Third Sunday in Advent 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, on this Third Sunday in Advent. On this Sunday, Pastors and Ministers of the faith traditionally preach upon the topic of Heaven. As with the previous two topics, Death and Judgment, the purpose is to focus our lives much more upon the eschatological ramifications of the Incarnation. ‘Eschatological’ comes from the Greek word ‘eschaton,’ which literally means ‘the last,’ as in ‘the last days,’ but which is perhaps more useful to think of as the culmination and the fulfilment of God’s action to save mankind. Usually in this context we imagine the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His glory and majesty; for what is more compelling than Angels blowing trumpets in the heavens as Our Lord descends upon a cloud to separate the sheep from the goats? Surely, this excites the senses more than a baby and his parents in a manger. If the Second Coming is a superhero movie projected upon an IMAX screen, then Our Lord’s Birth is an interview of a classical pianist on NPR. And yet the four Sundays of eschatological emphasis during Advent point specifically to the Birth in Bethlehem in a remote part of the Greco Roman world. The Incarnation is the culmination and the fulfillment of God’s work on our behalf. God descends to man, so that man may ascend to God. This is the greatest act ever performed, and yet in the Birth of Christ Jesus God teaches us that the ascent of our soul is achieved in many small and quiet steps. We go to God in Christ Jesus not like how a rocket ship pushes up and through the Earth’s gravity, but like how a group of hikers walk on a trail together and with their guide up the highest mountain. The hike takes time to complete. The trail alternates from steep to barely elevated. There are teachable moments along the way, where some wander off the path that the guide has prepared for them, and the guide and some helpers climb into the thickets to retrieve them. Hopefully, by the time the hikers reach the top of the mountain, they have been transformed by so many small and quiet moments on the way that they are creatures of light and of love more inclined to the boundless sky above them than to the mountain below. The transformation may be marked by certain milestones like Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage, or Ordination, but for the most part God’s grace will have worked upon those hikers in a manner that is so gradual, even imperceptible, that Heaven will feel in the end like a natural next step for them. Heaven will be heavenly for those hikers precisely because, by the time they get there, heaven will be so natural and normal to them. In the Incarnation, God is making the sacred accessible, indeed as capable of being held and cherished as a baby in his mother’s arms. The more we trek up that mountain, and leave sin behind us, the more normal it will be for us to hold and to cherish that baby in our arms. For grace molds us and trains us in the course of our lifetime to be comfortable and conversant with what is sacred. This is similar to how a parent, or a teacher, lovingly guides a child. As St. John Chrysostom writes: “When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous, to love their fellow men, as all of these are attributes of God, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” What St. John Chrysostom is describing is what heaven is. Heaven is a place, but much more so it is a relationship which we learn naturally and effortlessly to have with God the Father through His Son. Heaven is those small and quiet moments of grace when we take a step up the trail toward God, or when we stop to notice something particularly beautiful along the trail, or when we form a search party with our guide and others to go off trail to rescue one of our brothers or sisters.

That we may come to know Heaven gradually, even imperceptibly, in the course of our lifetime walk with Christ Jesus does not lessen for us the sheer awe-inspiring magnitude of what it really means to be in a heavenly relationship with God and with the faithful. The sacred will be no less sacred just because it will be as normal to us as sin will be abnormal. God is totally accessible to us in His Son, and yet the absolute fulness of His majesty will remain infinitely beyond our grasp into eternity. When freed from sin, and reborn into Christ Jesus, we shall be like God in all ways possible for a created being, and yet we shall not be God. For those afflicted by sin, this fact has inspired rebellion and impersonation. Lucifer rose up against God for no other reason than that God is God, and Lucifer is not. Since then, the fallen angel and his admirers have set up a series of false gods, impersonators, either in the form of megalomaniacal men or dark ideologies. For those freed from sin, the fact that God is God, and we are not, is actually the foundation of our joy and our peace in Him. We may be joyful in knowing that the God we worship is the One and Only God, the One who alone is Holy, the One for whom our souls are alive. We may find peace in knowing that the God who protects and nurtures us is all knowing, all powerful, in all matters just and merciful, and for all reality driven by truth, goodness, and love. Heaven is knowing with total conviction that we shall never experience hardship, nor loss, nor humiliation. Gone is all of the strife and the controversy so inimical to mankind. As St. Thomas More writes: “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” What had been unthinkable, beyond even the wildest dream for which someone could hold out hope, in Heaven is more than possible. It is real, like when in response to the disciples of John the Baptist, Our Lord proclaims: “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf here, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” We know that Heaven will pass away. For all the joy and peace that will be found there, Heaven is still only a prelude to the New Jerusalem and to the higher destiny for which we had been fashioned from the beginning. This post-Resurrection life is almost unimaginable; and yet the reality of Heaven, the glimpses we see of Heaven here on Earth, and the greater fulness of Heaven in the afterlife, prepare us finally and fully for this eternal life in Christ Jesus. We are transformed by heavenly joy and peace, as much as we are transformed for heavenly joy and peace. Let us pray for that grace by which we can be open to the Heaven that is all around us and may learn to live in that Heaven and to share that Heaven with everyone else. And let us pray for that grace by which we can start to see more clearly the Heaven that exists in the small and quiet moments. Christ Jesus is in those moments as much as He is in the Sacraments, and Heaven is when we really can see God’s love everywhere at once.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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