Worship, a Preparation for Christ’s Coming

passion-book-cover-smallBlessed John Henry Newman helps us to begin the season of Advent with a sermon titled “Worship, a Preparation for Christ’s Coming.”[1]

He opens with the words of Scripture: “Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.” Isaiah xxxiii. 17. And reminds us that when we die, before reward or punishment, we will be judged. We will stand before the Lord. The whole of Scripture speaks to us of that Day of Judgment. Newman summarizes some of those passages:

And, as they see Him, so will He see them, for His coming will be to judge them. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ,” says St. Paul. Again, “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” And again, “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy Angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory. And before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” [2 Cor. v. 10. Rom. xiv. 10-12. Matt. xxv. 31, 32.]

Both in the Day of Judgment and at the moment of each person’s death, each person will come before God, the Creator and Judge:

We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him.

We cannot forget this importance truth, and that is the reason for religious worship. People often think that keeping the commandments and good works alone suffices. But it is through worship and the sacraments that we prepare to come before the Lord, face to face:

Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us not take lightly that Day of Judgment; He is beautiful yet he is also a consuming fire. “What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]

Advent, thus, should be a time of preparation and purification to see the Lord:

When we kneel down in prayer in private, let us think to ourselves, Thus shall I one day kneel down before His very footstool, in this flesh and this blood of mine; and He will be seated over against me, in flesh and blood also, though divine. I come, with the thought of that awful hour before me, I come to confess my sin to Him now, that He may pardon it then, and I say, “O Lord, Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, deliver us, O Lord!

Newman reminds us that here on earth we walk by faith, not by sight. Christ’s face is hidden behind a veil. Still, in the sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist we have a glimpse of him whose countenance we will one day see face to face.

We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready.

Before God was to descend on Mount Sinai he told Moses to sanctify the people, to have them wash their clothes and to purify themselves. How will we purify ourselves in this sacred season of Advent? How will we prepare to stand before the Son of Man at the moment of death and when he comes in his glory?

 

 

[1] John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 5.

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