Advent Penance Service

Today’s readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7 and Matthew 1:18-24

Isaiah’s lament in our first reading this evening sounds like a lament for every time and place, quite honestly.  Wouldn’t we all prefer to hope that God would come and meet us doing right, being mindful of him in all our ways, mindful of the mighty deeds God has done for us?  But unfortunately, we are sinful people; our neglect of God would justly make him angry, our sins enough to pollute even our good deeds.  It’s a sad state of affairs: it seems like no one calls upon God’s name, no one rouses him or herself out of the sad state of our world to even cling to God.  God forbid that Jesus return in glory only to see us so completely delivered up to our guilt.

And that’s where we find ourselves tonight, I think.  We see sinfulness in our world: wars being fought and terrorism keeping us bound up in fear; the poor neglected and poverty’s sad effect on society; crime is proliferating and apathy increasing.  Would that God would rend the heavens and come down, and put an end to all this sad nonsense!  Even more to the point this evening, though, is the sadness in our own lives: unconfessed sin, broken relationships, cyclic patterns of bad choices and bad actions.  Why have we wandered so far from God’s ways?  Why have our hearts been so hardened that we don’t even fear God anymore?

But in all of this, Isaiah recalls God’s promises:  “Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.”  God’s mercy is beyond anything we can imagine.  In justice, he could leave us to experience the consequences of our sinfulness.  But in mercy, he sent his Son to pay the ultimate price.  There is nothing we can do to make up for our sins, but thanks be to God, he thinks enough of his creation to allow us to be redeemed by the coming of our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The coming of our Savior in the mystery of the Incarnation is the great hope of Advent.  We know that the sad state of our sinful lives and our sinful world is not the end of the story.  We know that God has sent his only begotten Son to be our Savior, to walk among us knowing our grief and pain, our joy and sorrow.  He died on the cross to pay the ultimate price for our sins, and rose from the dead, erasing death’s power to keep us from spending eternity with our God who made us for himself.

Advent, then, gives us the opportunity to prepare to experience the wonder of the Incarnation in our own lives.  We need a Savior to bring us from the grip of death and sin to the embrace of God’s mercy and love.  We need a Savior who will lead us to justice and peace. We need a Savior who will lead us to reach out to the poor and oppressed. We need a Savior who will bind up our wounded lives and world and present us pure and spotless before God on the Last Day. We need a Savior who can bring light to this darkened world and hope to our broken lives. We need a Savior who can bring us God’s promise of forgiveness.

There is an ancient prayer of the early Church that the first Christians would pray in the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven.  In their language, the simple work was, Maranatha which in English is “Come, Lord Jesus.” This is a great prayer for every day during Advent, perhaps for every day of our lives. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives. Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:
Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness and mercy.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.

Joseph had the assistance of an angel to help him to be open to Christ’s coming into his life.  Through his intercession, may we be open to all of the grace that the Incarnation of our Lord brings us.  May we be completely transformed by the birth of Christ into our world and into our lives.  May Christ come quickly to lead us to eternity and help us to navigate the world and all its dangerous obstacles.  Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!