WE ARE LIVING IN THE AGE OF FULFILLMENT AND SALVATION
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Second Week of Advent, December 05, 2016
Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 84, Luke 5:17-26
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon" (Isaiah 35:1-2).
This is a prophecy of future hope for Isaiah. For us who live in the days of its fulfillment it is a description of the blessings we now have in the Messiah who has finally come. Yet we too still look forward to a fuller coming of God's kingdom in the world, a kingdom of righteousness, peace on earth, and blessings for all. And finally we look forward to Christ's second coming in power and great glory on the clouds of heaven with all his holy ones, and on that day there will be a great light. Christ told us to always prepare for that day and to always be ready for it.
But when did this present age of fulfillment and salvation begin? It began with the birth of Jesus Christ, while angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14 KJV). Peace on earth, goodwill toward men is what Christ's birth in Bethlehem brought to the world. He united God to man, being himself God and man. All who come into contact with him by faith are renewed and divinized by him who brings his divinity into our humanity. United to his humanity, we are also united to his divinity.
This present age of salvation was inaugurated by his birth, which we are now preparing to celebrate at Christmas, but it was climaxed in his death on the cross for our sins. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3) to make reparation for them before God so that a just God could forgive us justly for all our sins, declaring us acquitted and henceforth righteous, for Christ served our death sentence for our sins for us. When we put our trusting faith in him, God declares us righteous. We thus become righteous with the very righteousness of God himself reckoned to us, because of Christ's death on the cross, through our faith in him.
This is how we as individuals enter into this age of peace, fulfillment, and salvation. This is the kingdom of God on earth that Jesus came to bring us. It is available to us all now if we put our faith in him. We do not have to wait until we are good enough or perfect enough to enter into this kingdom of righteousness on earth, because it doesn't come to us through our works, but through our faith, because of Christ's work on the cross.
It is the merits of Christ's death on the cross that earn our entry into God's kingdom of righteousness on earth, not our works or merits, which we would never have enough of to earn such a thing. That is why the Bible tells us so clearly that it is faith, not works (that is, not our works), that justifies us (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). Once justified we can then grow in holiness by doing good works.
The righteousness that God reckons to us through our faith is a divine righteousness, something we could never attain by our own works. That is why St. Paul says, I want to "be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9). God's righteousness is a heavenly gift far greater than anything we ourselves could ever achieve or earn. It is like water in our wilderness, like pine trees, cedars, and cypresses miraculously growing in the desert, as Isaiah prophesies today.
The Jews did not succeed in attaining this righteousness of God. "Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works" (Romans 10:32). About them St. Paul says, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own [through works], they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified" (Romans 10:1-4).
But for those who entrust themselves to Christ in faith it is different. Then Isaiah's prophecy is fulfilled in them. They are the desert that blooms. "The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (Isaiah 35:1-2).
This majesty is the righteousness of Christ that is reckoned to us through our faith, just as Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Christ gives us his own resplendent righteousness to shine within us, an alien righteousness that we did not and could never earn or merit by our human good works. Abraham's faith "was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.' But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,' were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord" (Romans 4:22-23).
This resplendent righteousness of God (Philippians 3:9) is the fulfillment of today's prophecy. We are the wilderness, the dry land, the desert. God's free gift of righteousness, received through faith, makes us glad, rejoice, blossom, and sing for joy. It is the glory of Lebanon with its majestic cedars and cypresses. It is the beauty of Carmel and Sharon. God's righteousness in us makes us "see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (Isaiah 35:2).
Because of Christ's righteousness, reckoned to us, we are transformed. This is what happens to us: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isaiah 40:4-5 KJV).
This is what God allows us to see: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together" (Isaiah 40:5). Indeed "they shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God" (Isaiah 35:2). We shall see his glory within us, the glory of his righteousness that he freely gives to us through our faith in him, for we are the desert that breaks forth with water. "For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water" (Isaiah 35:6-7). This has all been fulfilled in Christ justifying us. Such is his righteousness within us.
This is what he does within us: "I will open rivers on the bear heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together; that man may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the holy one of Israel has created it" (Isaiah 41:18-20). "I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise" (Isaiah 43:20-21).
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