Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2021
Fr. William Martin
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice.
On the Last Sunday in Advent, you and I are called to come to know the Word made flesh and to Rejoice. Our recognition of Jesus Christ, the Word made Flesh and our rejoicing are gifts coming to us from the heart of John the Baptist. Today John the Baptist prepares us for Christ’s coming into his Body, the Church, and especially for His first coming, which we remember on Christmas Day. We are called to discover the character which both knowsJesus Christ as the Word and Wisdom of God made flesh and to rejoice in Him.
But first, in today’s Gospel, John the Baptist teaches us to know ourselves and our need for Jesus Christ. The Jews sent Priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. John the Baptist never pretended to be Christ, and neither should we. He confesses that he is not even Elijah the prophet. Malachi had foretold that Elijah would come before the Second Coming of the Lord. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. (Mal. iv. 5) But the Angel Gabriel insists that it is John who shall go before [Jesus Christ] in the spirit and power of Elias (Lk. i. 17). Both are messengers and forerunners. Neither one of them is the Christ. John prepares for the first coming and Elijah for the second. But John shares with Elijah the vocation of the precursor and preparer. John Baptist says, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah. (St. John i. 23) John has come to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of the Lord. His preparation begins with a confession of who he is truly. He calls us too to know ourselves as those who need always make straight the way of the Lord. (Idem)
John comes and teaches us to know who we are. Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is at Hand. (Matt. iii. 2) John teaches us to repent because we are always sinners in need of the Saviour. With John, we are called to confess our sins. John, like Elijah, is a messenger of repentance. Because we are neither righteous nor virtuous, we must make repentance an habitual part of our spiritual lives. But his confession also reveals to us that repentance is only a beginning. Repentance prepares us for the salvation that Jesus Christ alone can bring into our lives. John tells us: I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not: he it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. (St. John i. 26) From the depths of John’s heart we come to know that repentance empties us of all power and strength. John has a baptism with water for repentance, but Christ shall baptize…with the Holy Ghost. (St. Mark i. 8) John’s baptism will cleanse us; Christ’s baptism will sanctify and save us. The one removes sin and the other infuses righteousness.
With John the Baptist, you and I must move out of the world and into the soul. We are too much at home in this world. John comes to teach us that this is not our home. Christians ought to know that this world is a place of passage and pilgrimage, from wilderness and exile to the true homeland and City of our God. Like John the Baptist, like the Apostles, you and I must become courageous searchers and seekers, “who would not cease from exploration…until at… the end of all exploring they would arrive where…they… started from and know the place for the first time? (Eliot, Little Gidding) With them, we must earnestly prepare for the Lord’s coming? We live in a time when the human heart seems so far removed from any need to seek out and find God. We live in a world whose idolatry conceals the knowledge of God. John the Baptist, bearing the spirit of Elijah, calls us away from our idolatry. Anything which claims our time, attention, and money more than God is an idol. Anything that consumes, owns, and possesses us more than God is an idol. The idol could be a political platform, a romantic notion, or even an arrogant assertion of our own will to power. It could be a large house, an expensive car, an obsession with money and taxes, or an addiction to another person. None of these things must ever claim our hearts more than our love for God. If anyone of these things stands between us and God, we must know to get rid of them. Anything which does not reveal to the world our humble, unmerited, and undeserved receiving of God’s costly and precious mercy is an idol. Anything with which we cannot part is an idol. And that idol may stand in the way of another’s coming to Christ. Not only does our attachment to idols stand between us and God but it might very well turn others away from Him also! Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew vi 24)
John Baptist comes to join him in that spiritual journey that calls us to sever our ties to the false gods and idols of this world. He knows also that repentance and self-denial might be dangerous. We might become proud of our good work of repentance and self-emptying while failing then to undertake the more difficult labor of embracing God’s goodness into our souls. Bear fruits that befit repentance, he cries, for even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (St. Matthew iii. 8, 10) With John’s contemporaries, we might ask, What then shall we do? John the Baptist tells us not only to repent but to purge. He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise. (St. Luke iii 11) He tells us also not to desire more than is our fair share in the earthly city. Collect no more than is appointed you. (Ibid, 12) To the soldiers he says, Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages. Why? Because while Johnbaptizes…with water for repentance, He who is coming after me is mightier than me, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (Ibid, 14-16) This is serious business. It might even get confusing. Charles Williams remarks, Let the man who has two coats give one to the man who has none. But what if the man who has none, or for that matter the man who has three, wants to take one from the man who has two- what then? Grace of Heaven! My Sainted Aunt! Why, give him both. If a man has stolen the pearl bracelet, why, point out to him that he has missed the diamond necklace in the corner! Be content…
The outside world and our dependence upon it could land us in Hell. With John, let us know that we have been too attached to the things of this world. Let us repent. The old man must quit splicing hairs and counting the cost! The old man must see that the time has come to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (St. Luke vi 31)John wants us to know that the character of the soul must be prepared to know and welcome the coming mercy of God. We must know also that it is more than we either desire or deserve. God’s Mercy is coming to us and will be made flesh. The coming Christ invites us to know the pattern and movement of perfect love. John tells us to share everything and if we think that we have given too much, we must interrupt our self-congratulations and know that the most that we can give is nothing in comparison to what Christ comes to give us! The Virgin Mother of our Lord has a nice rebuke for us: The rich he hath sent empty away. (St. Luke i. 53) It is all consistent with John Baptist’s insistence that our souls should know Christ’s coming.
John also exhorts us to mourning. When we acknowledge our sins, we ought to mourn over what we have done to ourselves and others. We mourn our own lost opportunities to die to ourselves and prepare more seriously for Christ’s coming. We must pray for the gift of tears. Our physical tears begin to heal those who grieve. Our spiritual tears begin to cleanse us from sin, as St. J. Chrysostom says. Our repentance and mourning promise to play the greatest part in our coming to know God and rejoice in His coming. Our bodies will begin to heal and our souls will be altered for the better. The water that John pours over the heads of penitents symbolizes the tears that purify the soul that awaits the coming of Christ.
The tears that unceasing prayer offers…are resurrectional. (Philokalia) Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew v 4) Rejoicing and Joy constitute our end. Our preparation for the coming of Christ heralded by St. John the Baptist intends to make us new and ripe for rejoicing in Christ’s Holy Incarnation. He longs for us to rejoice in Jesus Christ’s coming to the soul. John’s cry for confession, contrition, and compunction prepares us to run the race that empties us of ourselves and longs to be filled with the salvation that Christ’s birth brings. Only then will our souls receive Christ’s coming with rejoicing. If this power becomes operative in our lives, we shall instinctively perfect confidence and hope in God’s future glory. Today, Christ promises to infuse us with His presence to generate to deepen and perfect our belief and hope that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. So let us close by praying with St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Fill us, we pray, with Your light and life,
that we may show forth Your wondrous glory.
Grant that Your love may so fill our lives
that we may count nothing too small to do for You,
nothing too much to give,
and nothing too hard to bear.
Teach us, good Lord, to serve You as You deserve:
To give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
December 18, 2016
(Above The Apostle Paul, (1627) by Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)
Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2021 (Gaudete Sunday)
Fr. William Martin
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment:yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by my self; yet am I not hereby justified:but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (I Cor. IV. 1-4)
The Third Sunday in Advent from the time of the Ancient Church has been known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice or Be Joyful. And on this Sunday, if your priest is, dare I say, rather Catholically-minded, he will be decked in rose-colored vestments, in contra-distinction to the deep purple of Advent’s other Sundays, when he sports the deep purple of fasting and abstinence. Thus, in another age, when Christians took Advent seriously, embraced the penitential nature of preparing for Christmaswith fear and trembling, the Church chose this Sunday to relieve the Flock of Christ from the rigors of her spiritual discipline. On this Sunday, the Ancient Church exhorted the Flock to rejoice with exceeding great joy because Christ the Coming Light was near and close at hand, about to reveal Himself as the One whose Birth alone would bring the True Life that could overcome the Law of Sin and Death. Today, we are called to rejoice and hope in Christ the Coming Light over and against our suffering and sadness.
We began today’s sermon with words from St. Paul who is reminding the Church at Corinth that the ministers and stewards of the Gospel must lead by example. For St. Paul, the example or pattern is a character of soul that must be the norm for those who will lead Christ’s Flock as little-Christs. St. Paul knows only too well that his example must be one of servanthood -a servanthood that can serve Christ’s Flock because it is serviceable and accountable to Christ’s Judgment alone. The imperfect minister, presbyter, or priest of the Church must be judged habitually by Jesus Christ alone. Only then can he minister and pastor the Flock with any spiritual success. And the trial and error by which the minister is judged by Christ must not be swayed and distracted by the judgment of men, the Law of Man, or the customs and traditions of any age. St. Paul tells us:
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (Ibid, 5)
Christ the Coming Light can alone reveal and disclose the intentions and motivations of all men’s hearts. St. Paul prays that his Flock will understand that he and all faithful ministers must be measured according to their first love, that true devotion to Jesus Christ, by which Christ the Coming Light has had his way with them. First, St. Paul prays that Christ the Coming Light will reveal to his flock that he is consumed with the Cross of Christ. He prays that his flock will begin to understand that the Omnipotent Power of the Crucified Christ has moved his heart and measured his ways so fully that this is his chief desire for them.
It has always and ever been the case that the Flock of Christ has tended to judge her ministers and priests by earthly standards, with worldly expectations, and for human ends. Time and again throughout the history of the Church, the Flock of Christ has been frustrated with the likes of St. Paul and his followers. What frustrates the Church’s members most is the supposed silent and prayerful inactivity of clerics who don’t jump to meet the demands of men who want instant gratification, simple solutions to complex problems, and Transfiguration miraculous moments that prove Christ’s power and presence. I remember the words of old Father Crouse, when as a green and sinful young man, I wanted him to jump into a problem and solve it, to call down thunder from Heaven, and to stop the designs of heretics who were attacking one of our friends with malice. He looked at me quietly, smacked his chops, and said, Don’t just do something, stand there. What he meant, of course, was Do as I do. Pray. Be Silent. Have faith. Take it to the Lord in prayer. Needless to say, my exasperation was quenched, I was ashamed, and I knew that like St. Paul, Father Crouse was exhorting me to spend time with Christ the Coming Light.
To be sure, none of this is easy. St. Paul himself, like all good priests, struggled throughout his life to surrender to the Lord. He knew that he was a sinner, sold under sin and forever tempted by its Law. He writes:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans vii. 14-20)
The tension always exists between the old man ruled by the Law of Sin and Death and the new man striving to be remolded and refashioned by Faith in God’s Grace. Christ the Coming Light is our hope and our deepest desire. But with St. Paul, we struggle to be made better and newer by God’s Grace on this side of Heaven.
Father Crouse, again, reminds us that The Christian soul is a faithful steward of the revealed mysteries. (Advent Meditations) What St. Paul, as a faithful steward, reveals to us in his own life is one who struggles against sin and with hope for Christ the Coming Light. What he rejoices in and draws joy from is Christ’s promise made to His followers and ministered to them by His stewards and priests. Canon Blunt remind us that
[Christ’s stewards] act by His authority, are endowed with His power, and do His work. As His ministers they have in past generations opened the eyes of the spiritually blind, healed spiritual infirmities by the ministration of their Master’s grace, and made life-giving streams of Sacramental power to spring up in the wildernesses and deserts of the world. (J.H. Blunt: The Annotated Book of Common Prayer)
St. Paul is a steward of the mysteries of Christ the Coming Light. His chief role is to steward the Flock of Christ that through Word and Sacrament they might feel Christ’s liberating and saving power inwardly so that they might rejoice with exceeding great joy.
Of course, none of this exceeding glad joy comes easily to God’s stewards and Saints. They all have felt, more than not, that Christ is not present but absent, not near but far removed from man’s earthly sufferings and fleshly expectations. The discomfort felt later by St. Paul, is experienced in today’s Gospel by another great steward, John the Baptist. Today, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus Art thou He that should come or do we look for another. (St. Matthew xi. 2) John is suffering in prison awaiting Herod’s sentence of execution. Perhaps he is confused or hopeful, but with confusion. St. Hilary writes:
[In John the Baptist] the Law became silent. For the Law had foretold Christ, and the forgiveness of sin, and had promised men the kingdom of heaven. John had continued and brought to a close this purpose of the Law. The Law was now silenced, imprisoned by the wickedness of men, and as it were held in bonds, lest Christ become known, because John has been fettered and imprisoned.
(St. Hilary: On the Gospel)
John the Baptist had preached repentance for the coming forgiveness of sins in Christ the Coming Light. John, the herald and forerunner of Christ, is now silenced and has reason to fear that his disciples might lose all hope because of his impending demise. John will experience neither earthly deliverance nor Transfiguration rapture. Jesus tells John’s disciples:
Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Ibid, 4-6)
Christ the Coming Light asks John the Baptist to rejoice and have hope in the miracles which point to the salvation that is coming. Like St. Paul, John will begin to believe that Christ will overcome the Law of Sin and Death. John has prepared all men for spiritual transformation. Christ asks John to hope in His Coming, in the light of the wonders that He performs…and to be set free by an understanding of ‘the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.’ (Hilary, Idem).
John hopes and rejoices in Christ the Coming Light whowill consecrate and crown his repentance and suffering into the service of freedom and lasting liberation. In his end, with St. Paul, John sees his suffering stewardship in relation to Christ the Coming Light.
Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
Today, you and I must soldier on believing in the faith of Christ the Coming Light. Christ is with us through our suffering, our sadness, our loneliness, and our pain. We must believe that Christ the Coming Light is the Forgiveness of Sins. We must never despair. Remember, in His own body on the Tree, we shall find fellowship with His sufferings. With John the Baptist we must repent, believe, hope, and hear Jesus saying Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (St. Matthew xxvii. 20) Now, we must rejoice with exceeding great joy.
Above: The Light of the World by Wiliam Holman Hunt (1855)
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021
by Fr William Martin
Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. –St. Luke 21:33
We have said that Advent means coming, and in it Christ comes to prepare us for His coming at Christmas. Last week, Jesus Christ came to awaken us out of spiritual sleep or slumber in order to purge and cleanse our souls. The urgency of the call was illustrated in Christ’s purging of the Temple at Jerusalem. The temple as the image of the soul and its condition – a den of thieves, should have left us with little doubt about His judgment of our present spiritual character. For this reason, then, we prayed that He might give us Grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life…(Advent Collect) We prayed that Christ the Everlasting Light might penetrate our hearts and souls, freeing up as much room as possible for His imminent coming with new birth in us at Christmas time. Advent’s coming light is the unchanging Word of God, heard and moving the hearts of faithful men, as recorded in the pages of Holy Scripture, and made flesh in the life of Jesus Christ. In both manifestations, Advent’s coming light intends to make our souls spiritual spaces that Christ can indwell by Grace.
Now, on this Second Sunday of Advent, we are called to open our spiritual eyes and understand more fully the nature and work of Christ’s Coming Light. St. Paul makes it very clear in this morning’s Epistle that Jesus Christ is the Light that has come into the world to confirm the promises made to [our Jewish] fathers so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. (Romans xv. 8,9) Jesus Christ is the Coming Light or God’s Word of Promise made flesh. For the Jews, He will be the fulfillment of promised salvation and deliverance from the Law of sin and death. For the Gentiles, He will be the revelation of that mercy and forgiveness that they never imagined could emerge from the heart of a God whom they knew but with whom they could never find lasting communion. He was, in a sense, an Idea rather than a Person, or Someone who seemed more conceptually conceived than actually received in the hearts of pagan men.
Because the promises of deliverance and salvation were made only to the Jews, the spiritual preparation for Christ’s Coming can be found expressed on the pages of the Old Testament as the Word of a Personal God heard and hoped for by the Jewish patriarchs, priests, prophets, and kings. St. Paul tells us that ancient books of the Old Testament were written aforetime…for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Ibid, 4) The Word of a Personal God was full of promise and hope for His Chosen People, Israel. To them, God spoke His Word. His Word was Christ. Through Christ the Word, God promised to come to His people to redeem and save them from the sin and death that separated them from Himself. In the Old Testament, we read of hope for deliverance from sin and death, the choice and consequence of Original Sin. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, the Jews persistently remembered God’s Word of Promise and believed that God would come to save them. To the hearts and souls of the ancient Jews, the coming light was God’s written Word as Promise.
The Coming Light to the early Christians was the fulfillment of that promise in the life of Jesus Christ. For both groups, the Coming Light was embraced in the heart by faith as the unchanging Word of God. The struggle for both the ancient Jews and the early Christians was the temptation that Christ’s Coming Light might be darkened and even extinguished by the changes and chances of this fleeting world. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 25,26) The ancient Jews and the early Christians knew only too well the many temptations that threatened their relationship with God.
What we Christians must realize in Jesus’ depiction of His Second Coming is that the creation is always changing, altering, coming to be, and passing away. When men are mostly moved by earthly things, by creatures that are always altering and forever altered because they are becoming this way or that, there shall be distress, anguish, and disappointment. Those who pursue the false gods of mammon, power, or prestige shall always be overwhelmed with fear for the future. They are hewing out for themselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to describe how most men receive Christ’s coming.
Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (Ibid, 29-31)
St. Hilary says this:
Mystically; The Synagogue is likened to the fig tree; its branch is Antichrist, the son of the Devil, the portion of sin, the maintainer of the law; when this shall begin to swell and to put forth leaves, then summer is nigh, i.e. the approach of the day of judgment shall be perceived.
Men with the eyes of faith will see that the ancient Law from the Jewish perspective (and even Knowledge from the Greek) does not anticipate the Judgment of Christ the Coming Light. It is like the fig tree. St Gregory writes, the fruit of the world, is [always in] ruin [and] the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Idem) To both the Jews who seek for a sign and the Greeks who search for wisdom, the Second Coming would come as quite a shock. What both missed was that the first coming of Christ in the flesh was the Incarnation of God’s Word, Meaning, and Purpose or the Articulation, Expression, and Demonstration of His Loving Will in the flesh for Man. That the God-Man alone must come to instill the forgiveness of sins in the hearts of men and prepare them all for the final Judgment and Reckoning was lost to both Jew and Greek.
This Coming Light that we are called to embrace in Advent is the brilliance of Christ who comes to judge the world here and now. We can see Him only with the eyes of faith. We must not wait for the Second Coming for Judgment. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter iv. 17)
Jesus says that heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away. (St. Matthew xxiv. 35)So, Christ the Coming Light and Word of God must judge us now. Jesus says In patience possess ye your souls. (Ibid, 19) He means, Be vigilant, wait, and watch. He comes to us in the present, but especially in this season of Advent, as one who judges the world and reveals that it is always passing away into its own ruination.
This morning’s message is that we need to embrace the spirit of patience in order to hope for Christ’s Second Coming by welcoming His Coming Light here and now. Our Gospel teaches us that the fear of the Lord in the present time should move us to submit humbly and to patiently endure Christ’s judgment of us. So, we should pray: O Lord, let us fear thy Coming Light here and now, and in fearing thee to submit humbly and heedfully to thy judgment of our lives. Shed thy Coming Light upon our sins, that we may know and confess them. In confessing our sins, give us deeper sorrow for them. Let us desire thy healing power so that we may overcome them. Help us to love the thing that is good and hate that which is evil. Give us patience to suffer for holiness’ and righteousness’ sake. With thy healing power, infuse us with new life, new light, and new hope.
To lend content and understanding to this prayer, today’s Collect exhorts us to the devout perusal of Holy Scripture: Blessed Lord who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise, hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy Holy Word we may ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…(Advent ii, Collect) Our relationship with God comes through His promised Word, the manifestation of Christ the Coming Light and the Word made flesh. Christ the Coming Light is the Unchanging Word of God for us.In patience, we must possess our souls and embrace His Holy Word.
Today, this Coming Light calls us away from heaven and earth, away from all created reality that is always changing and passing away. Patience is the companion of wisdom, St. Augustine wrote. The rule of God’s Word takes much getting used to, and so patience is essential to our discovery of the wisdom in Christ the Light. With patience, we shall begin to see the loving truth in Christ’s Coming Light which enables us to receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save our souls. (St. James i. 21)
The Old Testament is a record of God’s Word communicated to His People Israel as Law, Punishment, Prophesy, and Hope. It was enfleshed partially in the priests, prophets, and kings. The New Testament tells us of God’s Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, we learn all about how Christ the Light of the World is the Word that fulfills Israel’s unimagined Hope. Christ the Light is the Word made Flesh who wins our salvation. In the bright beams of Christ the Light, we see God’s Love for us made flesh. This Love of God in the flesh, the Forgiveness of Sins, will give Himself completely for us to conquer sin, death, and Satan from the Tree of New Life. The Word insists: Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away. Christ the Coming Light is the Word of Divine Desire for us in His Death and beyond.
Please note that further sermons can be found by going to the subheading “Sermons” under
An Advent Sunday Sermon
(And that for Stir Up Sunday follows)
(above: Jacopo Bassano and workshop: The Purification of the Temple)
November 28, 2021
Fr William Martin
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple,
and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer;
but ye have made it a den of thieves.
(St. Matthew xxi. 12, 13)
The traditional Anglican lectionary is one of the few collections of liturgical readings that goes back to the Ancient Church. As Father Crouse reminds us If you consider…the selection of…lessons for the Sundays in Advent, as they appear in [our] Book of Common Prayer, you will find that they are…those appointed in the Sarum Missal of the Medieval Church of England, and are in fact the same as those prescribed in the “Comes of St. Jerome”, which goes back to the Fifth Century. Our own Anglican Reformers decided to opt for the readings selected by the Ancient Fathers since they thought they were probably safer guides to our salvation journey than what might otherwise be selected.
Today’s readings are a case in point. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant and euphoric entry into Jerusalem. Of course, our overly simplistic and literal post-modern minds jump to Palm Sunday. Why on earth, you ask, did the Ancient Fathers choose this reading for Advent Sunday? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas? The answer is, Yes. But according to the logic of the Church Fathers, preparing for the coming of Christ means readying our souls penitently for His Birth. We ought to liken His Birth to a triumphant entry into our souls once again on Christmas Eve. St. Paul tells us this morning that The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans xiii. 12) Christmas is all about the coming Light, the Light which was the Life of men…the Light [which] shineth in the darkness, and the darkness [overcame] it not…the Light that ligtheth every man that cometh into the world. (St. John i. 4,5,9) So Advent, with the Ancient Latin Fathers, means casting off the works of darkness to make room in our souls for the birth of Christ the Light, and this involves readying the soul so that we may joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer.
Our Advent season encourages us to repent and empty ourselves of all darkness to welcome in Christ the Light. Yet, how hard this seems to so many. Today’s materialistic and worldly people do not seem to take Christ’s visitation seriously at all. People these days are moved and defined by earthly riches and mammon. Being so mollycoddled by creature-comforts, their spiritual senses are dulled, and their consciousness of God doesn’t seem to register at all. Casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition seems alien and absurd. Even the very notion of sin itself seems to have been banned the feeling-police to today’s barbarian world. The determination to exorcise and expel all darkness from the soul is punishable as a hate crime! And this because they worship the creature rather than the Creator! (Rom. i. 25) Is it any wonder that the Incarnation of God’s own Son and our Saviour doesn’t seem to move men at all?
So be it. The ways of the world are wicked. As Christians, we must courageously face the darknessif we shall truly welcome the birth of Christ the Light on Christmas Eve. The contrast between darkness and light is essential to our salvation. First, what is this darkness? Is it not an accumulation and accretion, a cluster and conglomeration of vice and sin that stubbornly ignore or reject the Light of God’s Word?The darkness is the will that turns aside from God’s Wisdom, Power, and Love. Darkness is that effect of a hardened heart that defends the self against the influence and rule of the Light of God’s Word.
The darkness is so powerful that it drives us away from Advent’s exhortation to have us consider the Four Last Things. The Four Last Things are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. How do they relate to darkness? Are we afraid of Death? Why else would folks mindlessly fear the darkness of earthly diseases and earthly cures? We Christians must focus on the Judgment. We believe that at death everyone will face God’s Word and Wisdom, Jesus Christ, who will judge each man’s life based upon His Redemptive Wisdom, Power, and Love. If we have repented and done good, we shall be saved. If we have not repented and die in our sins, we shall be damned. From Jesus’ mouth to our ears. Are we ready? Heaven and Hell are the two states of life that follow upon our Judgment. We go to the one or to the other. It is up to us. Perhaps it would be advisable to think about darkness and sin after all.
Advent begins with Christ’s riding into Jerusalem. The crowds of old in this morning’s Gospel respond with Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Ibid, 9) Christ is coming to us. We sing Hosanna because the God of all glory and holiness has stooped down from His heavenly throne to enter our souls to give us one more chance to repent, one further extension of His Mercy so that we might cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life. (Collect, Advent Sunday) We are permitted to sing Hosanna but only if we joyfully welcome the One who comes to purge the temple of our souls and to cast away our works of darkness. The Christ who comes in Advent illuminates us to the darkness that defines our lives. He doesn’t come with cheap Grace to accommodate lukewarm religion. He knows [the] time, [and] that now it is high time to awake [us] out of sleep, for now is our salvation closer than when we first learned to believe. (Romans xiii 11: AV & Knox) Christ comes to cast away the works of darkness. (Idem)
Christ means business. Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Ibid, 12, 13) Materialistic and power-hungry men who take comfort in fleshly gods are in real trouble. If we want Jesus to cast away the works of darkness in our souls, we had better allow Him to purge our systems of the worship of all false gods, be they material or spiritual, who only and ever provide false security through deceit and unbelief! Christ is the Ultimate and Good Physician. He is kind, gentle, loving, and compassionate. But once He administers His anesthesia, He goes after the sickness with zeal and precision. He is determined to rid the temples of the Holy Ghost of all darkness.
On Advent Sunday, we must open our souls to the invasive, penetrating, and dynamic Light of Christ’s coming! St. Paul tells us this morning that our patient-prep for Christ’s spiritual surgery must involve love. If Christ is to enter our souls to purge, cleanse, and wash away our sins, we must not be resentful, angry, or bitter. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We must humbly and meekly acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses. We must shut our mouths and submit to His all-healing power with gratitude and love. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (Romans xiii 8) This means that we must stop comparing ourselves with others, stop judging others, start loving all others and thus focus ourselves on the business at hand. The night is far spent, and the night is at hand. (Idem) Christ the Light is coming to us in this the day of our salvation. Now it is high time to wake out of sleep. (Idem) For they that sleep, sleep in the night. And they that be drunken, are drunken in the night. (1 Thes. V. 7) Alas, for the Day. The day of the Lord is at hand. (Joel i. 15) All sinful things are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians v. 13,14)
My friends, today we are called to slow down and contemplate our darkness in relation to Christ the Light. Advent is all about waking up, seeing ourselves truly in Christ the Coming Light, and longing for the bright beams of His healing light to save us. We need to admit that this world’s false gods have led us into unhappy darkness removed from Christ the Light. In Advent, we must repent. What needs to be alive, zealous, and passionate in us is the willingness to pray more fervently for the purifying fire of Christ’s Light in our hearts. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light. (Eph. v. 8) And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ibid, 11) Then, we need enduring vigilance to be corrected humbly and with eagerness to rebuke the Devil and his enveloping darkness. If we persist in the sanctification, we shall cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of Light now in the time of this mortal life. (Idem) And with that earnest young Elizabethan poet, we shall pray:
Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beams and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us sight to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath.
Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.
Sir Philip Sidney
The Sunday Next before Advent
Stir Up Sunday
November 21, 2021
Wherby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.
(Jeremiah xxiii. 6)
Last week you and I reflected upon a sick woman who pressed through the crowded, noisome business of this world, with persistent faith, to touch the hem of the garment (St. Matthew ix. 20) that Jesus wore, hoping that her effort would rid her of a persistent disease. That woman’s faith stirred her up to reach out to Jesus, the source of man’s salvation and deliverance. That woman was stirred up. Her faith should have inspired us to possess a zeal and passion for the cure that Jesus alone brings into the world, so that even today, on this The Sunday Next before Advent, we should be able to persist in praying for the effects of His cure. Stir up we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. With her, if we have reached out to touch Jesus, our faith is ready to be stirred up into something spiritually stronger and greater. Advent is coming, a purple season, in which we repent and prepare for Christ’s coming to us again at Christmas time. Advent will call us to look within, that the Lord may stir up fuller self-honesty and then confession, contrition, and compunction for our sins. Repentance will then enable us to know our need for the Birth of Jesus Christ in the world once again.
But before we are stirred up, we must refresh our memories with a few practical details about the condition of our spiritual lives. We must remember that God has made us for Himself, and that the chief created vocation and calling of human nature is the good of the soul and its realignment with the Mind and Heart of the Maker. Yet man’s obedience to God’s purpose is not instinctual or natural. Our instincts and natures are handicapped by sin. So, our relationship with God must be rational and volitional. Man is made to be stirred up in mind and heart, to discover, know, love, and obey God. We are created to discover His necessary and omnipresent rule of the universe so that we might invite Him to dwell in us, that we might dwell in Him. (1 St. John iv. 13) We are created to know ourselves in God and then God in ourselves and all others. As the Bishops of the Church of England said in 1922: God’s revelation is a self-communication of the personal God to the persons whom he has made, and it can only be received through a personal apprehension and response. But men are capable of that apprehension and response only as God bestows on them, by creation and by the operation of Grace, the spiritual illumination by which to see…(DCE, p.43) Man is made to apprehendGod through the mind and respond to Him from the heart. Yet, none of this is effectual without God’s Grace. Or,putting it another way, man is a capacity for God –homo est Dei capax. (CSDCC) Man’s nature is suited to know God and to love Him. Man is made in the Image and Likeness of God and so is capable of learning to know as God knows. To perfect his capacity to be like God, he must take what he knows and will it into habits of virtuous and godly living. But he can do this only if the devices and desires of [his] own heart are stirred up and moved by the Grace of God so that the Image of God is made more and more into a true Likeness.
Thus, on this Stir-up Sunday, we are called to be stirred up. But we need to be careful not to confuse this with non-Christian forms of being stirred-up. In the past year we have been stirred up by earthly demons who have given us new false gods to worship. The devices and desires of our own hearts have been distracted by some kind of earthly illness. The powers that be have cast a pall of doom and gloom over our world. Nations that have long since denied God have found their nihilistic hedonism crowned with the idiotic and the absurd. Evidently, humanity is in far worse shape spiritually than we ever imagined. Mankind has been all stirred up. When they learn that they have been sick with and dying of the same things that have always killed them, under a new code-name, perhaps then they will feel stupid enough and sufficiently fed up to be stirred up once again for what matters most in human life -redemption and salvation. So, let’s be clear, despite earthly sickness and suffering that emerge from completely predictable, malicious sources in a sinister world, we are not called to be stirred up by the hungering and hankering after false gods who will only ever land us in Hell with their possession of our affections. Rather, we are called to be stirred up to become the capax Dei, the capacity for God, as God fulfills what the world cannot. Being controlled by the Global Elites who foment hysteria to make money and control us all will lead us to Hell. Being moved and defined by the God of the Universe might just land us Home in Heaven, where those made in the image and likeness of God are meant to be.
Jeremiah the Prophet, who knew all about false gods and what they do to sinful men, can help to stir us up today. He lived some six hundred years before the birth of Christ, in a nation whose spirit had given way to unbelief, treachery, and despair. As a result of internal spiritual decay and disintegration, the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzars conquered Israel and Judah from the east with little resistance. Spiritual corruption within Israel had spawned a moral vacuum with an idolatry that was ripe and ready for foreign conquest and its insidious designs. Israel abandoned all faith and hope in God and thus opened herself to foreign conquest.
And yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah was moved and shaken, stirred up by the ever-present Word of God. The Lord stirred him up to consider the origin of his spiritual vocation. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jer. i. 5) God stirred up Jeremiah to remember that He was the God of Israel, the Creator and Redeemer of the world. God stirred up Jeremiah to remind the Chosen People that each of them was made to become the capax Dei, a capacity for God, whose future could have meaning only in so far as he remembered and obeyed God, hoped in His coming promises, and hanged yet upon His every Word.
BEHOLD, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer. 23.5)
Jeremiah was stirred up to recall his people to the promises of God. Jeremiah would stir up the Jews to remember that God would raise up a righteous branch from His Chosen People and her most honored King. He would prophesy the coming of a Jewish King who would bring judgment and justice to the earth. This King would judge them with His mercy and crown them with His righteousness. This King would enable man to once again become the capax dei –the capacity for God.
In the coming Advent, we ought to work on discovering who we were made to be. Like the people in today’s Gospel, we ought to discover that we can never be made right with God until we feed from His Kingly Hand. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (St. John vi. 5) Jesus looks out with the faith of man for God and the hope of God’s provision for man. He knows that as God’s Word made flesh, He alone can satisfy man’s inmost hunger. Human nature is capax Dei. Earthly sustenance can never perfect man’s potential for God. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. (St. John vi. 7)
To be stirred up to hunger for what is more than the earth can give, we must seek out Heaven’s King and submit to His rule and sway with all our lives. William Law says this.
True Christianity is nothing but the continual dependence upon God through Christ for all life, light, and virtue; and the false religion of Satan is to seek that goodness from any other source.
(William Law, The Power of the Spirit)
For the heart to be stirred up, the conscience must be startled into deepest confession that without God, His Christ, and the Indwelling of our Lord the Holy Ghost, we are doomed to Hellfire and Damnation. We must, with Jeremiah the Prophet, remember that we derive from God, depend upon God for all our hope, and must desire to please God with all our lives. We can do this only by submitting to the King who has come to us from God and out of David’s loins. With Jeremiah, we must see that the barren and desolate wasteland of creation must be joined to God’s Word so that out of its poverty a King might be born for us. Only Jesus Christ, God’s chosen heir, the Image and Likeness of God the Father, born of a woman by the Holy Ghost can be that King who will save us. And so, we must long to be stirred up by the strange birth of an unusual King who comes from a desolate and poor place to make us rich in new and remarkable ways.
Begin from first, where He encradled was,
In simple cratch, wrapped in a wad of hay,
Between the toyleful Ox and humble Ass,
And in what rags, and in what base array,
The glory of our Heavenly riches lay,
When Him the simple shepherds came to see,
Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee.
(An Hymn of Heavenly Love: Edmund Spenser)
When we are stirred up with spiritual appetite for what God alone can give, we shall discover that Heaven’s King comes to us as David’s Son in an humble and simple way. The Babe of Bethlehem, wrapped in a wad of hay, is the same King whose bounty metes out loaves and fishes that multiply over and again with Heaven’s repast until the capax Dei, the capacity for God, is perfected in the Image and Likeness of God. And all this, because our spiritual hunger has been stirred up with a passionate desire for Heaven’s King through spiritual poverty that yields plenty.