Advent II – Judgment
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 4, 2022
It is an understatement to say that the Church’s treatment of these weeks preceding Christmas is counter cultural. Even though in our opening collect, we prayed that we may “greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer,” Advent is a penitential season and joy seems only visible far off in the distance. And yet the “joy of Christmas” exploded all over the place from the radio to Costco to the Plaza over the last few weeks, while we gather and soberly attempt to reflect on our final destiny – on death, judgment, heaven and hell, intentionally subduing our joy as we take stock and prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming in the manger and at the Last Day.
Last week, Fr. Sean talked to us about death, and this week, it’s judgment. Advent bids us to set our death before our eyes and prepare for the judgment that is to come. Theologians generally talk about judgment as it relates to the “last things” in two ways: the particular judgment and the general judgment. The particular judgment is what happens when a person dies. God judges the individual for his or her deeds, and the person then awaits their final destination (the two traditional final destinations being discussed the next two Sundays). The Church affirms that upon our death, each of us will be called to account for our life, with Christ as our judge. In that moment, we will not be able to hide our darkest secrets and deepest emotions. All will be laid bare.
Just as the time of reckoning arrives at last for the individual, so it does for all of creation in the general judgement. One day in the future, human history will come to its conclusion, and Christ “shall come again, with glory, to judge both the [living] and the dead” as we affirm in the Nicene Creed. Christ will return at the sound of the trumpet, and the souls of the dead will be reunited with their bodies at what we call the general resurrection. At the final judgment, all the departed come before the judgment seat of God, body and soul, no matter their station in life. It will be a day of rejoicing for some and a day of doom for others. Jesus warned in Luke 12, “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.”
Neither the particular nor the general judgment sound like a fun time. This isn’t a sermon topic that one chooses to attract newcomers to the church. The idea of God judging us for our actions doesn’t feel very inclusive and welcoming, bringing back traumatic memories for many of us who were judged unfairly, or who, by the judgment of others, weren’t deemed worthy of heaven. Advent’s reminder of God’s judgment at the hour of our death and at the Last Day isn’t designed to scare us into submission. It isn’t the Church’s way of controlling us to behave a certain way, to prompt us to clean up our act on our own, or to marginalize and exclude. God’s judgment leads us to mercy. And we prepare for God’s judgment by judging ourselves, lest we be judged by the Lord. We examine our lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandment and acknowledge our sins before Almighty God with full purpose of amendment of life. We heed the warnings of John the Baptist and prepare the way of the Lord, making his paths straight in our hearts, turning from our selfishness toward God’s abundant mercy.
But we can’t gloss over the fact that the Day of Judgement will be terrible. Referred to in Scripture by the prophets as “The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord”, it is described in vivid detail in the old Latin funeral hymn Dies irae, which was actually written for the season of Advent. It begins by warning that the Day will reveal God’s wrath upon all injustice and unrepented sin.
The day of wrath, that day,
will dissolve the world in ashes
…the hymn begins. Fear seems to be the only response possible! The hymn continues,
How great will be the quaking,
when the Judge is about to come,
strictly investigating all things!
The trumpet, scattering a wondrous sound
through the sepulchres of the regions,
will summon all before the throne.
Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.
The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden, will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
Judgment shall be according to our deeds, whatever is in the Book. But also in God’s Word is the hope for mercy. Our hymn continues,
What then shall I, poor wretch [that I am], say?
Which patron shall I entreat,
when [even] the just may [only] hardly be sure?
King of fearsome majesty,
Who gladly save those fit to be saved,
save me, O fount of mercy.
Just Judge of vengeance,
make a gift of remission
before the day of reckoning.
I sigh, like the guilty one:
my face reddens in guilt:
Spare the imploring one, O God.
You Who absolved Mary,
and heard the dying thief,
give hope to me also.
God’s judgment leads to his great mercy! It is only by his great mercy that we will make it through that Great and Terrible Day. And so the hymn continues and calls on the Lord who said in the gospel of John, “No one who calls on me will I ever reject.”
My prayers are not worthy:
but You, [Who are] good, graciously grant
that I be not burned up by the everlasting fire.
Grant me a place among the sheep,
and take me out from among the goats,
setting me on the right side.
Once the cursed have been silenced,
sentenced to acrid flames,
Call me, with the blessed.
[Humbly] kneeling and bowed I pray,[my] heart crushed as ashes:
take care of my end.
Tearful [will be] that day,
on which from the glowing embers will arise
the guilty man who is to be judged:
Then spare him, O God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.
As terrible as the judgment that is to come may be, judgment leads to mercy. For the God who mercifully redeems us is the same God who judges us. And he uses the same means to both judge and save: his unconditional love, a love that has both effects – first judgment, then mercy. Advent judgement calls us to put ourselves in in a position – by prayer, fasting and repentance – by watching and waiting – to receive the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ both now and at the hour of our death. That having heeded the warnings of the prophets and forsaken our sins, we may greet the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer with perhaps a bit less fear and a lot more joy. Amen.
 Luke 12:2-3 (NRSVA).
 Exhortation, 1979 BCP.
 Joel 2:31, Malachi 4:5
 Rev 20:12; Romans 2:6
 John 6:37
 This treatment on the Dies irae comes from this blog post by Msgr. Charles Pope: http://blog.adw.org/2011/11/sing-the-dies-irae-at-my-funeral-a-meditation-on-a-lost-treasure/.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!