Our focus in today’s liturgy is on the coming of Our Lord. We call this season of the liturgical year leading up to Christmas “advent,” meaning “coming.” There’s a peculiar phrase that we sometimes use in this season. It’s maranatha, an Aramaic word which expresses, “Our Lord, come!” It’s our invitation to turn our attention to the coming of our Lord, our Savior, our God. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But, like all things spiritual, the coming of our God is a prophetic concept. In the context of spirituality, when we speak of something as prophetic, we mean that, the more deeply we examine it, the more meaning it has. It’s made up of an infinite number of layers of interpretation. We peel one layer off and find another underneath. Of course, there’s always a superficial meaning, but that’s not where we find the spiritual truths. It’s like the wise men from the east who saw a star—but saw more than a star. Only when we take the time and energy to peel away the layers do we encounter the ever-deeper truths.
So today we say, maranatha, “Our Lord, come!” Why? What do we mean? Let’s start with the simplest of all prayers: “Help!” From our human origins, we’ve run up against our crippling or deadly limitations. At some moment, every human being gets to the point of saying, “I can’t.” Only the prophets—the spiritually wise—take the next step, and say, “God can.” And, if we’re sufficiently humble, we’ll then say, “I think I’ll let him.” When this happens, our trust in God that he’ll come to help and save us will no longer be based on faith alone. It’ll be based on our own experience. Maranatha! Our Lord, come!
The prophets, like Isaiah in today’s first reading, looked for a time when the Lord would come to bring order out of chaos and peace out of conflict. Isaiah speaks of nations at war with one another looking to God to come and bring peace. Now, peel back a layer and we’ll find the same longing for peace and unity within nations themselves where factions are at odds, tearing each other and the nation apart. Now, in yet another layer, we find a cry for reconciliation among family members who are estranged from one another and living in animosity. Yet another layer and we find ourselves struggling to find inner peace and harmony. We want to create peace, but we can’t. God can. Maranatha. Our Lord, come!
In Moses, the people of Israel found a leader whom God used to free them from their slavery to the Egyptians. From then on, they longed for God to come with an anointed king—a Messiah—like David who would free them from an even deeper slavery. It was a slavery they carried within them. They couldn’t free themselves from their faults and failings, from their infidelities and idolatries. They couldn’t. God could. Maranatha. Our Lord, come!
The Scribes and Pharisees believed in God. They believed so strongly that they accepted as God’s word the Torah—the Law of Moses. They believed that if they followed the law to the letter, they could create peace and salvation out of their distress. They worked hard at it, but try as they might, they couldn’t make it work on their own. They couldn’t save themselves. They needed a Power greater than them that they didn’t have. They couldn’t. God could. Maranatha. Our Lord, come!
We celebrate the coming of our God to save us in our Christmas and Epiphany liturgies and the four weeks of advent that lead up to them. Our liturgies are prophetic. They’re multi-layered and rich in meanings. On the most superficial level, we spend these four weeks preparing for the festivals of the birth and manifestation of our Savior: Christmas and the Epiphany. But, sorry to say, nothing of any importance happened on the twenty-fifth of December or the sixth of January. Nothing at all. No virgin, no manger, no shepherds, no star, no magi, no infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. Those dates have no importance in themselves. They’re arbitrary, but they’re prophetic. We only find their real importance when we peel it all away.
What it tells us is that God didn’t just wind up the universe like a giant clock and go on vacation. When we came face-to-face with our own human frailty and the stark reality of death and realized we couldn’t overcome it on our own, we called to God for help. And God came to save us. God came to us in the past to show us not only that he could save us, but that he would. God comes to us right now, in the present. We experience and rejoice in his presence because we can see God’s saving power all around us if we’d only look with the eyes of faith. God will come for us in the future. God will never abandon us to death or leave us as orphans. God has come to us; God is coming to us; God will come to us. Maranatha. Our Lord, come!
Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel, “Stay awake!” Stay awake, or you’ll miss it. Don’t take the coming of the Lord for granted. Don’t let the cares and concerns of life dull the prophetic vision of your soul. Don’t become so preoccupied with the superficial that you miss the deeper levels of mystery and sacrament all around you where God speaks to you and empowers you.
And, most of all, don’t let the sufferings and discouragements from all that is superficial blind you to the Power that’s already at work within you. Salvation is now, not two thousand years ago, nor is it millennia in the future. Salvation is now. Christmas is now. Epiphany is now. Our preparation for it is now. The coming of our God to judge the living and the dead is now.
Jesus says, “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Maranatha. Our Lord, come!