The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018—Day 3

He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, that you may be at the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. He, being rich, became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you may be rich. Therefore his poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord’s weakness is our virtue.

—Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 2:41-42

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018—Day 2

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and celebrate, all who love Zion! Today the ancient bond of the condemnation of Adam is loosed. Paradise is opened to us. Therefore let all creation sing and dance for joy. Christ has come to restore it and to save our souls!

—John the Monk, Stichera of the Nativity of the Lord

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2018—Day 1

Once again this year, as my Christmas gift to you, I am going to post excerpts from the wisdom of the ancient commentators on the Incarnation of God. I will be posting each day until January 5. May you find them as edifying as I have. Merry Christmas!

Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all.

—Prayer from Leo the Great

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.

Advent Antiphons—December 23, 2018

From The Book of Common Worship’s Times and Seasons (p.58).

These antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’, were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, according to the Roman use, on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December). They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The Common Worship Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century.

23 December – O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

—cf Isaiah 7.14

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.

Advent Antiphons—December 22, 2018

From The Book of Common Worship’s Times and Seasons (p.58).

These antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’, were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, according to the Roman use, on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December). They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The Common Worship Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century.

22 December – O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

—cf Isaiah 28.16; Ephesians 2.14

Advent Antiphons—December 21, 2018

From The Book of Common Worship’s Times and Seasons (p.58).

These antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’, were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, according to the Roman use, on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December). They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The Common Worship Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century.

21 December – O Oriens

O Morning Star, splendor of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

—cf Malachi 4.2

Advent Antiphons—December 20, 2018

From The Book of Common Worship’s Times and Seasons (p.58).

These antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’, were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, according to the Roman use, on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December). They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The Common Worship Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century. 

20 December – O Clavis David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

—cf Isaiah 22.22; 42.7

Advent Antiphons—December 19, 2018

From The Book of Common Worship’s Times and Seasons (p.58).

These antiphons, or refrains, all beginning ‘O …’, were sung before and after the Magnificat at Vespers, according to the Roman use, on the seven days preceding Christmas Eve (17–23 December). They are addressed to God, calling for him to come as teacher and deliverer, with a tapestry of scriptural titles and pictures that describe his saving work in Christ. In the medieval rite of Salisbury Cathedral that was widely followed in England before the Reformation, the antiphons began on 16 December and there was an additional antiphon (‘O Virgin of virgins’) on 23 December; this is reflected in the Calendar of The Book of Common Prayer, where 16 December is designated O Sapientia (O Wisdom). The Common Worship Calendar has adopted the more widely used form. It is not known when and by whom the antiphons were composed, but they were already in use by the eighth century.

19 December – O  Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

—cf Isaiah 11.10; 45.14; 52.15; Romans 15.12