Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nothing like judgement to focus the mind!

Hope, Charity and Faith
Advent is the quintessential season of hope. What is hope? Hope is one of the three virtues mother Church calls 'theological virtues': the others are faith and love. Through the growth of these three virtues we grow in knowing God. Faith and love are perhaps easier to understand; so what do we mean by hope? Hope has been described as faith directed towards our future. What hope is NOT, is a vague sense of optimism – hope is very firm and a strengthening virtue, and often depicted pictorially by an anchor; in other words hope helps us to weather storms and keep us steady. Hope is faith directed to the future that is promised through Christ, our future salvation, and the promise of heaven. Through our life in Him, we know that despite adversity in the present, if we remain faithful we have a future in Christ that cannot be taken away. So because Christ's ultimate victory is assured we have an anchor hold on that future, when in the present we may be blown around by the storms of life.

So on this Advent Sunday let us turn our minds towards the future, towards the End things. Amongst the End things we need to consider is what we call Judgement – Final Judgement. What do we mean by it? How does it effect us? Does it give us any hope or indeed joy?

As Christians we do not believe that we are all inevitably going to the same place. If it were inevitable, then we would not need a saviour. But we do need salvation. Our Lord taught that there is an awful choice between two alternatives: that we are always choosing between life and death, light and darkness, and good and evil. We have freedom of will, and we can choose between these two alternatives throughout our lives.

Judgement on the evil choice is not to be considered to be an arbitrary act of God – but as the consequences of our own choices. Judgement, in the Christian sense, is as much consequences of evil choices we have made freely, as an act of God. How is this?

All of our actions can become habitual – they can become habits. We can develop good habits, and we can develop evil habits. Habits form into a settled character. If we have evil habits, then we settle in an evil character; if we have good habits, then we settle in a virtuous or good character. As time goes by, these become more and more fixed in us, until we die.

The thing to remember is that death does not take our character away – whether good or evil. If a person's character is shaped by lust, pride, hatred or falsehood then at death these remain. Death sets us naked before the presence of God's holiness. In God's presence no habit of sin, no sinful character, no vice is hidden – all is revealed for what it is. This is judgement. It is the Day of truth, where nothing is hidden.

In Scripture the experience of coming into the presence of God is expressed as fire. Not that God is causing us pain, but that all that is sinful character within us is incompatible with the holiness of God. God cannot change. God cannot accommodate that which is determined for evil, and bring it into union with Himself!

Freedom of will is a terrible thing! The consequences are that God respects our choices. Habits of sin, which is evil, breeds an evil character, and can lead us to ruin. Consequences! Judgement! So our Lord warned us over and over again to watch ourselves, to pray for strength, and to be ready to stand in righteousness before Him. St Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to:

...confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of God the Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints...

So in Advent we are exhorted to pray, to be faithful, to wait patiently, to be virtuous, and to repent. Our Lord repeated again and again, “Repent and believe”. He wasn't saying that for effect. He meant it. Our core work in this life is to “Repent and believe”. And the good news is that He has given us the means of doing this. He forgave sins, and gave His power to forgive to the Apostles and their successors. We are only to confess with a sincere heart and with remorse, for us to be forgiven – for us to be made righteous.

So in this season of Advent let us take to heart the call to be ready for our Lord's coming, to confirm our hearts in holiness, to respond to the call to repent. Going to confession in this light can be a joyful thing. For having made ourselves right with God, our hearts can have hope and the deep joy that comes from knowing that in Christ all shall be well.

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)