Advent Penance Service

Today’s readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

In these late days of Advent, we pray the “O Antiphons.”  These antiphons are the various titles of Jesus as found in Scripture.  Today’s antiphon is “O Root of Jesse” and it is found as the antiphon for the Canticle of Mary in Evening Prayer: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

And we gather here tonight because we do need our Lord to come to our aid.  We are a people who have turned away from our God, numerous times, both individually and also as a society.  We are a people who, try as we might, have a hard time getting a handle on our sinfulness, that cycle of foolish turning away from God that we know in our heads is the wrong way to go.  We find that we are in the same place, over and over, and it is hard to turn back and be on the right path once and for all.  We just can’t do it ourselves.

So it’s good that we don’t have to do it all ourselves, isn’t it?  No one can come to our aid in quite the same way as Jesus our Savior.  Born as a child in a poor family, the expectations of him seemed great: redeeming the nation Israel and restoring its political greatness.  But we know how limited even that lofty vision was: instead, he broke the bonds of sin and death, paying the price we owed for our sinfulness and obliterating the ancient curse that too long kept us from friendship with our God.  Coming to our aid is exactly what God had in mind for us all along.  No wonder that kings stand silent and nations bow down in worship!

The Gospel reading today is from the First Sunday of Advent, in which the Church called us to wake up and realize that the time is running short.  Maybe you’ve felt that way in your Christmas preparations.  Wasn’t it just Thanksgiving a few hours ago?  But as quickly as Christmas has come, so quickly do our lives go, so quickly pass the opportunities to open our hearts and spirits to God.

What if we have found Advent a less than prayerful time?  Have we missed the opportunity to clean up our act, to spend more time in prayer, and generally prepare a home for the Savior to be born in us in new ways?  Have we meant Advent to be a more reflective time, and instead given way to secular concerns and holiday parties and all the trappings of a busy season?  Well there’s two pieces of good news if that’s how you find yourself this evening.

First, God will enter into our lives anyway.  It might not be in the way we expect, and perhaps it won’t be as pleasant as we would like.  But God is not limited by our lack of time.  God does what he wills and never lets anything keep him from coming to our aid.

Second, we have tonight to turn things around.  This is the time to come before our God in the Sacrament of Penance and leave what we’ve come with behind.  This is the time when we can throw off all those dark deeds as Saint Paul urged the Romans, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the time that we can do our small part to beat our swords into plowshares and cure the societal evils that perpetuate war and terror and all sorts of worldwide death.  This is the time when we can step out of the darkness and shine the light of Christ on those parts of us that have been shrouded for too long.  This is the time for us to walk in the light of the Lord, as Isaiah commands.

And so we begin tonight by reflecting on our lives, and opening ourselves up to God’s mercy as we pray our examination of conscience.