a world that is so deeply marked by tragedy. Further, when we fail to grasp the difference between eternity and unending time, we more readily fall for the deception of the Antichrist, who promises the attainment of paradise in time, a perfect world, utopia, with all problems resolved. (cf. CCC 676)

Eternity is both outside and above the flow of time. If we were to describe time as being like an army of soldiers marching past a high tower, eternity would be like the viewing point from the top of the high tower.

God is eternal and indeed he is eternity.

Our life in this world flows by through time. All we have is the present moment; the past is no more and the future is not yet. Yet the present moment is already passing. The present moment gives us no more than a fleeting and tenuous hold on reality, on life.

The Psalmist prays: Let me know how fleeting my life is! Behold, thou hast made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in thy sight. Surely every man stands as a mere breath! Surely man goes about as a shadow! (Ps 39:4-6)

Our life is fleeting not just because of its overall shortness, even if someone lives to be 100, but every moment is fleeting.

We know this well in every moment of true joy. How we wish it could last, but how quickly it passes and is done with.

In a key passage that was omitted in today’s 1st reading, the prophet was commanded to say, All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field … the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Is 40:6,8) It is necessary to recognize this truth in order to receive the promised consolation.

St. John the Baptist, who brings the prophecy to fulfillment, shows forth its truth both by his manner of life and by the place of his appearance, the desert.

Back to eternity: we actually can get a better idea of eternity from the fulness of our peak moments than from the passage of a long period of time. In those peak moments, when we fell most fully ‘alive’ we get a glimpse of eternity.

The classic definition of eternity was given by the 6th century Christian philosopher, Boethius: “Eternity is all at once perfect possession of unlimited life.” (On the Consolation of Philosophy Bk V)

We are talking about the fulness of life, not full as filling up some container larger than itself, but full because it is not bound by any limit or restriction. We could even say full and overflowing, because through the act of creation God, without any diminution of himself, shares this fulness in a variety of ways with his creatures.

Eternity is the perfect possession of life because, unlike the fleeting moment, it is unmovably stable. The whole fulness of eternity, is all at once, like a passing moment, but it does not pass; there is neither “before” nor “after” in eternity.

Precisely because God not only possesses the fulness of life, but is the fulness of life, that fulness of life needs no process of change, taking place through time, to attain perfection; it is just there, all at once. As he revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush: He is the one who simply is, who simply exists. (cf. Ex 3:14-15) He needs no explanation because he is the explanation for everything else.

Eternity is indeed like a very high mountain standing far above the plain through which the river of time flows. Yet, at the same time, because the eternal God created the world of time, the fulness of eternity is present, hidden in every moment of time, though never contained by that moment.

The presence of eternity, hidden in time, is what gives meaning to passing time, but we are blind to it. When, through a peak moment we gain some glimpse, we make the mistake of trying to hold fast to that moment, as though it contained eternity, but eternity escapes our grasp, while the moment vanishes.

When we succumb to the mania of trying to photograph everything in our life, what happens is that instead of living the moment and letting it pass, we are trying to freeze the fleeting moment lest it escape. Yet as soon as we freeze the moment in the frame of a photo it is dead.

We must learn to let go because we can never grasp eternity; it must rather lay ahold of us.

Now we can begin to grasp the message of comfort that God proclaims through the prophet Isaiah.

The people of Israel were to be led back to Jerusalem after a period of exile on account of their sins; the return to Jerusalem was the effect and manifestation of God’s forgiveness. Historically that took place, on a small scale at least, in 538 BC, when the Persian Emperor Cyrus, gave orders for the Jewish people to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple of God.

But what God wrought in the life of the people of Israel in the time of the Old Testament was itself a prophecy of what he would do for all humanity through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Sin exiles us into the emptiness of life in time, devoid of the presence of eternity. Jerusalem stands for the place where time and eternity meet. When the Lord comes as a shepherd first to deliver his flock from the predators, then to lead them to pasture, he comes from eternity into time to lead us up the mountain of eternity, to the heavenly Jerusalem, to the dwelling place of God.

The mountain is high and steep. You might be afraid to try the ascent. Do not be afraid. If you are little lamb, ask him to carry you in his arms; if you are an ewe, laden with cares, trust that he will lead you carefully.

The comfort of Jerusalem is found in the meeting place of time and eternity; the comfort of Jerusalem is found in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God made man, who is now seated at the right hand of the Father; the comfort of Jerusalem is anticipated here and now in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where time and eternity meet. Here truth springs up from the earth, the truth of Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, while justice looks down from heaven in the gift of God’s grace that make us to become just in his presence.

Advent is not a time of waiting to the arrival of a future that never arrives, but it is the eager expectation for the eternal to descend from on high and enter into time. He did so once, when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary; he continues to do so in each celebration of the Mass; he will do so when the world in its present from comes to an end.

Then those who have merely lived the life of time, one thing after another, without any ultimate meaning and purpose, will simply be swept along into the unending emptiness of hell. Those, however, who have already welcomed the coming of the eternal one and who by doing his will have begun to take part in the eternal reality, will be taken up completely into the eternal ‘now’ that never passes away.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.