Notable and Quotable

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 of 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 grace for it.

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation 10.14

Advent Reflection

From Anglican Mainstream.

With this last antiphon our expectation finds joy now in the certainty of fulfillment.  We call Jesus by one of the most personal and intimate of his titles, Emmanuel, God-with-us.  While at the same time he is also to be exalted above us as our king, However, the pressure is on and the time is running short and the idea of serving a king and cooking the Christmas feast are not balancing out. The lessons today of sorts reinforce that message but not in the manner that the consumer culture may suggest.

Engage the reflection.

Why Read the Bible: To Develop a Basis of Real Hope

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

–Revelation 21.22-22.5 (NIV)

In vivid apocalyptic language, John describes for us, in part, what the promised New Creation will look like in today’s passage. In it is the only real basis for hope because the evangelist is reminding us to take on an eternal perspective when we think about life.

Too often we put our ultimate hope and trust in false and temporary things. We try to build up our bank accounts. We try to plan for our futures. We try to hang out with the right people or find the right job or mate. We attempt to build up for ourselves security through power or the accumulations of goods and toys. While there is certainly nothing wrong with planning for the future, none of this can bring us real hope because deep down we all understand that the things of this world are destined to pass away and that not even our futures are guaranteed.

None of this makes us feel very good but it is true nevertheless.

But in today’s passage, John paints a breathtaking and beautiful picture of what awaits those who put their ultimate hope and trust in Christ. He tells us first that we will get to live directly in God’s Presence and therefore we will never have to live in darkness again. We will get to see God’s face forever. This immediately reminds us of what Paul told the Corinthians: Now we see in a mirror dimly. Then we will see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13.12b).

What this means for us is that our exile and alienation from God will be ended forever. John’s mention of the tree of life takes us back to Genesis 1-3 and reminds us once again that God loves us so much he plans to restore us to paradise even though we rebelled against him at one time. All of this, of course, is made possible by the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross and appropriated through faith.

John continues and tells us that nothing evil or broken or bad will be allowed in the New Creation. The curse of our sin will be ended forever. We will get to live as God intended for us to live when he created us. When we think about it, this is a good thing because after all, who would want to live forever with all the hurts and heartaches and brokenness that accompany us in our mortal lives?

All this, of course, reminds us that life is about having a proper relationship with God and that God has acted decisively on our behalf to end our exile from him once and for all. Best of all, we don’t have to wait for the New Creation to enjoy this gift. God’s gracious invitation to us through Christ is open to everyone right here and now. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done or failed to do. We only have to accept the gracious invitation and open ourselves up to the life-giving and transformative Presence of the Holy Spirit.

This, then, is why the New Creation is the only sufficient hope for us. Its promise reminds us that life far transcends our mortal existence. It reminds us that God is not indifferent to us or our plight. Instead, he has acted decisively to overthrow the powers and forces of evil and to end our alienation from him forever, an alienation that was caused by our own sin and stubborn rebelliousness. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

As you get ready to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, stop and ponder these things. Remember that we are celebrating the wondrous gift of the Incarnation. Remember that we are celebrating the end of our exile from God, and give thanks for his great and limitless love for you. Then anticipate with great hope and joy the promise of New Creation that awaits those of us who put our ultimate hope and trust in Christ. Doing so will ensure that you will begin to develop the basis for real hope and indeed have a very Merry Christmas. And nothing in all creation will be able to rob you of that.

Notable and Quotable

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.

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation 10.14

Advent Reflection

From Anglican Mainstream.

The earlier antiphons have already alluded to the Messiah coming not only to Israel  but to convert the gentile nations and breaking down all barriers to the freedom and peace that he is. While the Messiah is the cornerstone on whom our spiritual foundations are laid,  we are reminded today that there are other examples of faith from unlikely sources like the women of Galilee in the person of Mary and Elizabeth who are persons of great faith.  The canticle they pray gives us a sense of what Kingdom this King of the Gentiles is going to establish.

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Why Read the Bible: To Learn How Not to be Afraid (2)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail [emphasis mine].” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

–Luke 1.26-38 (NIV)

Today we have a study of contrasts from yesterday’s passage. In yesterday’s reflection, we saw how Zechariah was afraid when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and doubted the wondrous promise of God that he and Elizabeth would have a baby in their old age. Zechariah asked Gabriel for a sign and instead received the gift of imposed silence.

Contrast Zechariah’s reaction to Mary’s in today’s passage. Like Zechariah, Mary was afraid when Gabriel appeared to her and announced she was favored by the Lord. She wondered what that could possibly mean. And as we saw yesterday, the angel’s announcement to her that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and bear a child put Mary in a very precarious position.

Unlike Zechariah, however, Mary heeded Gabriel’s advice. She stopped being afraid and submitted herself to God’s will. She wondered how God could possibly accomplish this but unlike Zechariah, she did not ask the angel for a sign. Instead, she took Gabriel at his word when he told her that, “no word from God will ever fail.” We know this based on what Luke tells us later in verse 45: [Elizabeth said to Mary,] “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”

Notice the trust and faith this requires. Mary had no assurance or guarantee that she would not end up put out of her community or killed. Yet she trusted God and obeyed, and consequently stopped being afraid. This can only come from great faith and knowledge of God. Why would we expect Mary to trust a God whom she did not know? That just doesn’t make sense. No, surely Mary knew this God about whom Gabriel spoke and thus she stopped being afraid because she trusted God.

And Mary is not the only one who has found peace and assurance by putting her hope and trust in God. Consider the following story of the martyrs of Lyon (177 AD):

But the whole fury of the mob, the governor, and the soldiers particularly fell on Sanctus, a deacon from Vienne; Maturus, a recent convert yet a noble combatant; Attalus, a native of Pergamus, where he had always been a Pillar and foundation of the church; and on Blandina, through whom Christ showed that the things that to men appear vile and deformed and contemptible are with God of great glory, on account of love to Him,—a love which is not a mere boastful appearance, but shows itself in the power which it exercises over the life. We were all afraid, especially her earthly mistress, who was herself one of the combatants among the Witnesses, that she would not be able to make a bold confession on account of the weakness of her body. But, Blandina was filled with such power, that those who tortured her one after the other in every way from morning till evening were wearied and tired. They admitted they were baffled. They had no other torture they could apply to her. They were astonished that she remained alive. Her whole body was torn and opened up. They said that even one of the forms of torture employed was enough to have destroyed her life, not to mention so many excruciating punishments. But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession. Her declaration, “I am a Christian, and there is no evil done amongst us,” brought her refreshment, rest, and insensibility to all the sufferings inflicted on her.

Sanctus also nobly endured all the excessive and superhuman tortures which man could possibly devise. For the wicked hoped, because of the continuance and greatness of the tortures, to hear him confess some of the alleged unlawful practices. But he opposed them with such firmness that he did not tell them even his own name, nor that of his nation or city, nor if he were slave or free. In answer to all these questions, he said in Latin, “I am a Christian.” …He gave this confession to every question placed to him. Therefore the governor and the torturers determined to subdue him. When every other means failed, they at last fixed red-hot plates of brass to the most delicate parts of his body. And these indeed were burned, but he himself remained inflexible, unyielding, and firm in his confession. He was refreshed and strengthened by the heavenly fountain of the water of life which issues from the belly of Christ. But his body bore witness to what had happened. It was all wounds and welts, shrunk and torn up. It had externally lost the human shape. In him Christ suffering worked great wonders, destroying the enemy. He was an example to the others that there is nothing fearful where there is the Father’s love, and nothing painful where there is Christ’s glory. For the wicked after some days again tortured the Witness. They thought that, since his body was swollen and inflamed, if they were to apply the same tortures they would gain the victory over him, especially since the parts of his body could not bear to be touched by the hand. Possibly he would die from the tortures and inspire the rest with fear. Yet not only did no such thing happen to him, but even, contrary to every human expectation, his body unbent itself. It became erect during the subsequent tortures and resumed its former appearance and the use of its limbs. The second torture turned out through the grace of Christ a cure, not an affliction.

Unless we are willing to say that Blandina, Sanctus, and the others were simply crazy and out of their minds, we cannot help but be amazed at the secret of their power to face the most horrendous circumstances that the forces of darkness could throw at them. Their great faith and trust in the Christ who had redeemed them enabled them to rejoice even as their bodies were being tortured to death. They clearly took Jesus at his word to not be afraid of “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who could destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10.28). They were not afraid because they knew the One who had claimed them forever. They understood that life and living is more than biological existence or material comfort.

Real life is having an intimate relationship with the Source and Author of all life. That is real power. That is real life. That is the only real antidote to the fear that besets us.

The same power that Mary, Blandina, Sanctus, and countless other Christians have found is available to you too. If you have not done so already, are you willing to take the leap and put your whole hope and trust in Christ so that you too will find real life and power to overcome all of your fears?

A Prayer for the Feast Day of St. Thomas

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with  firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent Reflection

From Anglican Mainstream.

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. Poor Thomas! He made one remark and has been branded as “Doubting Thomas” ever since. But if he doubted, he also believed. He made what is certainly the most explicit statement of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and My God!” (see John 20:24-28) and, in so expressing his faith, gave Christians a prayer that will be said till the end of time.

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Why Read the Bible: To Learn How Not to be Afraid

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

–Luke 1:5-20 (NIV)

From today’s lesson, we gain insight on how to live without fear. The former bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, tells us that “don’t be afraid” is the most common phrase in the entire Bible.

But we are afraid. Why is that?

To learn the answer to this question, we need to look at what life in paradise looked like for humans. God created us to have relationship with him, the kind of relationship in which we acknowledge God is creator and we are his creatures. This kind of relationship, of course, is built on knowledge and trust. We trust God’s goodness and his intentions for us because we know him and submit our wills to him. When that happens, we really do have a sense of peace that passes all understanding. Why? Because we know God is far better able to care for us than we are ourselves. He is omniscient and omnipotent. He has an eternal perspective and more importantly, he loves us. Even when our Lord asks us to do hard things for him the way he did with Peter after Jesus’ resurrection (see John 21:15-25), we have peace because we trust God to take care of us and know we are doing his will. What could be better?

But sin intervened in the Garden of Eden. Humans wanted to be their own god and not submit to the one true God, and that got us kicked out of paradise. We have been living in fear ever since. We are afraid because deep down we know we really aren’t in control of many things. We can’t control our aging process. We can’t control how others feel about us or behave toward us. We can’t raise ourselves from the dead or heal ourselves of desperately evil diseases. We cannot really control events that unfold around us and all this makes us very afraid. But instead of seeking God’s will for our lives, instead of taking the time and making the effort to get to know God and his track record with his people so that we can learn to put our whole hope and trust in him and his good will for us, we seek to take matters into our own hands, even though we know that we do not have the power to do so.

In other words, our alienation and separation from God makes us afraid because try as we might, we cannot play God and we live in a world created good but marred by human sin and evil.

This doubt and failure to trust in God’s goodness is what got Zechariah in trouble in today’s passage. Instead of trusting in God’s goodness and power, he demanded a sign from Gabriel and was rewarded with an imposed silence until John was born. Luke tells us this can happen to even the best of us because he makes the point of telling us that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous” people. Yes, God gave Abraham a sign when the latter asked for one but that is because Abraham did not have any antecedents on which to base his trust. He was the first of God’s called-out people, the Jews, and had no prior frame of reference or history with God’s dealing with his people. Not so with Zechariah. He had many examples of God’s mighty power to deliver his people from their suffering and exile. But he asked for a sign nevertheless and that is a telltale sign of doubt and disbelief. “Show me a sign, God. I don’t believe you or trust in your ability to deliver.”

Contrast Zechariah’s reaction to Mary’s when she learned she would be pregnant with the Holy Spirit. We moderns do not appreciate the precarious situation in which this put Mary. At best she could expect to be expelled from her family and village. At worst, she could expect to be put to death for perceived sexual immorality. But she did not question Gabriel the way Zechariah had. She did not ask for a sign. Instead she trusted God’s good intention for her even when she did not understand it all (see tomorrow’s lesson, Luke 1.26-38).

That’s faith in action and that is the secret to living your life without fear.

And lest you think I am pontificating about this from afar, think again. I have recently learned that my job as priest at St. Andrew’s as been eliminated because of budget shortfalls. Since I am in the ACNA, I have nowhere to go because our young province is so new there is no existing infrastructure of churches to which I can go. If I want to work I must plant my own church. Talk about a skill-set that is not in my repertoire! Talk about having every reason to be afraid! But I am not afraid, at least about this turn of events, because I know God is in charge. I know he will lead me to where he wants me to go. I am sure the days ahead will be difficult and challenging. But if I am truly doing the Lord’s will, how can I be afraid because I have the promise of Immanuel, God with us, and based on my past experience with God, I know his promises are always true.

If you have not done so already, may you too learn the secret of living your life without fear, even in the darkest hours, because you too know Immanuel. You too know his goodness and love toward us. You too know his track record on delivering on his promises to end our exile from him once and for all. How can we possibly be afraid?

An Advent Reflection from Biblegateway.com

From Biblegateway.com.

The Christmas truce on Flanders Field in Belgium is a timeless testimony to the power of the birth of Christ. On the western front of World War I, a brief, unofficial cessation of hostilities occurred between British and German forces. It began on Christmas Eve 1914, when German soldiers in their trenches began singing “Silent Night.” The British stopped firing and began singing English carols. Soon the troops were greeting each other across no-man’s-land and exchanging small gifts.

This appealed to the old history teacher in me. Read it all.