Still Needing a Savior

Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Gospel: Mark 13:33-37

Today we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. It is often noted that there is a similarity between the end of the liturgical year, Christ the King, when we look especially to the second coming of Christ, and the beginning of the liturgical year, when we begin to commemorate the first coming of Christ.

In this, the Church is not proclaiming a kind of endlessness of time, as if we are forever doomed to repeat the past. Rather, the anticipation of the first coming of Christ is a type, pointing forward to the expectation of his second coming. But the similarity of these two kinds of anticipation is not merely a coincidence.

In our faith, the chosen people play an essential part – for salvation is from the Jews. We are not to imagine that our Lord revealed himself through his chosen people only for some trivial reason. No. The invisible reality of grace could best be offered to us not merely through communication of words and signs, and not merely through a mute change of conditions, but precisely through the life of an entire nation. This mystery speaks to people from many backgrounds.

In Israel, the salvation that comes from our God first became embodied in the life of this world. Yet there were great failures. Though they were chosen by God, the people were so often unable to respond according to that election by God. They needed more. They needed not just his favor, his choice; they needed Him: “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” They begged the LORD to “rend the heavens and come down.” They wanted God himself to come to them: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” In Israel, all the ends of the earth had seen the saving power of God – yet Israel would forsake the LORD, kill the prophets, and go over to worship other gods, time and again.

This is not because Israel was a peculiarly wicked people. They are people like any other. But not just any people.  Rather, Israel is a sacrament – both a showing and a being of God’s work among us. In this, they are neither merely a historical people like any other, nor merely an external sign pointing elsewhere. God works through them, in them, despite their faults; they sometimes accept him, and sometimes reject him.

What does all this have to do with Advent? What the people Israel show us was their need for a Savior. They were waiting for a Savior, asking God to come to save them. The deeds of God for Israel had not been enough, because they always were unable to remain with him in a final, definitive way.

What happens in Israel in history is to happen to us in mystery. The very testimony of the life of the people Israel shows us our need for a savior. What we are doing in Advent is not pretending as though Christ had not yet come. Rather, we recognize our need to watch for his coming to us. Our Lord himself has told us, “Be watchful, be alert!”

This is not to say that we should be ungrateful for what we have been given to us already. We have been given so much. As St. Paul says, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift”; but he adds “as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have seen God shining in the face of Christ Jesus. Yet we must continue to watch for him, that he may save us – for good. We receive our Lord Jesus Christ Himself in the Eucharist – yet we must return again for Him. We have seen Him, yet He has ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has come upon us, that we may have every spiritual gift, to believe in Him. Yet we must believe, for we do not see Him face to face.

It is not a lack of faith that should cause us to remember all the ways in which we must still await our Savior. There are places where Christians are literally being chased from their homes, tortured, and killed for their faith. There is an epidemic in parts of West Africa. There is rioting in our own streets. And, like Israel of old, we are not even able to ensure that the next generation remains faithful to the Lord.

We still need the Lord. We still must wait for the Lord. We still must await his coming. We still must long for his return. For we believe that only the Lord Jesus Christ can save us. 

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Amen.

--by Fr. Bryan Kromholtz, O.P.

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