Every time the calendar turns I think, now is the time I can get my shit together. The arrival of a new month, quarter or year. The new Lenten season or Easter Sunday or, as of right now, the Advent season. These days on the calendar get me excited that I can stop doing whatever I shouldn’t be doing and to start doing that which I should be doing. Yet I always find myself disappointed that it is an ever-repeating cycle of excitement and disappointment.
This season I hope to break the cycle completely. I seem to have forgotten a lesson I learned in the magnificent book by Gerhard Forde Where God Meets Man. The lesson is that I cannot climb a ladder to God or make myself worthy of His love and grace. Furthermore, I do not need to as He came here in the form of a man to show me how to live a fully human life and to provide all the grace I will ever need.
To think that I can do something to make myself worthy is works righteousness and a dead end, probably born of my Catholic upbringing (thanks a lot Sister Mary Kicks My Ass!). All this only leads to disappointment as I can never attain even the meager goals I put before myself. Hence the endless calendar cycle, which in the end depresses the spirit. It leads to feelings of failure and worthlessness before God. We will always fail the law and subsequently run the risk of thinking that because we are not worthy of God’s love and grace we will not receive it.
As Forde points out this is the voice of the law, which I think is really the voice of Satan, telling us that we are not good enough and that we will never be good enough, that we are dirty, mean and unworthy. I have been influenced by that loud voice too often in the past and my continuing calendar cycle of disappointment runs that risk even today. The Gospel shuts that voice up once for all. The appropriate response to that voice is to turn around on Satan and tell him, yes, I am dirty, mean and unworthy, what of it? For we are something else besides dirty, mean and unworthy; we are forgiven. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus grants us the grace and faith that puts right our relationship with God for all time.
This is a gift freely given. All we must do is accept it. There is much Scriptural support for this in the Advent texts. In Luke 1:26-37 for instance, Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she has been favored by God and would conceive in her womb the Son of God. She is initially perplexed and “pondered what sort of greeting this may be”. She continues with her questions by asking “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” In the end the angel proclaims that nothing is impossible with God and she of course submits to God’s will by stating “Here I am the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This shows us that it is alright to ponder and question but that in the end the faithful say yes.
Note that Mary has done nothing to warrant this honor. There is nothing she could have done to warrant this honor. There was no ladder for her to climb to God. God comes to Mary, as to all of us. If there is nothing Mary did or could do to warrant the grace of God, what does that say for the rest of us? The message is clear; we do not have to do anything but, like Mary, say yes.
Once you say yes to the presence of God made man, then the voice of Satan hiding behind the Law goes away and is replaced by the Good News. It is this simple acceptance, so wonderfully exemplified by Mary that sets us right with God. The calendar, works righteousness cycle is broken. We need not look forward to the next month, week, year or church season to start being “good enough”. God is here NOW and FOREVER. All that we are is changed and what we then do flows from that, with Jesus as our template. Alright, we will still fall short of the glory of God. So what? The gift freely offered is still ever before us. Fall, pick your sorry ass up and say YES! Then move on, assured of God’s love and grace.
We can do this with confidence because the law holds no more sway over us. Do we really need to be told to worship only one God, when we know in our heart that we have accepted the one true God? Do we really need to be told, do not kill, when there is no more hate in our heart? Do we need to be told do not covet when we are profoundly grateful for all that God has given us? We know the answers and it all starts with a simple yes. We need not wait for the conclusion of the Advent season, we can start our celebration right now by saying yes, yes Lord. Advent is a wonderful time of year but it should remind us that we need not wait for what will come but to recognize what has already arrived; Jesus in our hearts. No calendar required.
Praise Be to God