Our Resurrection Faith, Part 1: The Basis of a Useful Faith

Sermon delivered on the fourth Sunday before Lent C, February 10, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 6.1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Every three years in between the Epiphany and Lenten seasons, provided Easter falls late enough like it does this year, the lectionary allows us to read St. Paul’s theology on the resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. Given the shoddy teaching about the resurrection, and in some cases the outright dismissal of it, this is an appropriate time for us to talk about our resurrection hope, even though it isn’t Eastertide. So today we begin a three-part sermon series on St. Paul’s teaching about the resurrection. It is my hope and prayer that we will all be refreshed and encouraged by it so that we can continue (or start) to live as people with real hope, obedient to our Lord’s call to do the work he calls us to do as we navigate living in a sin-darkened world.

St. Paul starts out by reminding the church at Corinth and us of the Good News or gospel that he proclaimed, and we need to be clear in our thinking about what constitutes Good News as well. Good News refers to an event that has happened in the world that results in the world and our lives being changed forever. The gospel can energize our thinking about God and how we are to live our lives, but first and foremost it is an announcement about a world- and/or life-changing event. And what was that world-changing event for St. Paul? Actually there were two things as he tells us in verses 3-4: The death and resurrection of Jesus. In these two critically important events for St. Paul and the rest of the Apostles (those who had seen the risen Lord) we find our salvation. Specifically it is our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus that allows us to live life with hope and confidence and St. Paul warns us that if we don’t really believe in Christ’s death and resurrection, our faith is useless and we are therefore lost forever.

So what are we as Christians to believe about Christ’s death and resurrection? St. Paul tells us this as well. He has handed down for us, a term that in the Greek means to carefully transmit for instructive purposes, the Good News that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. The apostle doesn’t tell us if he has specific OT passages in mind or the entire trajectory of the OT. Here it is important for us to remember the stories of Creation and the Fall contained in Genesis 1-3, how God created all creation good and humans to reflect God’s image so we could run God’s good world wisely on God’s behalf. Before the Fall, a term that describes our rebellion against God that resulted in our hostility toward and alienation from God, humans enjoyed perfect communion with God in paradise on earth. God walked with Adam and Eve and they knew him in ways we simply do not, and this perfect communion with God resulted in their perfect mental, physical, and spiritual health. But then came the Fall, our rebellion against God, which got us booted from paradise and resulted in our alienation from God and each other and the introduction of Evil, Sin, and Death as corrupting powers in God’s world and our lives. We have not known perfect health since then. But God being who God is, could not and would not tolerate this state of affairs. God loves his image-bearers too much and wants us to enjoy him, his creation, and each other as he intended for us. So the rest of Scripture contains the story of how God is working to restore his good creation gone bad and us to our pre-Fall state. We would expect no less from a good and loving God who can countenance no evil or corrupting force that dehumanizes us and makes us mortally sick. St. Paul may have had this story of Scripture in mind when he tells us that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 

Now I could spend the rest of the sermon on this topic of Sin’s power alone. The other readings certainly allow it. But that must wait for another day because today we are focusing on the resurrection. Suffice it to say here that St. Paul wants us to understand that on the cross, Christ bore the full force of God’s perfect judgment on our sins so that we would be spared having to suffer it ourselves, and in the process freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power. Nowhere does St. Paul or the rest of the NT writers explain exactly how Christ’s death freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power, only that it did, and so we must accept this by faith if our faith is to be useful to us as St. Paul stated at the beginning of our lesson. As our OT and gospel lessons make clear, whenever human beings become aware of their sinful nature, an awareness that can only come from an awareness of a perfect and holy God, we realize how desperate is our predicament and how unfit we are to live in God’s good and holy presence. Our reaction, then, is to try to escape God’s perfect holiness as Isaiah and St. Peter did. And if God does not intervene on our behalf, we are forever undone and God cannot restore his good creation and creatures gone bad so that we can once again enjoy perfect communion with God and live in his direct presence forever. Christ’s death on the cross, says St. Paul, is God’s solution to this problem. God absorbed his own good and just judgment to spare us and to free us from Sin’s power. In the first part of Romans 6, St. Paul makes clear that in this mortal life we will never be entirely free from Sin’s power and that can make living faithfully, shall we say, um, “interesting” at times. However imperfect our freedom from Sin might be in this mortal life, we are still free and able to act accordingly. This knowledge and belief in the power of Christ’s death to free us from our sins is the basis for us having a useful faith, not a useless one. If you really do not believe that God has paid the price for you in Christ so that you can be his forever, however imperfectly your freedom looks in this mortal life, your faith is useless and you will be picked off eventually by the dark powers. So this should be an object of our constant praying, for God to give us hearts and minds of faith that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. As you come for intercessory prayer and anointing, this might be a good place for you to start should your faith in the power and efficacy of Christ’s death for you be faltering or need developing.

The second part of the Good News St. Paul proclaimed is the resurrection. To proclaim that, however, St. Paul had to first testify that Jesus was indeed dead and buried. He would not have believed the baloney of the swoon theory that states Jesus wasn’t really dead; he was just unconscious and revived in the tomb. No, St. Paul knew the Romans were efficient killers. He knew that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. But, St. Paul continues, on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, again just as the Scriptures said. Like his reference to Christ’s death, St. Paul does not tell us whether he had specific Scriptures in mind or the whole trajectory of the OT in view. Before we go any further, it is essential for us to understand clearly what St. Paul and the other Apostles meant when they used the term, resurrection. 

Resurrection for the apostles and the early Church meant that dead people would be given new bodies, i.e., resurrection dealt with physicality of a new kind in the manner of our risen Lord’s body. Resurrection did not mean life after death or the intermediate state between our mortal death and our resurrection. Former Anglican bishop and NT super scholar N.T. Wright helpfully uses the term life after life after death to describe the resurrection. Neither was resurrection a general term to describe what happens to people after they die, and it certainly did not refer to dying and going to heaven. For St. Paul and the early Church, resurrection meant a new embodied existence not unlike the one the dead person had before. What kind of body did St. Paul have in mind? That’s an important question and one we will examine in two weeks. For right now, however, it is critical for us to understand that St. Paul had in mind a new bodily existence and by definition a new world that would be compatible with those new bodies, the new creation, God’s new heavens and earth. This belief was distinctly contradictory to the rest of first-century pagan thinking about life after death. Almost no other culture believed in resurrection except for first-century Israel, and even there we find groups of people like the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection. That’s why they were sad, you see, and who can blame them?

This, then, was the Good News that St. Paul proclaimed, the twin and interrelated events that left the world changed forever. Prior to Christ’s death for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, human beings remained under the terrible but just judgment of God’s wrath on our sins. Because we are enslaved by Sin’s power and unable to free ourselves from it, we are catastrophically separated from God’s eternal love and trapped in our own worst self, whether or not we realize our predicament. That’s why our feelings about our guilt and sin can be notoriously fickle. As we have seen, however, once we become aware of God’s perfect holiness, the realization of our sinful nature in relation to God’s holiness makes us miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God intends us to be with no way out. That was our pre-crucifixion state. But because Christ has borne God’s judgment on our sins to spare us from it, and has broken Sin’s power over us, however imperfectly that might look in this mortal life, we now have new life and new hope. This is the turning point of human history. The game has changed forever. And when God raised Christ from the dead, he pointed us to our future existence—new bodily life in God’s new world where we will enjoy a restored relationship or communion with God that will be even better than our first human ancestors enjoyed with God in the garden. So the cross and resurrection need each other. The resurrection allowed the first apostles to see that Jesus was no failed Messiah who got whacked by the Romans. His death meant something and on a massive game-changing scale. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection because there would be no one to inhabit God’s new world, and God’s work to restore his good creation and creatures gone bad would be a failure. In other words, the cross made the resurrection necessary and the resurrection confirmed that the NT’s teaching about Jesus dying for our sins was true, just as the OT Scriptures had said. Christ’s death and resurrection were the penultimate act in God’s plan to restore his creation, the final act, of course, being our Lord’s return to consummate his perfect work. No other religion offers a breathtaking hope and vision like this. This is why we call it Good News, my beloved. Once we were lost. Now we are found. Once we were dead people walking. Now we are people with a real hope and a future. We deserve none of this, but it is ours for the taking. It is a gift of sheer grace on God’s part that flows from God’s loving heart for us, thanks be to God! Amen?

With so much at stake, no wonder St. Paul took pains to establish that Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a myth or fairy tale or some human fabrication. I don’t have time to explore all those things today. Suffice it to say that in talking about the eyewitnesses still living in his day, not to mention his own untimely encounter with the risen Christ, St. Paul establishes the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection. And our Christian faith has to be rooted in history because God’s old and new creations by definition are rooted in history. Real lives are changed, new creations come into existence everyday in the context of our individual and collective lives. Our future is living in a physical world with physical bodies. That’s history being played out.

So the question becomes for us, is this our faith? Is this the Good News we have in mind when we say we believe in the Good News, or is it something else? Only the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has the power to save us because only in Christ do we find forgiveness of sins and freedom from Sin’s power. This is why baptism is so important for us because we believe that in our baptism we put on a new identity, Christ’s identity—all other identity politics are a farce and a sham—and in that identity with its attendant lifestyle, we find real hope, real life, and the beginning of a restored relationship with God the Father in whom we live and move and have our being, all made possible by the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. My beloved, if this hope is not sufficient to sustain you in the darkest valleys of your life with the help of the Spirit, nothing can help you in this life. Nothing. 

Our resurrection hope and belief will also affect our thinking on all kinds of moral issues in our world, from sexuality to abortion to our stewardship of the environment and God’s world. The resurrection signals that our bodies are important to God. He paid a terrible price to redeem them and his Spirit lives in our bodies. Therefore, contra to the lies being propagated that our bodies are ours and we can do with them what we want, St. Paul’s resurrection theology proclaims something radically different. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, our bodies are the Lord’s and we must care for them and live according to the Father’s creative purposes and intentions for us. That’s why we are concerned for the total welfare of others, not just their spiritual or emotional existence. That’s why, e.g., we feed the hungry, tend the sick, and clothe the naked. Jesus died for our sins to reclaim our bodies for God and help put God’s world back to rights, and we must not undo this by our selfish and myopic actions. We must also bury our dead in accordance with our belief in the resurrection of the body. How we choose to dispose of our mortal bodies is our last great opportunity to proclaim the gospel to a hurting and unbelieving world, even in our mortal death. 

Think on these things regularly and frequently, my beloved. Talk about them among yourselves and support each other in proclaiming the Truth. Make the Good News yours by faith and let it heal and refresh you. We don’t have to whistle through the graveyard because we know our eventual stay there barring the Lord’s return before then is only temporary. And if you struggle to believe in the resurrection of the body, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it reminds you that you worship a God who calls into existence things that don’t exist and gives life to the dead so that you should expect to be confronted by the unbelievable. Embrace it, as long as it is Scripturally based and time-tested. Like St. Paul, let your resurrection faith change you so that you proclaim the Good News to others. If you really truly love others, i.e., you want the best for them, then proclaim the only message that gives real life and hope. Never be ashamed of the Good News and never let Christ’s enemies inside or outside the Church shame you into silence over your faith. Allowing that to happen might indicate you have a useless faith and no one benefits from that, especially you. But if you proclaim your faith boldly to the world and act accordingly, respecting both your body and others’ along with God’s good creation in ways consistent with the Father’s will, you will find that the power of the Spirit will take your faith and make it a useful and lively one, however imperfectly you live it out. And that, my beloved, is truly Good News, now and for all eternity. Live out that Good News and let God use you to help change his world in the manner he intends. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Candlemas

Sermon delivered on Candlemas Sunday (transferred), February 3, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Candlemas

asato ma sadgamaya

tamasoma jyotir gamaya

mrityormaamritam gamaya

Om shanti shanti shantih

From ignorance, lead me to truth;

From darkness, lead me to light;

From death, lead me to immortality

Om peace, peace, peace

February 3rd, the final day of the 40 days long Christmastide season, is the presentation of the Lord, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or more popularly known as Candlemas.

Biblical basis:

This feast is based on the scripture in Luke 2: 22-40 where the Holy Family journeys to Jerusalem forty days after the birth of Jesus to present him to God and offer sacrifices in the temple.

At this time Mary completes the ritual purification required of women after the childbirth, and Joseph offers the sacrifice for the redemption of the firstborn male, as written in the Mosaic Law.

During their time in the temple Simeon gave his famous prophecy about the Christ Child being the Light to the Gentile nations and a sign for the Jews ,and that a word would pierce Mary’s soul: “ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; Simeon was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him………….Then Simeon bless them and said to his Mother Mary, “ this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be the sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The symbolism of Candlemas is very much connected to Simeon’s prophecy.  On this day the church has a special ritual involving the procession and blessing of the candles, the candles being a symbol of Christ whose birth illumined the world’s darkness.

The doctors of the church have given special meaning to the candles used in Candlemas as a symbol of the incarnate Christ: the beeswax is a symbol of His pure body, the wick His Soul, and the flames His Divinity. Let us see in the flame of our candle, a symbol of Jesus Christ who came to enlighten our darkness. 

The blessing of candles at Candlemas is similar to the blessing of ashes and palms during the Lent and

Easter Season, respectively.  The faithful will often bring candles to Mass on February 3rdto have them

blessed for the use at home throughout the year.  We are keeping the message out there.  Jesus is the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. 

John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  This is the power and grace of light of Christ Jesus.

Let us examine where we failed to embrace His Light and His Will.  Can I personally say like Simeon?

‘Master, now you can dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation.

Do I carry the light of Christ to others?

At the time of Jesus’ birth, the custom was for the mother of a male child to present him at the temple forty days after His birth, along with a lamb and a pigeon as a sacrifice.  Luke’s gospel tell us that Mary and Joseph were poor and could not afford a lamb, so Jesus was presented in the temple with two turtle doves for sacrifice. This shows clearly the family of Jesus was very poor and humble. The Light of the world became poor for us.

Let us continue to reflect on Jesus the Light of the world.

Think of glorious sunrise or sunset you have seen. No wonder some people worshiped the sun as a God in the eastern world (Hindus).  We who more enlightened to know One True God is not the sun but the Maker of the sun.  However we associate light with God, as did our Jewish ancestors in the faith. Bright clouds, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire were signs of God’s presence for them.   The psalmist promised, “The Lord shall be your Light forever” (I saiah60:19).  The light stood for the glory of God.

John 8:12 Jesus said “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. These words imply that Jesus was God as well as the Messiah. Jesus repeats His claim before he cured the blind man (John 9:5).

Light is beautiful and mysterious – like God.  It is one but can be separated into many colors. No one knows if light is made of particles or waves.  In addition light has many functions that makes it a good symbol for Jesus.  Light helps us see things. Jesus gives us the truth about God and about the life, our origin, and our destiny.  Light guides us as we travel.  Jesus guides us safely through life to our heavenly home.  Light promotes growth and life.  Jesus brings us everlasting life.  Light warms and comforts.  Jesus welcomes us and comforts us.  Light dispels the darkness, which stands for evil.  Jesus pierces the darkness of sin and death and conquers them. All the darkness in the world cannot put out one candle flame.  Much more so Jesus cannot be overcome by evil of the world.

John begins His Gospel with” the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world (John 1:9). In the Nicene Creed, we call Jesus” Light from Light.”  Our greatest celebration, the Easter Vigil, opens by lighting a paschal candle from new fire and acclaiming the light of Christ.

A famous poem by John Hendry Newman” Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. / Lead thou me on.  We pray for enlightenment to Christ and His Spirit, who came to us in the form of fire on Pentecost.  Following their lights, we look forward eternal light in God’s kingdom where for all God’s holy ones, “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from the lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light.”  Revelation 22:5

We often take light for granted.

Do we recognize the glory and power of this beautiful light?

Do we recognize Christ our light, could be enough for us for everlasting life?

Being counter-cultural. We live in a dark world, full of lies, hate and confusion. But God’s word tell us to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12) while others are chasing after the physical pleasures and selfish gain, we are commanded to live a different way – to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” Romans 13:14.

Putting yourself out there.  Jesus said.  “Let your light shine before others” Mathew 5:16.  Jesus explained that no none lights a lamp just to hide it under a basket.   A lamp is meant to be placed on a stand to give light to everything around it. Whether you are timid or outgoing, you are called to be a light to the people around you.  That’s only possible if you are taking time to interact with the people and cultivate relationships.

Before you can be light to others, take a look at your own life.  Has sin dulled the evidence of Christ in you?  If there any sin you repeatedly struggle with, write it down and pray over it and if you want make confession with the priest, please do so to receive God’s grace to overcome it.  I am sure then you will be singing “This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine.”

The prophets declare that rote religious practices are of no value unless accompanied by the pursuit of justice.  In other words, God is not interested in Empty words of prayers. He expects true transformation from the faithful acts of true devotion.

We must surrender our trust unto Christ. We must surrender to God out of love but not out of fear.  We can’t see God until we are born again.  Our job is to bring light of Christ to ourselves and to others. I don’t really care who is president, prime minister and chief minister.  But I care only my Lord and My savior Jesus Christ.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may guard us to be holy and to be light of Christ to the world. Amen.

The Extravagance of God

This sermon, delayed a week by last week’s weather cancellation, was delivered on Epiphany 3C, Sunday, January 27, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 62.1-5; Psalm 36.5-10; 1 Corinthians 12.1-11; John 2.1-11.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

What are we to make of that strange but compelling story about Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana? What might we learn from it as Christians who seek to be faithful disciples of our Lord? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We come to our gospel lesson by way of our OT lesson. In it we note the desperation in the prophet’s voice as he resolves to give God no rest until God makes good on his promise to restore his people. Two weeks ago, we saw that God himself had promised to end his people’s exile in Babylon and restore them to the promised land. We also saw that only God has the power to free us from our slavery to Sin, which can result in the most permanent and terrible exile of all. Here we are, several chapters later in Isaiah, and God had apparently not fulfilled his promise to Israel to end their exile. And we all get what this is about because we too are waiting for God to consummate his promises to us in Jesus Christ. Now depending on how we view God, whether we think God is fundamentally for or against us, this waiting can cause us to lose hope and/or stop believing that the promises of God to liberate us and his good creation from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are true. Neither is a good choice for us as Christians because then we are effectively calling God a liar. Others of us want to roll up our sleeves and work harder to bring in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. Notice carefully that Isaiah did none of these things. Instead, he resolved to persevere in prayer like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable (Lk 18.1-8).

Why am I spending time with this? Because if we either lose hope or stop believing the promises of God or attempt to take matters into our own hands, we will eventually be defeated as we saw two weeks ago. If in the end we do not have a vision of God’s new heavens and earth that is robust enough and extravagant enough to help motivate us to keep our eyes on the prize, our faith will always be in danger of being broken by the next setback or catastrophe that strikes us or the world in which we live. We all get about chasing after goals too. Think about that prize in your life on which you set your sights, be it work or school or athletics or love or whatever. It was big enough and compelling enough for you to do whatever you had to do to achieve it. You probably were wiling to endure any setback, persevere against all odds, and sacrifice mightily to achieve your prized goal. Even you geezers out there (you know who you are) can remember doing this when you were the young whippersnappers you no longer are. As our Lord Jesus was fond of reminding us in many of his parables, if we are content to pursue the lesser things of life, how much more should we pursue the greater things of life, like eternal life in God’s new creation? 

And now we are ready to turn to our gospel lesson today because it is the prize every Christian should set his/her sights on, a foretaste of what is in store for us as God’s beloved and redeemed children in Christ. Before we begin, I want to remind us that when I talked about pursuing a prized goal, I was certainly not suggesting that we are responsible for our salvation. Nothing could be further from the truth as we saw two weeks ago when we looked at the grace of baptism. Salvation comes solely from the Lord, but it does require a response, and if we stop believing the promises of salvation in Jesus Christ, we no longer have the ultimate prize to look forward to because without Christ we are no longer God’s redeemed children. 

In our gospel lesson, then, we see the first of seven “signs” in St. John’s gospel, seven being the biblical number for completeness or perfection. Signs in St. John’s gospel refer to Jesus’ miracles, but they are not just supernatural acts. They are significant acts that point us to something greater. Here we see the astonishing extravagance of God manifested in Christ at this wedding in Cana. The wine has run out, a social catastrophe that could have serious legal consequences for the host, and the mother of our Lord asks him to rectify the situation. Please observe carefully that nothing happened until the servants obeyed Mary’s command to, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2.5). Remember that. At first our Lord apparently rebuffs his mother’s request (more about that later), but ultimately he delivers a whopper, producing the equivalent of 600-900 bottles of the finest wine! I see Fr. Bowser twitching in his seat in ecstatic excitement over this prospect. 

So what is St. John trying to tell us? Among the many things we could talk about, first we note the theme of the wedding/marriage covenant, a biblical theme that denotes the gracious call of God to his people Israel in the OT and ultimately to all people in and through Jesus Christ. This theme is also used to describe the intimate relationship between God and his people, a relationship broken by Israel’s sins and ours. No relationship in all creation is more intimate than the relationship between a husband and wife at its best. It is the restoration of this relationship that the prophet sees as the fulfillment of God’s promises for his people in our OT lesson (Isaiah 62.4-5). What could be better news for hurting and broken people who are alienated from God and each other, then and now, than to hear that God loves us as his spouse despite our infidelity? In this wedding/marriage theme we find security, protection, forgiveness, and healing, among others. And we are encouraged to embrace the love of God for us made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ and to be made new again in our relationship with Christ in and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, the wedding feast is an integral part of a wedding where we celebrate the newly formed union of husband and wife. Scripture celebrates likewise with its various images of the wedding feast or Messianic banquet where God’s people will celebrate their union with their rescuer and savior, the Messiah, whom Christians know to be Jesus of Nazareth. This theme is by no means an exclusive NT theme. Listen to this description of God’s great future banquet from an earlier chapter of Isaiah, a passage that is frequently read at funerals:

In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The Lord has spoken! In that day the people will proclaim, “This is our God! We trusted in him, and he saved us! This is the Lord, in whom we trusted. Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!” (Isaiah 25.6-9, NLT)

We note here the extravagance of God’s grace and generous heart on display like it was when Jesus turned the water into wine. People of the world will gather at God’s banquet to celebrate our liberation from all the darkness of this world and to feast on the finest, well-aged wine and choicest meat. None of us deserve an invitation but God invites us anyway. And those who have the good sense to accept the invitation will celebrate the end of their exile and enjoy no second-rate food and drink—we are not talking metaphor here—but the finest food and drink from God’s storehouse of grace. St. John is pointing us to the same promise in our gospel lesson this morning, thus he calls Jesus’ action a “sign.” As the psalmist proclaimed in our lesson this morning, God gives us drink from the river of his delights (Psalm 36.8)!

Second, we note that in providing this finest wine Jesus tacitly approves things that make life meaningful and pleasant: relationships, sexual fidelity, community, hospitality, meals, family, and celebration, to name a few. Contra to those who look for every reason to make our relationship with Christ a lifeless, dour, and grim experience, our Lord will have none of that nonsense in this story. When we are redeemed and healed by Christ, we have no reason to be dour and stingy. Christ gives our mortal life meaning and purpose, even as we live in the darkness of a fallen world and our sinful desires. When we love each other and work at developing healthy and wholesome relationships with all kinds of people, especially the people of God, the promise of this story is that we will find abundance and delight in doing the Lord’s work and obeying him. Engaging in the above activities is part of living the abundant life our Lord told us he came to bring (John 10.10). Nothing else will do it for us. No one other than Christ can give us the joy of love and the delight found in giving generously of our time, talents, and resources for the sake of others. To be sure, there is plenty in this world to make us sad and beat us down. But the hope and promise of having a real and lively relationship with our risen Lord can overcome the darkest darkness because it reminds us that life, wholeness, health, goodness, and abundance are the reality, not scarcity, sickness, alienation, hurt, or death, thanks be to God.

Last, the foretaste of the Messianic banquet that will be ongoing in God’s new creation reminds us to keep our eyes on Jesus the prize because the ordinary things of this life will be transformed when he returns and made more beautiful and abundant than we can ever imagine, just like the new wine Jesus made. Think about the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen—husbands, this is a good time to turn to your wife and tell her she is that most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, it’s good old creation, anti-doghouse practice—and then try to imagine things more beautiful and abundant than that, i.e., try to imagine the unimaginable. This will give you a clue as to what awaits us in God’s new heavens and earth. I don’t know all that that entails, but I do know that our resurrected bodies will be inexpressively beautiful and without defect or sickness or any kind of malady. We will drink the finest wines without becoming intoxicated and we won’t desire to become intoxicated because we will be enjoying unbroken communion and fellowship with God the Father and the Lamb. There won’t be an addictive or lonely bone in our new body, mind, or spirit. The intimacy we enjoy only partly now, we will enjoy in full then. We won’t worry about being unloved or abandoned by God or others because we will be living in the light of God’s presence and the Lamb’s forever! I’m sure my puny imagination does not do justice to God’s new heavens and earth in trying to describe our future life. But one thing is certain, we get a glimpse of the extravagant love and generosity of God in this first sign at Cana. 

Our future, of course, is made possible by the final sign in St. John’s gospel. Spectacular as this first sign is, the most powerful sign of Jesus is his death and resurrection, where the dark powers are broken and our slavery to Sin with its attendant sickness and alienation are forever destroyed. When Jesus told his mother that his hour had not yet come, he wasn’t pointing to his death, but later in the gospel, this was the hour about which he consistently spoke, the hour that couldn’t happen before its time. Without Christ and his sacrificial death and resurrection, we have no future on which to keep our eyes focused because we would still be living in our sins and death would not be conquered. It’s no coincidence that St. John tells us this creation of new wine happened on the third day. Without Christ’s death and resurrection we would therefore have no motivation to live in the manner he calls us to live. Thankfully, because of God’s extravagant love for us, we do have a real future and hope to sustain us in the midst of our darkness and sorrow (cf. Jeremiah 29.11). When we obey Christ, we allow ourselves to live life and live it in the abundance of God’s extravagant love and grace first revealed by our Lord at Cana. 

So what’s this all mean for us at St. Augie’s? First, we are to celebrate in ongoing and diverse ways the gifts of healing, wholeness, and life given us by God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no reason for any Christian to live a joyless life, even in the midst of sorrow. Having a joy that is not contingent on the circumstances of life will go a long way in helping us deal with our sorrows when they come. Second, we get a taste of the future real deal (new creation) each week when we come to the Table and feast on our Lord. That’s why we serve you fine port wine and bread. It mirrors imperfectly Christ’s banquet in the new creation where bitterness is no more. When you take in Jesus at the eucharist, he should be sweet to your palate and leave you wanting more because of Who he is and what he has done for you. So let me ask you this: As you return from the Lord’s Table and/or when you leave worship, would people mistake you for wedding guests or party goers? If not, I challenge you to examine your new creation theology because chances are it is lacking in significant ways. Last, it means we are to take our relationship with each other seriously and celebrate those relationships, along with our relationship with God, whenever we can. How we treat each other as family members matters to our Lord and it should matter to us. Today, we are receiving two new families into our parish family. I can’t think of a better topic with which to welcome them than by reminding us all that we have a hope and a promise to look forward to as well as a command for us to love each other extravagantly. Let us all continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come in full on earth as it is in heaven and for Christ to give us the grace to be obedient to him so that we will never turn his extravagant wine into water on our watch. After all, the only reason we have to celebrate is God’s extravagant and gracious love for us made known supremely in Christ and him crucified. And that, my beloved, is Good News, extravagantly so, now and for all eternity. So go celebrate and make others wonder what is your secret so you can explain it to them. Maybe even invite them to have a glass of the finest wine with you at the wedding feast of which you are a part so that they too can experience the new eschatological joy you do. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

But Now: The Power and Promise of Baptism

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 1C, The Baptism of Christ, Sunday, January 13, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 43.1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8.14-17; Luke 3.15-17, 21-22.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

As we do each year, we celebrate the baptism of Christ on this first Sunday after the Epiphany. Why do we do that? What’s the big deal about our Lord’s baptism and by extension our own? This is what I want us to look at this morning as we prepare to welcome a new member into Christ’s family here at St. Augustine’s.

In our OT lesson this morning, we find God’s response to his people’s ongoing sin and rebellion. In the previous chapter of Isaiah, as is typical in prophetic oracles, God has warned his people about his coming judgment on their sins. He formed and created them to be his light to a world riddled with sin and darkness. God called his people Israel to be his true image-bearers whom God would use to help restore his good creation and its creatures to their right minds so that God’s goodness and justice and health would reign instead of evil and sickness and death. But God’s people Israel had been just like the nations God called them to help heal. They had worshiped false gods and become like them so that instead of bringing God’s light and justice to a sin-sick world, God’s people brought the darkness and evil of false gods and now they faced God’s terrible wrath and judgment (Isaiah 42.18-25). If you are like me (God forbid), you listen to these judgment oracles and give thanks that we’re not the rotten people God is condemning in them, just like we do when we watch Dr. Phil or any program that showcases the human condition at its worst. We do so because it distracts us and keeps us from looking at ourselves in the mirror, and more importantly it keeps us from looking at ourselves in the light of God’s perfect goodness and righteousness. And we do all this because we are terrified of God’s just judgment on us. We know in our heart of hearts that we are no better than God’s people Israel who suffered the ultimate rejection and disgrace of exile because of their sins. We are no better than they were because the entire human race is held tightly in bondage to the tyranny of that outside and hostile force the Bible calls Sin. Try as we might to make ourselves better (itself a symptom of our sin-sickness), we fail because none of us is stronger than the power of Sin. Don’t believe me? How are those new year’s resolutions coming along? I’m willing to bet that even at this point many of them have already bit the dust or are well on their way to the dustbin. 

Returning now to our OT lesson, we see that God has taken his rebellious people to the cosmic woodshed and warned them where their sins will lead, mainly exile and separation from God, the Source of all life. If that’s not enough to make us afraid, I don’t know what will, especially as we contemplate the fire of God’s just judgment that will ultimately make all things right again. This is not exactly Good News, my beloved. In fact, it’s just the opposite because we are all sin-stained. But just when we begin to have feelings of despair without hope, we hear these beautiful and comforting words from God himself, something that is massively important for us as we will see: “But now…” Hear God as he speaks to us: I’ve seen your sins, your folly, and your rebellion, this despite my constant love and faithfulness toward you. I’ve seen it all but I know you are powerless to rescue yourselves from your slavery to Sin and so I am coming to rescue and heal you of your sin-sickness. I formed you as a people and created you to be mine forever. So don’t be afraid because I have redeemed you. I call you by name; you are mine. Imagine that. I, the Creator God of this incomprehensibly vast universe, know you by name and love you, despite your insignificance in the grand scheme of things, despite your sins and rebellion against me. So don’t be afraid because I have the power to break your slavery to Sin, just as I rescued my people Israel from their slavery in Egypt. When you walk through the deep waters of life’s darkness and troubles, you will not be overwhelmed. You will not be afflicted by the fire of my judgment because I am the one who redeems you and will spare you from that judgment. Notice I did not say you won’t have to walk through deep waters or the fire of judgment. I am not promising to remove you from all the darkness of this world and yourselves that afflict you. But I do promise to rescue and redeem you, even if the darkness claims your mortal life. So don’t be afraid. I know you by name. I am with you, you are mine (Isaiah 43.1-2, 5a). 

Were there ever more tender words in all Scripture than these? Were there ever more despair-shattering promises than these? There’s more. The Lord goes on to tell his people, us included, that they are precious in his sight, so precious and loved and honored that he will give nations in exchange for their lives, which God did, e.g., when he brought his people Israel out of Egypt and Babylon. But that is so OT. In Jesus Christ, God upped the ante. God demonstrated that he loves us so much that he gave his own dear Son, Jesus Christ, God become human, in exchange for our lives. And now we are ready to look at why Christ’s baptism is so important to us because in it we see the “But now…” God the Father commissions God the Son to begin his costly and life-giving work to rescue us from our slavery to the power of Sin and break its hold over us forever. Not only that, in Christ’s resurrection, God the Father promises to destroy our last and greatest enemy, Death, so that we can live in the hope of eternal life in God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. God did all this, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 5, even while we were still God’s enemies, alienated and hostile toward God. Because of our union with Christ through baptism and faith, we no longer fear God’s condemnation because God himself has borne it in and through his Son’s body (cf. Romans 8.1-4). The “But now…” has arrived.

And let’s be clear about what did and didn’t happen at Christ’s baptism. Our Lord didn’t get adopted at his baptism as good heretics throughout the years have proclaimed. We only need to read St. John’s wondrous prologue (John 1.1-18) to see that that dog don’t hunt. Neither was our Lord baptized to have his own sins forgiven as other geniuses have claimed. Christ was sinless and in his baptism he was commissioned to set us free from our sins by going to the cross and dying a terrible and utterly humiliating death so that we would not have to suffer the ultimate death of God’s final condemnation of our sins, thanks be to God! 

Of course the dark powers, whose grip over us our Lord came to destroy, are not going down without a fight. We see it immediately in John the Baptist’s imprisonment that the Lectionary conveniently and unfortunately omits from today’s gospel lesson, and we see it in the continued attack on us as God’s people. This, combined with our own proclivity to sin, is what makes living the Christian life such a challenge at times. And it can also make us afraid. But the Lord himself tells us to fear not because he is with us and in his Son he has destroyed Sin’s power over us as well as the death it causes. This is more than just lip service, my beloved, because only the Lord has the power to overcome Sin and Death, and in Christ’s death and resurrection God has made good on his promise to us, a promise that we see beginning to unfold in Christ’s baptism. We don’t deserve any of these wondrous promises nor can we ever hope to earn God’s favor on our own. God did this for us out of sheer love, mercy, and grace so that he could restore his creation and creatures to life and health without destroying us. For you see, God created us for life and relationship with him, not destruction.That’s why today is a big deal for us who belong to Christ, and that’s why we celebrate Christ’s baptism every year.

As John the Baptist prophesied, our Lord Jesus has indeed baptized us with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and this separates believers and unbelievers as a winnowing fork separates the chaff from the grain. We have already seen the necessity of God’s good and perfect justice and Christ will execute that justice when he returns in great power and glory. In the meantime, as his baptism signals, Jesus has given his life in exchange for ours so that we no longer need fear God’s judgment, and he blesses us with the Holy Spirit to help us live the fully human image-bearing lives that God calls us to live so that we can reflect God’s goodness and glory to the world according to God’s original creative intention for us. As we’ve also seen, the world will largely reject us (along with the One who has rescued us) when we give our lives to Christ because sadly many people and systems love the darkness more than God’s light—humanity’s slavery to the power of Sin is universal— and this is the awful part of the winnowing process. No Christian should ever take joy or glee in this fact because we are here only by the grace of God, not our own merits. We remember that the darkness runs through each of us. But this opposition should never stop or deter us from proclaiming the saving power of our Lord Jesus and inviting others into a relationship with him that we enjoy. If we really do claim to love others, especially in light of what we know about the coming fire of God’s judgment, how can we do anything but proclaim Christ to them? Neither should it stop or deter us from living as our Lord Jesus lived and lives, hard as that is at times. If you want an example of what that looks like, look no further than how this parish has rallied around Ken and his family as they walked through the deep waters of Tanya’s untimely and tragic death. The powers did their best to destroy her but the promise of resurrection means that the powers ultimately will fail and will be destroyed forever one day as death is swallowed up in life. God’s perfect justice will prevail. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ because it announces God has seen our distress and despite our folly, God has acted decisively on our behalf so that we can live. There is no longer any need to despair once we have turned to the light of Christ in faith, despite the fact that our faith journey is often quite messy and convoluted. Take heart, my beloved. God is greater than our messiness.

This is why our own baptism is so important because it announces our birthright and inheritance in Christ, an inheritance of eternal life despite our mortal death, of health, of healing and wholeness, of reconciliation, of freedom, of redemption, of forgiveness. Those who are baptized are baptized into a death like Christ’s so that we can share in a resurrection like his as well. Our baptism proclaims God’s great love for us and fulfills God’s promise to give us his Holy Spirit so that we can live as truly human beings, free from our slavery to Sin and Death, free from the fear that can so badly oppress us. Our baptism doesn’t promise us a sin-free life. We all know better. What it does promise is that God is good to his word and has acted decisively in Jesus his Son to make us part of the family of the redeemed, and to help us overcome the darkness of this world and life in the power of his Spirit so that we have a real future and hope, a hope based on the love and power of God, who alone has the power to accomplish the impossible, thanks be to God! This is the promise young Eli will enter in a few minutes as he enters the waters of baptism, and it is reason for us to rejoice because we remember our own baptism and celebrate our rescue from the deep waters of Sin and Death and the fire of God’s perfect judgment, along with Eli’s. And that, my beloved, is Good News, the best news of all, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Fr. Philip Sang: Epiphany Sermon

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Due to technical difficulties and the fact that one has to be smarter than the recorder one uses, there is no audio podcast of today’s sermon available.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; Matthew 2.1-12.

Merry Christmas St. Augustine’s. Today is the twelfth day of Christmas, and the Feast of the Epiphany – that great festival on which Christians, for at least fifteen hundred years, have celebrated the manifestation, or showing forth, of the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God made flesh.

Just as the showing forth of the glory of God in Christ takes many different forms, so our season of Epiphany commemorates many different things. First, the coming of the wise men from the East to worship at the cradle of the Infant Christ; then, the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, with the voice from heaven declaring that this Jesus is the beloved son of God; then the visit of Jesus, at twelve years old, to the Temple at Jerusalem, where the learned were astonished by his understanding and his answers; and then, a series of Jesus’ miracles: the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana; the healing of a leper, and the calming of the troubled sea. Then, at the end of the season of Epiphany, we have prophetic lessons about the final coming of the Son of God, in power and great glory.

Many different things – a great diversity of commemorations; yet they are tied together by one common theme. They are all aspects of the showing forth, the shining forth, the “Epiphany” of the divine glory of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, the Eternal Word of God, made flesh. Thus these many commemorations of Epiphany make up a continuing meditation upon the meaning of the Christmas miracle – the miracle of God with us, Emmanuel, God in our flesh, God visible to human eyes, God audible to human ears, God tangible to human touch, God manifest in human life, judging, restoring, and transforming by the grace and truth he brings.

Coming to today’s gospel reading I wonder what the wise men as referred to by Matthew saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?

We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them but St. Matthew doesn’t say that. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.

This anonymity and lack of historical information is a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.

I don’t know what was in the sky, what they saw, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds; what they thought, asked, or talked about. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I know that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.

That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?

To seriously consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.

Yes God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through humanity, in the flesh.

Maybe it was the day you bathed your first grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator. Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God. Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the bedside of one who was dying and you experienced the joy that death is not the end.

These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.

Epiphany is about the manifestation of Christ; namely, that Christ has revealed himself, shown himself to not just be some sort of teacher or philosopher, not just be a miracle worker, not as one who has a piece of truth where everyone else also has a piece of truth, but the manifestation of Christ is about Christ making himself known, showing himself visibly to be God in the flesh, second person of the Trinity, who descended to dwell among his creation to bring about our salvation for the glory of God. So when we celebrate Epiphany, we’re celebrating light invading the darkness. You and I, as Christians, are rejoicing in this season that Christ has come into the world to push back the darkness. That’s what Epiphany is all about.

Paul had his epiphany and writing to the church in Ephesus tells them about his experience

“Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

So Paul reminds the readers of this letter what he learned by revelation from God. He has been chosen by God to pass on the secrets, the plans of God. He does not claim to be the sole carrier of the message; he says that God is revealing this news by way of the Holy Spirit to apostles and prophets. Paul understands that it is God’s grace that gives him the qualification needed to tell the good news. This is in spite of his past, and in addition to his personal qualifications.

He understands that it is his mission and his assignment to “make plain to everyone” the who, what, why and how of Jesus Christ.

Friends, church, this morning I am not here to ask you to copy what God asked Paul to do.

However as the children of God, we take on responsibilities within his kingdom. As we grow up in the church we are to take on more and more responsibility. Because of our family connection and the grace that covers us we also take on the mission of plainly speaking for God. bringing Epiphany to others. We do that by relying solely on the leading of the spirit that we receive as we grow up in the family of God.

Let’s look at the big picture.

A church is not a church if it only does things for itself and for its members.

A church that lives like that is only doing half of its designed mission.

Paul points out how the understanding of God is to be passed on to the community where the church sits.

He says, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known …”

The church has a mission to share the wisdom of God, the good news.

The message is about grace and love and a relationship with our creator.

The qualifications to speak for God come by Grace to the individual believers to share what we know.

I have heard in the past and present Christians describing that they come to church to be fed. My question for you is how you are going to use that energy, that knowledge to share with those outside of God’s family?

How is God asking you to share what you know about Him?

In the name of God the Father the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Christmastide 2018: Meditations on the Incarnation by Select Church Fathers and Doctors

Meditations read on Christmas 1C, Sunday, December 30, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s meditations, click here.

The following sermon preached by St. John Chrysostom is the first extant Christmas sermon we have. It was preached in Antioch in 386, the same year Augustine of Hippo became a Christian. Source: http://antiochian.org/node/21955

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He who is, is Born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation [being born of a virgin] I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works. 

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that [humans] cannot see. For since [humans] believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. 

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker. 

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of [humans]. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with [humans] without fear, and [humans] now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen. 

—John Chrysostom (d. 407), priest at Antioch and later Archbishop of Constantinople 

Now hear this word from St. Athanasius.

The Word of God did not abandon the human race, his creatures, who are hurtling to their own ruin. By the offering of his body, the Word of God destroyed death which had united itself to them; by his teaching, he corrected their negligences; and by his power, he restored the human race.

Why was it necessary for the Word of God to become incarnate and not some other? Scripture indicates the reason by these words: “It was fitting that when bringing many heirs to glory, God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering.” This signifies that the work of raising human beings from the ruin into which they had fallen pertained to none other than the Word of God, who had made them in the beginning.

By the sacrifice of his body, he put an end to the law which weighed upon them, and he renewed in us the principle of life by giving us the hope of the resurrection. For if it is through ourselves that death attained dominance over us, conversely, it is through the incarnation of the Word of God that death has been destroyed and that life has been resurrected, as indicated by the Apostle filled with Christ: “Death came through one person; hence the resurrection of the dead comes through another person also. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again.”

It is no longer as condemned that we die. Rather, we die with the hope of rising again from the dead, awaiting the universal resurrection which God will manifest to us in his own time, since he is both the author of it and gives us the grace for it.

—Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), On the Incarnation 10.14

A reading from St. Gregory of Nazianzus.

Christ is born: glorify him. Christ comes from heaven: go out to meet him. Christ descends to earth: let us be raised on high. Let all the world sing to the Lord; let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad, for his sake who was first in heaven and then on earth. Christ is here in the flesh: let us exult with fear and joy—with fear, because of our sins; with joy, because of the hope that he brings us.

Once more the darkness is dispersed; once more the light is created. Let the people that sat in the darkness of ignorance now look upon the light of knowledge. The things of old have passed away; behold, all things are made new. He who has no mother in heaven is now born without father on earth. The laws of nature are overthrown, for the upper world must be filled with citizens. He who is without flesh becomes incarnate; the Word puts on a body; the Invisible is seen; he whom no hand can touch is handled; the Timeless has a beginning; the Son of God becomes Son of Man—Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever.

Light from light, the Word of the Father comes to his own image, in the human race. For the sake of my flesh he takes flesh; for the sake of my soul he is united to a rational soul, purifying like by like. In every way he becomes human, except for sin. O strange conjunction! The Self-existent comes into being; the Uncreated is created. He shares in the poverty of my flesh, that I may share in the riches of his Godhead.

—Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople (d. 389), Oration 38

Next is this reading from Hippolytus, a very early bishop of Rome. Notice the strong connection between Christmas and Easter in his sermon. This is exactly right because without Easter, Christmas would mean nothing.

Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere caprice or beguiled by specious arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. God wished to win us back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce us to slavery but by addressing to our free will a call to liberty.

The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was couched in such obscure language that it could be only dimly apprehended, in the last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding him to show himself openly so that the world could see him and be saved.

We know that by taking a body from the Virgin he refashioned our fallen nature. We know that his humanity was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, he would hardly have been a teacher who could expect to be imitated. If he were of a different substance from me, he would surely not have ordered me to do as he did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with his goodness and justice.

No. He wanted us to consider him as no different from ourselves, and so he worked, he was hungry and thirsty, he slept. Without protest he endured his passion, he submitted to death and revealed his resurrection. In all these ways he offered his own humanity as the firstfruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as he did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.

When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall enter the kingdom of heaven, because while we lived on earth we acknowledged heaven’s King. Friends of God and co-heirs with Christ, we shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine. It was because of our human condition that God allowed us to endure these things, but when we have been dei?ed and made immortal, God has promised us a share in his‘ own attributes.

The saying “Know yourself” means therefore that we should recognize and acknowledge in ourselves the God who made us in his own image, for if we do this, we in turn will be recognized and acknowledged by our Maker. So let us not be at enmity with ourselves, but change our way of life without delay. “For Christ who is God, exalted above all creation,” has taken away our sin and has refashioned our fallen nature. In the beginning God made us in his image and so gave proof of his love for us. If we obey his holy commands and learn to imitate his goodness, we shall be like him and he will honor us. God is not beggarly, and for the sake of his own glory he has given us a share in his divinity.

—Hippolytus, Bishop of Rome (d. 236), On the Refutation of All Heresies, 10.33-34

And finally, a word from our own St. Augustine of Hippo. 

Awake! For your sake God has become human. “Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” I tell you again: for your sake, God became human.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

…Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but by sheer grace.

—Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d. 430), Sermon 185

Christmas: God’s Power Introduced

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio version of tonight’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.2-7; The Song of God’s Chosen One; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! Tonight we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus and I want us to look at why that matters and why we shouldn’t dismiss the heavenly host’s announcement of Christ’s birth as airy sentiment or nonsense.

In our OT lesson, the prophet Isaiah declares that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and we know something about the darkness because we’ve all been afflicted by it. Being the proud and self-sufficient people that we are, we’ll go to almost any length to produce our own light to counter the darkness. We decorate our houses, buy loads of presents, go to endless Christmas parties, sing our favorite Christmas carols, get ready for Santa Claus and a host of other things. Try as we might, however, our light simply doesn’t cut it. I remember my first significant encounter with the darkness of personal loss and grief when I was a young man. It was Christmas Eve 1976 and earlier that year I had lost both of my beloved grandmothers in the span of a month. It rocked my world. Christmas Eve was always my favorite night of the year but when my extended family met that Christmas to celebrate and exchange gifts, it just wasn’t the same. To be sure, the lights were blazing, the same food was served, we were dressed in our best Christmas duds, and there were loads of presents under the tree for and from me. In other words, all should have been right with the world—at least as our culture defines it—but it was not. I missed my grandmas terribly and I hurt inside. Although I never talked about it with my parents, I’m sure they were hurting too. Losing one’s parents is a hard thing and our family’s Christmas Eve was never the same after that. The years passed and the pain has subsided. The scars are there but they no longer hurt. My parents’ generation died in the following decades and family members moved out of town. Now we don’t even gather as an extended family on Christmas Eve. Our divergent lives and responsibilities prevent it and I am left with bittersweet memories of ghosts of Christmas Eves past when my family was intact and together, never to return in this mortal life. I am thankful that I had my entire extended family living in one town and that we were a pretty healthy family. Some folks don’t even get to experience that blessing, which creates a whole different kind of darkness for them to deal with.

Isaiah’s people also knew what it meant to live in fear and darkness and if you are old enough, which most of us here tonight are, so do you. We carry our hurts, heartaches, fears, and angers with us. Just this past weekend we buried a beloved member of our parish and we grieve with her family as they try to make sense of her untimely and tragic death ten days before Christmas. And we grieve with Christopher as he mourns his brother’s death in Kenya on Saturday. What we all have in common—folks who live in the past, present, and future until the Lord returns—is this. Try as we might to generate some human light and solutions to the darkness that afflicts us, we are utterly powerless to do so. Our dead remain dead. Our hurts and sorrows and fears remain with us, mitigated only slightly by the passing of time and perhaps therapy. We deal with illnesses, maladies, and addictions of all kinds. We see our society tearing itself apart. We witness all kinds of injustice and evil being committed and devise various solutions to address the darkness that afflicts us. But our solutions deal with symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself. We are utterly incapable of healing ourselves and this only adds to our frustration and sorrow. If we are humble enough and truly honest about the darkness that dwells within us and around us, we are forced to admit that our best efforts to make each Christmas “merry and bright” are contingent on our current life circumstances and we are essentially powerless to do much, if anything, about it. 

To add insult to injury, the Church over the years has not always been helpful in addressing the human condition and our response to it. We’ve sometimes been afflicted with bad theology and preaching—never from this pulpit, of course, especially when I occupy it—that focuses on the punitive aspects of God’s wrath and declares this world to be intrinsically evil, without hope of redemption. Like their gnostic forebears, they preach that being human is all about how “spiritual” one is because one day God in his rage is going to destroy this world and all but a few elect whom he has rescued to enjoy a disembodied existence in heaven for all eternity. How perfectly dreadful. Others don’t even believe their own story and in their arrogance are proud that they don’t. After all, in our enlightenment who has time for angels, virgin births, etc.? This kind of baloney (I would use a stronger noun but I am mindful I’m preaching) has inflicted great harm on God’s people and caused us to devalue God’s good creation, especially the pinnacle of God’s creation—human beings, God’s image-bearing creatures. This in turn creates all kinds of catastrophic darkness and causes us to miss the point of Christmas if we are not careful.

And what is the point of Christmas? It is to announce that our good and faithful Creator loves his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures. Christmas announces that God has not given up on his good world gone bad or us, despite our proud and haughty arrogance and our incessant and stubborn rebellion. Christmas announces that God knows the darkness that all of us deal with. He knows our hurts and heartaches and sorrows and sicknesses and sighing and cares about them and us. He knows that we are but dust and are terrified by that fact. More importantly for our purposes tonight, God knows we are powerless to overcome the darkness on our own and has entered this world as a human being to be with us to set us free from the power of Sin, Evil, and Death and to one day recreate this sad old world to vanquish all forms of evil and darkness so that we can live in the perfect light of Christ forever, free from all forms of darkness, and reunited with those in Christ whom we have loved but lost for a season. When that day comes, as tonight’s canticle attests, perfect justice will reign and death will be no more. In other words, God, the only person who has the power to really deal with the darkness that afflicts us, has declared that he has seen our plight and has acted decisively on our behalf to end it by entering our history to deal with the darkness once and for all. No wonder all creation rejoices tonight!

The imagery in our gospel lesson is full of this glorious announcement of God’s light piercing the darkness. The shepherds are working in darkness, only to be confronted by the light of heaven’s armies announcing their liberation from the darkness. We hear this wondrous story read in the darkness of a December evening, a darkness pierced by the candles and light of Christ in this chapel. If we were to extinguish this light, we would sit in total darkness, not unlike how the world and our lives would be had not Christ been born into them. Savor the light, my beloved, on all levels. Later we will read the dismissal gospel from St. John with its bold announcement that the Word became human, the light of God, to overcome the darkness despite the latter’s attempt to overcome God’s light. Christ came to destroy the dark power of Sin and Evil over his people, something St. Paul addresses in our epistle tonight. Oh not completely in this mortal life, to be sure. We all know that. But Christmas announces that God has entered his world to live with his people and to heal and redeem it and us. Only God can do this because only God is more powerful than the forces of darkness that hate us and afflict us. Christmas announces that God sees our afflictions and has acted decisively to change our condition. Is that not reason for us to rejoice?

And how did God do this? By becoming human, or to use NT language, by sending his one and only Son to die for us so that we could live. As St. Paul proclaims in Romans, God condemned our sin in the flesh by bearing his own good and righteous condemnation of our evil so that we will be spared and set free from Sin and Death (Romans 8.3-4). We didn’t expect God to destroy the darkness in this way and none of us understand the full meaning of the Cross. But we accept it by faith because by his wounds we, along with countless others, find healing and renewal in the power of the Spirit. God had to have flesh to condemn our sin in the flesh and set us free from the grip of Sin’s power and this is what the heavenly host announced to the shepherds in Bethlehem that night. As the old song proclaims, “Jesus our Savior did come for to die.”

As we have seen during Advent, we must await our Lord’s return for the promise of perfect freedom and release from the darkness to be consummated. But along the way we are not left without glimpses and signposts of our future life in God’s new heavens and earth. The Son of God has died a cruel death for our sake and was raised from the dead to destroy the power of Death over us. Without Christmas, none of this would have happened. And now the Father and the Son have given us the Holy Spirit to mediate Christ’s presence among us and begin to heal us, sometimes partially, sometimes fully. But we are never abandoned. The result? God calls a people to himself in Jesus Christ, Israel reconstituted, to be his signs in a world afflicted by darkness. I could give you hundreds of examples but I will give you just one. Look at how this little parish has rallied around Ken and his family in their darkest hour. We are not the only folks to do that, of course, but the outpouring of love for this grieving family is simply remarkable. In doing so we are signs of God’s promise to be Immanuel, God with us, as well as his love, to help mediate God’s presence to those who need it the most this Christmas, and we have the promise that one day God will finish his work started at the announcement of the birth of his Son. This dynamic illustrates perfectly the contrast between human and divine power. The former, while effective, is only partial. We don’t bring in the Kingdom fully on earth as in heaven; only God can do that because only God’s power can overcome the darkness. Contemplate that hope and promise this Christmas Eve, my beloved. Savor the light shining in the darkness. Be content to put your hope and trust in the One who loves you and gave himself for you so that you might one day be free of the darkness that is within you and surrounds you. As you do, you just may find that the lights of Christmas give you reason to rejoice as well as a new-found power to imitate Christ, whose birth we celebrate tonight. There is no darkness that can overcome this great light, dear people of God, and that’s Good News for all of us, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Merry Christmas, my beloved.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: The Four Last Things: Hell

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Advent 4C, December 23, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast for today’s sermon. Dr. Wylie has got to learn to be smarter than the recorder he uses.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 5.1-7; Psalm 80.1-7; Ephesians 5.1-4; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43.

Dear friends of Jesus Christ,

During the four weeks of Advent we have been focusing in our sermons on the traditional 4 last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. I guess it was 6-7 weeks ago that Fr Kevin asked me to give you hell, so here I am to give you hell. That’s actually not the task for myself at all. My task, rather, is to elevate your joy and to remind you that hell is not for you and that you are not for hell. Or at any rate, that hell doesn’t have to be for you.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption (Psalm 16.10).

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16.11)

We don’t much like to think about hell, do we? Why should we? In our minds, hell is the destination of the wicked, a place than which no worse can be imagined. We imagine a lake of fire, an eternal torture chamber, slithering worms and horn-headed demons, smells of sulfur and screeches of torment. Actually, this image owes more to Dante and Milton than to the Bible. Jesus does talk at a humber of points about a fiery judgment and a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But these images usually appear in parables, and parables really aren’t meant to be interpreted literalistically. When the word “hell” appears in ETs, the word behind that translation is “Gehenna,” which was essentially a landfill on the south side of Jerusalem. When Jesus said people would go there, it isn’t clear that he meant people would spend eternity burning in a lake of fire.

But don’t for a second think that I am denying hell’s existence, or that it isn’t horrific. Because starting in Gen 12 and continuing throughout the OT, the NT, and all the way to the Glorious Return, God has been unwaveringly committed to setting the world right. And this must mean removing everything that pollutes and defiles his good creation. That’s why the OT andthe NT alike speak of God pronouncing (or promising to pronounce) judgment on wickedness. God must judge us, unless we conclude (and it would be wrong to do so) that he doesn’t care very much about sin or holiness. And judgment implies a set of dichotomous outcomes: guilty / not guilty, wicked / righteous, damnation / salvation. Not only that, we also know from Scripture and from our own experience that we live in a world of evil – of evil people and evil deeds. There is a force of evil in the world that cannot be denied.

Our readings this morning from Isaiah 5 and Matt 13 both emphasize that God created a good world and that he set it up to prosper with good fruit. According to Isa 5, God everything he could to make his vineyard produce good grapes: he cleared the ground and removed rocks, set up a watchtower and fence, dug out a vat, planted the choicest of vines. But Israel was overcome with wickedness, and failed to fulfill its purpose. And God’s response is judgment.

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it (Isaiah 5.5-6).

God is done. He’s washing his hands of this disaster. Everything God did to set it up for fruitfulness, he is taking away. This is an un-creation. Why?

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry (Isaiah 5.7)!

The Hebrew has a play on words to drive the point home: “He looked for justice (mishpat), but behold, bloodshed (mispach); for righteousness (tsedaqah), but behold, an outcry (tse‘aqah). The prophet sears the point into our minds with that wordplay.

Of course, the “love song” of the vineyard is an allegory –“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting” (v. 7a) – and it is an indictment of Israel and Judah for their failure to do what God had created it, ordained it, and prepared it to do. Judah was called to shine God’s light in the world, so that all peoples of the world might say to one another, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD” (Isa 2:1-5). The people of God were to be the image bearers of God, reflecting him out into the world. And in this they failed, overcome as they were with evil and injustice. And so God casts judgment, and in Isa 5, the verdict is to hand the vineyard over to the forces of chaos. If you choose to do the work of evil and chaos, then God will turn you over to evil and chaos in judgment.

Lest we think this is just an OT problem, the situation gets even bleaker, in some ways, in our Gospel reading because here we learn that even the Kingdom of Heaven has bad weeds growing in it. Once again, the parable begins by affirming the original purity of what was created: “The kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field” (Matt 13:24). That man, we learn later in the chapter, is Jesus (13:27). But at an opportune time, in the middle of the night, the master’s enemy – whom Jesus later identifies as the devil – came and sowed poisonous weeds. Notice he didn’t sow the weeds in another field or next to the good seed or around the good seed. The devil sows his seed right here in the midst of the good seed. The devil’s seed sprouts up right up in the middle of the church. And as alarming as that is, it doesn’t surprise us when we think of the evils the church has sponsored and in some cases continues to sponsor – the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch hunts, schisms past and present, and all manner of calling what is evil good and what is good evil.

As with the vineyard, so with the weeds – they are destined for judgment: “Gather the wheat into bundles to be burned with fire.” God will remove evil from the world.

My point in all this is that while we tend to think of hell as some far off place where the wicked go when they die, the reaches of hell, the effects and curses of hell, are right here and right now. There is an evil empire on the earth, and it is run by an enemy, the devil. Of course there is! We can see it everywhere we look. The devil’s work is all over the place: in school shootings, car bombings, and other acts of violence; in acts of exploitation and abuse, greed, corruption; in acts of debauchery, idolatry, drunkenness; in racism, sexism, and all forms of injustice; in the grave evil of disease and decay and death. And here’s where it gets really bleak. The problem isn’t just that there are weeds in the world, or that there are weeds growing in the kingdom of heaven, or that there are weeds sitting next to me in church. The most unnerving problem is that there are weeds growing in me, and there are weeds growing in you. The devil’s work appears in my life, just as it appears in yours.

Apart from the cross of Christ, I and you and all the world would be weeds destined for judgment, to be burned in the fire. We are one life, one man, one cross, one empty tomb away from hopeless eternal corruption. For if Christ has not been raised, you are still dead in your sins.

What does all this have to do with Advent?

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

“A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” And that light is Christ, the Savior of all, the Lamb of God, coming into the world to take away the sins of the world. Jesus was born to die. He is the offering from God, the offering for God, the offering who is God. He is the once and for all perfect sacrifice and oblation, and on him God has placed the sin of all the world. In him we are offered forgiveness, atonement, redemption, hope, salvation.

There’s more. In his life, death, and especially resurrection, Christ has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth and launched a New and Redeemed Creation. In his death he paid the penalty of sin; in his resurrection he broke the devil’s grip on the world and swallowed up the devil’s favorite weapon, which is death. The Devil is vanquished, death is defeated, hell is conquered, a New Creation is born. It is a kingdom of true shalom, in which everything is as it should be. There is peace, justice, righteousness, and human beings finally and fully live up to their calling to bear the image of God.

And this is the best news that has ever been preached to people who are weeds because weeds like you and me can lay claim to it, can enter in, can participate, if we become citizens of the New Creation through faith and baptism.

Are you baptized? Good news! You went down into the waters one thing and came up another. You went down a weed, you died a weed; you came up, resurrected as grain to be fruitful in the Kingdom of God. You died a weed and rose as wheat.

“If anyone is in Christ he/she is a new creation.” You are not just in the New Creation, you are a new creation! “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor 5:17-19).

That all sounds good, but let’s be real. While all Christians would affirm the truth of what I have just said, we also know there are ways in which it is not true. Or maybe a better way to say it is that it isn’t fully actualized. God is putting all things right, and he will finish the task, but at the moment we aren’t fully there. However much we hope in the Resurrection, the fact is disease is  still widespread, our bodies decay, and people still die. Our little parish has felt the sting of death twice this week. The New Creation is now but not yet. Christ has died and Christ has risen. I believe that and so do you, I hope. I was baptized and so were you – or you could be. And that means that we are New Creatures. But, in fact, we’re actually not fully New Creatures, are we? “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7). I’m certain that the New Creation flashes in us from time to time, maybe even often. But I’m just as certain that the the old creature still isn’t completely dead. We’re all a hybrid of weed and grain. Even we who are in Christ are in need of continual grace and transformation.

St. Paul acknowledges this throughout his letters. In Ephesians, immediately after stating that Christ loved us and gave himself for us, Paul urges the young church to have nothing to do with sexual immorality or impurity or covetousness, nothing to do with filthiness or foolish talk or crude joking, because these things are not proper for the people of God. But the fact that he urges them away from these things implies that it still needs to be said. “You used to be involved with all that nonsense,” Paul says, “for at one time you were darkness. But now, you are in the Lord! Walk as children of light!” Now that you set your hand to the plow, don’t look back. You are something new – or at least the seed of something new is in you – so be the new thing. Live up to it. Bear good fruit.

Meanwhile, the world remains full of evil doers who work against against God rather than with him, who oppose his mission, and refuse to bear his image in the world. We know that there are people who, rather than fulfill God’s command to steward the earth, destroy it and its resources. There are people who, rather than cultivate life, exploit fellow human beings and treat them as commodities. There are people who, rather than live in God’s world as peacemakers, foster strife and promote violence.

The war is won but the battle rages on. It’s not for nothing that Jesus urges us to pray for deliverance from evil.

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with hope. Advent is not only a time for remembering the birth of Christ, it is also a time for anticipating his return. We rejoice in the first coming; we hope in the second one. We have hope that Christ will return and that he will judge the earth. We have hope that there will be justice – the righteous will be vindicated and the wicked condemned. As Christians we pray “Come quickly Lord Jesus” because we want the world to be put right. We agree with God that evil must be rooted out. We want it rooted out of the world, and we want it rooted out of us.

This is one reason we gather every Sunday (or more) to re-enact the drama of the Eucharist. We don’t just re-enact it, actually, we renew our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. We come in a weed, and we acknowledge that in the confession, the prayer of humble access, and elsewhere. Then, receiving the body and blood of Christ, we are renewed, we become one body with him and heirs of his eternal kingdom. To what end? To love him and serve him faithfully as his witnesses.

Dear friends, hell is not for you. God does not desire that any should perish but that all should come to eternal life. The road to eternal life goes through the cross of Christ. There is no life, no escape from judgment, that doesn’t go through the cross. Cling to Christ. Cling to him. And doing so, know that though you once were darkness, now you are light. Live in the light of Christ. Live in the joy of the first advent, and in hopeful anticipation of the second.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection of the Dead: The Promise of Evil Defeated and Justice Restored

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15.1-26, 35-38, 42-44a, 53-58; John 11.17-27.

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Death under any circumstance is hard, isn’t it? But it is especially hard when we are confronted by such an untimely and tragic death as Tanya’s. In this case Death and the dark powers behind it have robbed Tanya of her human dignity as God’s image-bearer, silenced the music, and took her against her will from her loving husband and daughters, along with the rest of her family and friends, including her family at St. Augustine’s. There is no good way we can spin this, nor should we try. Her death is just wrong. There is no justice to be found in it, no goodness. The tragic circumstances of Tanya’s death have shaken us and in our grief we are angry and indignant, the way Jesus was when he snorted at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before he raised him to life (John 11.38) because death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). And like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air in desperation and ask why God allows this to happen.

But then we remember that Tanya died during the season of Advent with its hope and promise that one day God will make everything right, including the abolition of Death. And if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about this breathtaking hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, not wishful thinking—as he gave Martha and us an ultimately more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about Evil and Death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while Evil and Death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us, which he did, at least preliminarily, in his death and resurrection. He had come to fulfill Isaiah’s gracious prophecy: “[H]e was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53.5). Ponder this promise of healing and life as you keep in mind the image of Jesus, God become human, snorting in anger and indignation over the death of his friend. As you do, the Spirit will surely help you see God’s will and intention about Death as well as the tender mercy and love God the Father has for us his children and the future he has prepared for us, especially Tanya, even as we must live with the paradox and enigma of the darkness of this present age.

That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ, Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those like Tanya who are united with Jesus are promised a share in his resurrection when he returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new world. Jesus’ new bodily existence attests to the fact that we as humans—body, mind, and spirit—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity.

St. Paul talks about the nature of our promised resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is worth our time to see what he has to say. St. Paul tells us that unlike our mortal body that is subject to disease, decay, and death, the resurrection body with which we will be clothed will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. It will be a spiritual body, that is, it will be a body animated and powered by God’s Spirit instead of being animated and powered by flesh and blood. This means that our new body will no longer be subject to all the nasty physical and mental illnesses to which our mortal body is subjected. Whatever our new body looks like—and surely it will be more beautiful and wonderful than our minds can comprehend or imagine—it will be impervious to death and suited to live in God’s promised new world, the new heavens and earth. 

When Christ returns to usher in the new creation, the dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively, and which currently only intersect. Instead, as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, the new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation so that all forms of darkness and evil will be banished and we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or suffering or pain or death or evil of any kind. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and get to live forever with our new body and limitless new opportunities to be the humans God created and always intended for us to be. Surely in God’s new world there will be infinite and various ways to make new music in love and praise and adoration for God the Father and the Lamb, and I am sure that as she rests in the Lord’s arms and awaits her new body, Tanya is all about the prospect of making beautiful new music that reflects the reality of living directly in God’s presence in a world devoid of pain, suffering, and death.

To be sure, this promise of new heavens and earth has not yet been consummated and so we must wait in hope and faith for our Lord Jesus to return to usher it in. That’s what this season of Advent is all about. But even if we must wait, the promise of new creation is the only solution that will ultimately satisfy our hunger for justice and life because only in God’s new creation will the powers of darkness and despair that overwhelmed Tanya be vanquished, i.e., God’s good justice will be carried out, and her life fully restored, a life of perfect health and happiness that will last forever, thanks be to God! To be sure, God’s new world is a fantastic promise. But we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Romans 4.17).

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t love a person for an entire lifetime and then not grieve her loss when she is taken in such an untimely and cruel manner. But as St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all. It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth, that we claim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Tanya’s life today, because without union with Jesus, none of us have life in this world or the next.

I want to close by telling you a story that powerfully sums up our Christian hope. 

In 1989 Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Emperor Charles of Austria died. She was the last Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and Queen of Bohemia—one of the last members of the storied House of Habsburg. Her funeral was held in Vienna, from which she had been exiled most of her eventful life. After the service in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, her body was taken to the Imperial Crypt, where some 145 Habsburg royals are buried. As the coffin was taken to the Crypt, an ancient ceremony took place. A herald knocked at the closed door, and a voice responded, “Who seeks entrance?” The herald answered, “Zita, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary.” From within came the response, “I do not know this person.” The herald tried again, saying, “This is Zita, Princess of Bourbon-Parma, Empress of Bohemia.” The same reply was heard: “I do not know this person.” The third time, the herald and pallbearers said, “Our sister Zita, a sinful mortal.” The doors swung open.  

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? The promise is mind-boggling. But the God we worship is mind-boggling. Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours, not because we are deserving, but because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That is why we can rejoice today, even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. And if your pain and sorrow are too great so that you cannot hear the promise of resurrection today, ask the Lord to help you hold onto the promise until the day comes when you can hear and embrace it. Because of her faith in Christ who loves her and who has claimed her from all eternity, the doors of heaven have swung wide open for Tanya and she is enjoying her rest with her Lord Jesus until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full And that, of course, is Good News, not only for Tanya, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity. 

In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. Philip Sang: The Four Last Things: Judgment

Sermon delivered on Advent 2C, Sunday, December 9, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-4; Luke 1.68-79; Philippians 1.3-11; Luke 3.1-6.

In ancient times, when a king was going to visit a city, he would send before him someone to herald his coming, someone to announce that he would be arriving soon. The herald would go around the city, and go before the leaders of the city, telling them all, “The king is coming. He will be here any day. So clean up your lives. Make sure you are all in obedience to the kings commands so that you will not be punished when he arrives.”

This herald also served as a city inspector. He would go around the city and make a list of things that needed to be fixed. He would tell them, “Clean up your city. Sweep your streets. Get rid of all the garbage lying around. Round up any criminals to make the city safe. Fix the roads; make them smooth and straight. Make sure the town is gleaming. Make sure the city is fit for a king to ride through.” It was an embarrassment for that city, and the people of the city, if they were not prepared when the king did arrive. It was also an insult to the king if they had not prepared properly for his arrival. If he came, and they were not prepared, he might pronounce some judgment and punishment upon the city and its rulers.

This is what we are seeing going on in today’s reading. The King is coming, and He has sent a herald to announce His imminent arrival. The king, of course, is Jesus Christ and the herald “the one who will pronounce His coming” is John the Baptist. John has come as a herald to make sure that the king’s subjects are well prepared for the king’s coming. John has come to prepare the way.

As Father Kevin mentioned last week the name of this season comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Advent, then, is not simply the lead up to Christmas, but rather it is a season of preparing for the coming of Christ. This advent of Christ takes a threefold form which includes his coming in the flesh as a baby born of the womb of Mary, but also his coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his coming to us today in the midst of our daily lives. Last week we were reminded of the focus of our preaching this advent here at St, Augustine’s; Death, Judgement, heaven and Hell. Last sunday we looked at Death and this second Sunday of Advent I want to bring to our attention Christ’s coming in glory at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead.

We often think of judgment, the final judgment as this terrifying, harsh, dark thing, we see it uncomfortable, and it is scary.

But the judgment is supposed to be good news.

Because when we’re faced with the injustice, wars, corruption, sinfulness, killings, when we see these tragedies that we don’t even have words for in the news again and again, and the raw heartache and pain and the pure evil that is in our world, the only thing I know to say is that Jesus sees it too, and he’s coming back; he’s going to clean house. He’s coming to judge that evil, and he’s going to bring healing. He’s the only one who could bring healing, and he’s coming. Sometimes, when we see just unspeakable horrors being perpetrated, the good news we need, the only hope we have, is the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ. Because he can make things right.

Judgment is supposed to be good news. As N.T. Wright likes to point out, that’s why we see things like Psalm 96:11-13:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD.

Why? Why this jubilee? For he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

The whole earth, all of creation, is dancing for joy because the Lord is coming to judge the world, with righteousness, with truth. And don’t we need some righteousness and truth in this world? Well, they’re on their way. The Lord is coming to set things right. Judgment is what gives us hope, even in the face of the darkest evil, because the light is gonna shine in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

When we think about judgment this does not sound like Christmas, right? That’s true, but we are not here for Christmas, we are here for Advent. Because Advent is a season when we’re expecting Jesus, watching for his coming—not just in Bethlehem, but also to his coming back to this world to judge what is evil, heal what is broken, and make things right again.

And in a world of brokenness, a world of evil, we need that promise and hope of judgment.

As we look to the hope of judgement we need to understand that each person will have to account for his conduct, and the deepest secrets of his soul will come to light. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God’s grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how well we have loved our Lord. “As often as you did it for one of My least brothers, you did it for Me” (Mt 25:41).

Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Death is not the end of our existence. That is what is so awesome about it. We are not mere material beings that simply go out of consciousness and decompose in the ground. This word from God stands over against the common evolutionary idea expressed, When the writer of Hebrew 9:27 says, “After death comes judgment,” that is exactly what it means. God does give damnation after death. And it is the most terrifying prospect in the universe, that we might be met after death with a holy and angry and omnipotent God holding us accountable for whether we trusted him and worshipped him and followed his ways in this life. That is a fearful prospect.

So when when the bible says that we have an appointment with death and after death with judgment, it means that it will be terrifying and a furious fire and a great act of divine vengeance even on those who claim to be part of God’s people, but are only external Christians.These are sobering realities. May God use them to wake us up and make us alive to what really matters in this world!

Advent – we reflect on Coming Death, coming Judgment, coming Heaven, and coming Hell. Remember, It is appointed for men once to die and after this the judgment. Death is appointed, and no one is exception. You only die once, and death is not the end; Judgment is our destiny’s door.

In the Name of God, the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit Amen.

The Four Last Things: Death

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday, Year C, December 2, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 33.14-16; Psalm 25.1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Happy new year, St. Augustine’s! Today is Advent Sunday. We begin a new calendar year, a new lectionary cycle, and have lighted the first purple candle on our wreath that represents the patriarchs. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus (parousia in Greek), and means coming or arrival. Advent begins in the dark. It is a time for us as Christians to take stock of the darkness of a sin-sick and evil-infested world as well as the darkness of our own lives as we await God’s final defeat of the powers of Sin and Evil that sorely afflict us. Advent is a time for us to ask hard questions such as where is God in the middle of the darkness that afflicts us or why isn’t God acting to end the suffering and injustice and evil that exists in his world? But we must always ask these questions in light of our Christian hope that insists God actually is in the midst of our darkness and suffering and will come again to finally make all things right. Advent is therefore a season of expectation and preparation in which the Church focuses primarily on Christ’s Second Coming or his final advent as judge at the end of history to judge all that is wrong with the world and us. Advent is not part of the Christmas season but rather a preparation for it. Without Advent and its invitation for us to peer into the darkness, the meaning of Christmas is diminished to the vanishing point, disappearing in the lights and other trappings of Christmas as secular society celebrates it, all designed to provide sentimental and festive good cheer, the kind that is false and will ultimately fail us because it is based on unreality.

Now in any parish that observes Advent, St. Augie’s being no exception, you will find two groups of people. One group, seeing the purple hangings and hearing the readings about sin, judgment, and the wrath of God, will perk up and say, Ah! Good. It’s Advent. It’s good for us to get real! The other group will look around and ask where the Christmas decorations are and grumble that we are not singing Christmas carols the way everybody else is. This second group, admittedly much larger than the first, tends to look at the first group as being touched in the head, and in a significant way. Why look into the darkness when you can have such pretty music and lights? But this misses the meaning and purpose of both Christmas and Advent with the latter’s call for us as Christians to live faithfully and with hope in the darkness of a sin-marred world, trusting in the only One who has the power to make all things new and right. In reality, of course, most of us are members of both groups. I confess that outside of church I am a Christmas junkie as secular society likes to play it. Our house, thanks to the Herculean efforts of my wife, is bursting with the gaiety of Christmas and my collection of Santa Clauses. But inside these walls, I am chastened to remember that all that glitters isn’t gold, that I need to focus on the hope and power of God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom God has promised to end our suffering and darkness forever. This focus on the end times makes Advent an appropriate time for us to reflect on the Four Last Things—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. While none of us really want to talk about these things (myself included), talk about them we must because they remind us of the reality of our standing before God without his merciful and gracious intervention on our behalf, and no amount of denial or discomfort on our part is going to change that fact. Better for us to think clearly and soberly about the human condition and our relationship with Almighty God than to whistle through the graveyard hoping everything will turn out all right in the end. So today we begin our preaching series on the Four Last Things by looking at Death.

Death is the greatest of humankind’s enemies, a relentless Grim Reaper that shows no respect for age or wealth. It robs parents of a precious child, leaving them to mourn their loss for the rest of their lives. I have been ministering to a woman afflicted in this way and it is heartbreaking to watch. It deprives wives and children of their breadwinner and protector, leaving them vulnerable in a hostile world. It takes away an aging spouse, leaving a senior citizen without a lifelong companion and closest friend when he/she needs that companionship and friendship the most. Sometimes it arrives suddenly and unannounced like it did with the recent wildfires in California. At other times it approaches slowly like it does with many diseases, stalking or taunting its helpless victim. Sometimes it hauls away its victims en masse like it does in the spate of mass shootings we’ve had to endure with disturbingly increasing frequency. On other occasions it targets individuals. It uses a variety of methods and weapons, but only rarely does it capture its prey without inflicting pain and terror. Power, beauty, and wealth can usually overcome any obstacle, but in death they meet their match. As the eighteenth-century poet Thomas Gray wrote, “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike the inevitable hour; The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Scripture personifies death as being a hungry and crafty enemy (Isaiah 5.14; Habakkuk 2.5a) that uses snares to trap victims (Psalm 18.4–5) and sneaks through windows to grab children (Jeremiah 9.21). In Ecclesiastes the old Preacher declares that death renders everything in life meaningless. St. Paul called death the last enemy to be defeated whose fatal sting is caused by sin (1 Corinthians 15.28, 55–56; cf. Hosea 13.14), an inescapable (Ps 89.48; Ecclesiastes 8.8), terrifying (Hebrews 2:15) and relentless (Song 8.6) foe with which no one can strike a lasting bargain (Is 28:15,18). Ironically, death finds its origin in God, the giver of life, who decreed that death would be the ultimate penalty for disobedience to his revealed command (Genesis 2.17, 3.19; Psalm 90.3–11). When the first couple ate the forbidden fruit and rebelled against God, death accompanied sin into the world and has reigned over humankind ever since (Rom 5.12–21, 6.23; James 1.15).

Clearly then, death is a terrifying part of God’s judgment on our sin and all forms of evil that corrupt us and God’s good creation, and this makes us very afraid. We hear it in this morning’s psalm with the psalmist’s desperate cry to God to forgive and rescue him. This is a classic Advent theme because it is a prayer of waiting that contains a mixture of desperation and hope. The psalmist doesn’t tell us what his sins and transgressions are that he fears his enemies will discover. Like us, he keeps his sins secret. But they aren’t hidden from God and the psalmist knows it. And so he pleads for God to act on his behalf in mercy and grace. If we understand this dynamic, we are close to understanding the meaning of Advent.

Likewise, our fears about death are heightened when we read Jesus’ warnings about the trials and tribulations that would one day beset Jerusalem because of its rejection of him as God’s true Messiah. We are afraid of trials and tribulations, in part, because in the context of our gospel lesson, Jesus clearly saw them as being part of God’s judgment on our sin, and we know we are not immune to that judgment. As we contemplate this, we know that death with its power to sweep us and our loved ones away is part of that judgment. An honest admission of our standing before God without his gracious intervention on our behalf is also part of observing a true Advent because we know we are powerless to prevent our own death. We can exercise like crazy, eat right, and take great care of ourselves, but we will still die, and no amount of facelifts, tummy tucks, boob-jobs, vitamin regimens, miracle drugs or anything else, including the Christmas cheer we attempt to create to distract us from this grim reality, is going to change that fact.

But we are Christians and so we have real hope, the sure and certain expectation that God has acted and will finally act to rescue us from his fierce judgment on our sins and the death that results. We see it in our gospel lesson where our Lord tells us not to cower in fear when we hear or experience great trials and tribulations, but rather to stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is near. Why is our redemption near? Is it because we find special favor in God’s sight or are exempt from God’s judgment and death because we are somehow deserving of God’s favor? Of course not. We are sinners like everyone else. What is different is that we have seen the power of God at work in the death and resurrection of Jesus and we believe it is the only power under heaven that has the power to rescue us from God’s wrath on our sins. We see this promise echoed in our OT lesson with God’s promise to send his people a Messiah to rescue them from the exile their sins have caused and to rescue us from our exile to death that our sins have caused. And so God in his great mercy and love promises to set all things right and rescue us in the process so that we do not suffer ultimate destruction. God did this, of course, by sending his Son to die for us and absorb God’s terrible wrath that was reserved for us, thus freeing us from having to suffer it and removing any reason for us to fear God’s wrath and death anymore. We don’t fear death because we know its power over us has been broken forever in our Lord’s resurrection that gives us a glimpse of what awaits us. 

And what awaits us as Christians? Resurrection and new creation. Because we have been freed from Sin’s tyranny by the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because we know the power of death has been broken by Christ’s resurrection, we no longer need to be afraid. Of course, God’s victory over the power of Sin and its partner death has not yet been fully realized. We must wait for the Master’s return for that to happen (Mark 13.35). But Advent proclaims the Master will return and God’s initial victory will be fully consummated so that we can live in this life as people with real joy and hope that is not contingent on the circumstances of this world. It is contingent on the love and power of God. When that day comes, our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and reanimated by the power of the Spirit, not by flesh and blood. God the Son will judge all things on behalf of God the Father and bring into existence a new world, the new heavens and earth, that will be suitable for our new bodies to live in forever, and where there will be no more sighing, sorrow, sickness, death, tears, alienation, loneliness, or disease. Ever. To be sure, this is a future promise and expectation, and that can drive us crazy in a world that demands instant gratification. But think of a future without this hope, where death and eternal destruction is your destiny. See how that works out for you and as you live out your mortal days. 

So what are we to do in the interim? Does our future hope and promise mean that we have to wait to have a real relationship with God? Of course not. Eternal life starts right now because God hasn’t given up on us or his creation. It involves living our lives together in righteousness and faith based on a real hope that God is good to his word. God gives us his Spirit to live and love each other as a renewed family, the people of God formed around his eternal Son Jesus Christ, who is our only life and hope. This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle lesson today. Loving God and each other, engaging in God’s word and the sacraments, all allow us to peer into the darkness and realize that the night will not last forever, that the forces of evil, including death, have been defeated and will one day be vanquished at the last judgment. This is what Advent is about. It means living with a lively and real faith in Christ, realizing that God could have chucked us and his entire creation and started over but didn’t because God loves us and wants us to live, not die. Let that knowledge heal and transform you as you peer into the darkness this Advent. Let it heal you because you know that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That’s the hope and anticipation of Advent, my beloved, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.