Does God Change?

By Fr. Jay Rice

Does God Change? Does He change according to the times and what is considered right or wrong in a given society?

I was forced to ponder this question today when I was called an “ignorant” clergy member. I was called this because I hold to what the bible teaches, what Christ taught, the Apostles preached, and the Church has preserved as truth for over 2000 years (longer than that when you consider the Old Testament writings). It was over a discussion about homosexuality. Apparently a Roman Catholic Priest last Sunday in England announced to his parish during his sermon that he was “gay” and that he believed in “marriage equality.” When I made a comment that rebuked this clergy members stance in a discussion I was called a ignorant clergy member. I was also asked by the person “since when has homosexuality become a sin?” I was slightly taken aback assuming the person was a Christian given the format the discussion was in. I thought, what bible are people reading? Do people who engage in Christian discussions or go to church even read their bibles? The argument I constantly hear is that God changes. Times change, therefore God must change also. I am told we have to adapt to the changing morality of the times. Is this true? Is this what the Bible teaches? The answer is a resounding NO! Now don’t get me wrong. I am not singling out one sin over another. This mindset applies to how we view all sin and if we believe the word of God to be just that, the holy word of God. First, let me address the character of God that is revealed in holy scripture concerning the unchangeable nature of God. Malachi 3:6 states “For I am the Lord, I change not…” James 1:17 says that with God there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Hebrews 13:8 says of our Lord “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” There are many more verses that describe the unchanging character of God but these shall suffice to make the point. Next we need to understand how God views sin. Psalm 5:5 states “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” Proverbs 8:36 says, “But he that sinneth against me wrongest his own soul: all they that hate me love death.” Isaiah 13:9 says, “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.” Proverbs 6:16-19 speaks of Gods hatred toward sin. Again, there are many more verses that describe Gods hatred of sin. All one has to do is read the bible and this becomes clear. The whole redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ is because of mans sin. Why does God hate sin? Because He is Holy. Gods standard is absolute holiness. 1 Peter 1:16 says “Be ye holy; for I am holy.” Of course none of us can live up to that standard which is why we have redemption through our Lord. However, that is still the standard. That is what we strive for by repentance and amendment of life. In fact repentance and conformity to God is required for the Christian. Acts 2:38 says, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Jesus Himself said “saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2). The whole point to all this is that the scriptures are clear. There is sin. Sin is what God says it is. It is not for us to pick and choose. We are not God. God is God. We must be conformed to His image. We, His created beings cannot demand that God be conformed to our image. Conformity is required by us toward God, not God toward us (Romans 12:2). The scriptures are clear. The teachings of the prophets, our Lord, the Apostles and all the saints that proceeded us are clear. If I am to be labeled an “ignorant clergy member” for adhering to the faith once delivered and for preaching what the word of God reveals about sin, repentance and our obligation to be conformed to Gods image, not our own, then let me be so labeled. I would rather be in the company of the Saints in my so called ignorance than in the company of the so called wisdom of the world.

Jesus Has Come!

Jesus Has Come!

Have you ever anticipated the arrival of anyone? We’ve just come through a time of the Church year when we have anticipated, and celebrated, the coming of our Lord. Christmas has come and gone, what happens now that the hype is over?

It’s in the midst of the taking down of Christmas that we can be reminded again, that the Christ has come for us. He hasn’t come to us just during the celebration of the holidays, but He is here for the normal, everyday, routine of our lives. It’s into that kind of world that we land in our text for today.

Tradition has it that the story found in Matthew 2:1-11 happened as long as two years after the birth of Jesus. Just like the time of year we now find ourselves, the hype was gone. Jesus is most likely a toddler, tearing things up around the house like any other two-year-old would do.

What we do know, is that day-in, day-out living for the parents of Jesus had begun. Normalcy has set into the home of Mary and Joseph. It’s to this picture–this normal home with a toddler and regular parents–that these strange figures, star gazer, astrologers, show up. Nothing for them had been normal as they made their western sojourn.

These are people who are waiting for a new word. Like we find in Isaiah 60:2, darkness is dominating the world, but the light has come, and if it’s here, they want a piece of it. The calling for the people to rise and shine, recognizing that their light has come, is the new word everyone has been waiting for. But what exactly does that mean?

This is the continuing story of a God who is initiating a relationship with us. We’ve seen throughout the Christmas narrative in both Luke and Matthew that God is seeking to make himself known. Let’s review briefly today how this story of Christmas unfolds in some dramatic ways.

God approaches Mary, a teenage girl, whom scholars say is no older than 14. God then approaches a man, engaged to marry a woman now pregnant with the “Son of God.” He proceeds to approach a group of frightened, lonely shepherds, who will serve as the first group of witnesses to the birth of this new King. Odd to choose a set of people who’s character is so questionable that their testimony isn’t even credible in court.

And yet, these people are blind. Jesus would later call them “sheep without a shepherd.” They weren’t finding help within the religious system, there was no hope among politicians, and their oppression continued as it had for the past 450 years.

It appears that they are seeking Him, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s just another example of Him seeking out us. God is again initiating the relationship with us. He places parents in a stable, a baby in a manger, angel choirs on the hillsides, and a star in the sky.

First there’s Herod. He is so afraid of a child he has an entire region of male toddlers slaughtered. He was concerned with what this child would do to his life–too much interference. He might lose his position, his seat of power.

If that happens, he also loses his ability to influence, because power and control is how we influence others. Take a look at the group of religious men surrounding Herod, the “chief priests and teachers of the Law.” This is the church board of the day.

Their response is complete indifference. They were so wrapped up on their Temple duty, their allegiance to the task at hand, that they didn’t have time to deal with this child from Bethlehem, or wherever he is from. They are so consumed with their own affairs, their own sense of importance, that they don’t give the time of day to Jesus. He means nothing to them.

Then there is the last group in this story, the wise men. It’s no wonder we still talk about them; they are the first true “spiritual seekers.” They have a choice: stay home or journey after this sign. A journey like this couldn’t make any sense then or now.

This passage gives a new message of hope. It shows a God who makes the first move, always in our direction. And it demands a response, one way or the other. There is no middle ground on this one. We either journey, work to stop others who are journeying, or just don’t give a darn. Either way, a choice is made.

Just like them, it demands a response from us as well. This is a God who isn’t just about engaging our lives during the “holidays,” but wants to walk through life with us in the routine, the struggles, the not so good days, the Januarys of life.

Where do we find ourselves today? Too concerned about what this baby might cost us? Indifferent to the life this child can enable us to live? Or genuinely seeking to know Him more and worship Him. God still calls, how will we respond

Psalm 86

I will thank thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and will praise thy Name for evermore: for thou, Lord, art good and gracious: and of great mercy unto all them that call upon thee, alleluia.

Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. 1 Chron. xxix. 11.

 The Second Sunday after Christmas Day

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 
For the Epistle. Isaiah lxi. 1.

THE Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

 
The Gospel. St. Matthew ii. 19.

WHEN Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: and he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

THE COLLECT

O God, who didst ordain that thine only-begotten Son should be the Saviour of the world, and didst command that his Name should be called Jesus: mercifully grant, that we who worship his holy Name on earth, may at length behold him face to face in heaven. Where he liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of …

THE EPISTLE

Acts 4.8-12

In those days: Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

THE GOSPEL

St. Luke 2:21

At that time: When eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Circumsion of Christ

Christmas Eve.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

In Greek the word for “word” is logos. It is used in many places, but of special interest is how it is used of Jesus. As our text says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word is divine and the word “became flesh and dwelt among us”. In other words, Jesus is the Word of God who represents God to us and us to God.

The reason the Lord wished to be born as a human being was so that he could take on a humanity in reality and make it divine, in order to save the human race. Know, then, that the Lord is Jehovah himself, or the Father, in human form. The Lord himself teaches this in John: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

And: “Jesus said, ‘From now on you know and have seen the Father. If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14:7, 9, 11). And: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine” (John 17:10).

This great mystery is described in John Chapter 1. “The Word” is divine truth that has been revealed to humankind. Because this could not be revealed except by Jehovah as a person, that is, except by Jehovah in human form–thus it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The fact that divine truth could not have been revealed to humankind except by Jehovah in human form is also clearly stated: “No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

An event that no merely human words can adequately describe is recalled in the simplest language: “The Word become a human being.” This simple sounding announcement contains an infinity of great ideas! The event itself was the effect and expression of infinite love, taking form as infinite wisdom.

The incarnation — the birth of Christ — was the complement of creation. It was a more complete manifestation of the love and wisdom of God than even revelation and providence. It involved and provided for a new and spiritual creation. Without it, the purpose of the first creation would not have been realized.

Incredible as it may seem that God should become a human being, it nevertheless involves no contradiction. Although there is no proportion–no ratio–there is a relationship between the infinite nature of God and the finite nature of human beings.

And this relationship made the assuming of a human nature, however marvelous, entirely consistent with divine order. The Word that became a human being was humanity’s prototype as well as its creator.

If Jesus had not been begotten of God, “all the fullness of deity” could not have lived in him in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). Nor could it have been said, “The Word became a human being.” Yet this is the grand truth of the Lord’s incarnation. God became human!

This is a perfect declaration of a most wonderful truth. We should never try to make the incarnation less than this, nor to dispose of it with some easy explanation. Let us keep it as God in his Word has put it. The writer of the fourth Gospel did not hesitate; why should any of us falter? Perhaps that is not exactly a fair question, since, of course, John had direct, personal experience of the Lord.

We find in the first letter of John these words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us”

We are invited to have fellowship in a direct line of faith with one who was commissioned to give such testimony. Let us, therefore, see the living Word of God in human form as the one great truth, central to our Christian faith, intended to enlighten and strengthen our fellowship.

This profound truth ought to draw us, win us, strengthen us. We need this ministry of forbearance and power, grace added to grace. For we are slow, not simply to believe the truth, but to live in the light of it. And yet, what could be greater?

Blessed indeed are those who can say, “Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.”

Ps. 96.

Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad before the Lord: for he is come.

REMEMBER the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas-day.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only. begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin*; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy† Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. Heb. 1. 1.

GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and up holding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the an gels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; there-fore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou. Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

The Gospel. St. John i. 1.

IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to be come the Sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

1st Sunday after Christmas

But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.’

There are many passages of Scripture that speak to us during the Christmas season. Many times we are drawn to the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the first Christmas night. While these are wonderful and tell us many things, there are two in Paul’s epistles that have special meaning. I think that most will see the significance of what Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-5:

In this passage we see just a little of the work done behind the scenes of Christmas. Christmas was no accident and it all worked according to the plans of the Father.

In another passage we see a summary of Christmas from the Son’s perspective we hear in Philippians 2:5-11.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

These verses encapsulate the Christmas story. More than that, they encapsulate the life of the Messiah. Paul pre-summarizes Handel’s Messiah. Jesus Christ was (and is) God. It was nothing for Jesus to be considered equal with God, because He is God.

And while He is God, He made himself of no reputation and became a man. Not only a man, but a servant of men. This is what we must remember at Christmas.

Now as He was a man (yet equal with God), He humbled Himself further and allowed Himself to be killed at the hands of other men. He was put to death on a cross at the hands of the leaders of the Jews (his own people) and Pontius Pilate. This is what most remember at Easter.

I want to tell you why we commemorate Christmas and Easter. I know some point to some of the pagan traditions of these holidays, but we celebrate them because Jesus Christ not only came to earth at Christmas and rose from the dead on Easter, He also reigns as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Look back at Philippians. Because Jesus humbled Himself and lived and died among us, the Father has exalted Him high above all names and every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. Every thing in every place — in heaven, in earth, and even under the earth — will show reverence to Him and confess that He is Lord.

A journalist wrote that “Christians should stop whining about missing the Christ of Christmas.” He said that some historical perspective would show that people have been celebrating at this time of the year for centuries, even centuries before Christ was born! I’ll grant him that people were celebrating at Christmas time before Christ came, but He came! 

And since He came, He rules all. He is Lord of all. Everything. even the date on the calendar is changed because of Him. I don’t care whether the Romans, pagans, or anyone else set up our calendar, I recognize Christ is Lord of the days, months, and seasons.

I don’t care that pagans celebrated the return of the sun that warms the earth, when the time was right the Son came and humbled Himself, and because of that, He is now Lord. Lord of all

REMEMBER the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace. may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

The Epistle. Gal. iv. 1.

NOW I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive time adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an. heir of God through Christ.

The Gospel. St. Matt. i. 18.

THE birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying. Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, arid thou shalt call his name JESUS: for lie shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

In Greek the word for “word” is logos. It is used in many places, but of special interest is how it is used of Jesus. As our text says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word is divine and the word “became flesh and dwelt among us”. In other words, Jesus is the Word of God who represents God to us and us to God.

The reason the Lord wished to be born as a human being was so that he could take on a humanity in reality and make it divine, in order to save the human race. Know, then, that the Lord is Jehovah himself, or the Father, in human form. The Lord himself teaches this in John: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

And: “Jesus said, ‘From now on you know and have seen the Father. If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me” (John 14:7, 9, 11). And: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine” (John 17:10).

This great mystery is described in John Chapter 1. “The Word” is divine truth that has been revealed to humankind. Because this could not be revealed except by Jehovah as a person, that is, except by Jehovah in human form–thus it says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The fact that divine truth could not have been revealed to humankind except by Jehovah in human form is also clearly stated: “No one has ever seen God. It is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

An event that no merely human words can adequately describe is recalled in the simplest language: “The Word become a human being.” This simple sounding announcement contains an infinity of great ideas! The event itself was the effect and expression of infinite love, taking form as infinite wisdom.

The incarnation — the birth of Christ — was the complement of creation. It was a more complete manifestation of the love and wisdom of God than even revelation and providence. It involved and provided for a new and spiritual creation. Without it, the purpose of the first creation would not have been realized.

Incredible as it may seem that God should become a human being, it nevertheless involves no contradiction. Although there is no proportion–no ratio–there is a relationship between the infinite nature of God and the finite nature of human beings.

And this relationship made the assuming of a human nature, however marvelous, entirely consistent with divine order. The Word that became a human being was humanity’s prototype as well as its creator.

If Jesus had not been begotten of God, “all the fullness of deity” could not have lived in him in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). Nor could it have been said, “The Word became a human being.” Yet this is the grand truth of the Lord’s incarnation. God became human!

This is a perfect declaration of a most wonderful truth. We should never try to make the incarnation less than this, nor to dispose of it with some easy explanation. Let us keep it as God in his Word has put it. The writer of the fourth Gospel did not hesitate; why should any of us falter? Perhaps that is not exactly a fair question, since, of course, John had direct, personal experience of the Lord.

We find in the first letter of John these words: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us”

We are invited to have fellowship in a direct line of faith with one who was commissioned to give such testimony. Let us, therefore, see the living Word of God in human form as the one great truth, central to our Christian faith, intended to enlighten and strengthen our fellowship.

This profound truth ought to draw us, win us, strengthen us. We need this ministry of forbearance and power, grace added to grace. For we are slow, not simply to believe the truth, but to live in the light of it. And yet, what could be greater?

Blessed indeed are those who can say, “Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another.”

Ps. 96.

Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad before the Lord: for he is come.

REMEMBER the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas-day.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only. begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin*; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy† Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle. Heb. 1. 1.

GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and up holding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the an gels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; there-fore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou. Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

The Gospel. St. John i. 1.

IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to be come the Sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Advent IV

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

You may be familiar with the symbols four the Gospels. They are found In the New Testament – Namely, the four living creatures in the revelation of St John, “The first was like a lion, and the second like a calf, and the third had the face of a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle.”

John describes these in order which the Gospels seemingly were written – first Mark, then Matthew, Luke and John.

Matthew’s symbol is a calf, because that is the symbol of sacrifice – and because his Gospel focuses on Priesthood and prophecy. Luke’s symbol is that of a man, because of his emphasis on the humanity of Christ. John’s symbol is the eagle – because of his vision and spiritual comprehension.

And as for Mark’s Gospel, the lion brings with it the preaching of John the Baptist. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” We may ask what wilderness voice is most impressive? It is the lions – The king!

John the Baptist is like Mark’s lion in many ways. He lives in the desert. He shows independence, a lordly dignity, vigor in appearance an utterance. His message is nothing if not fierce.

What are we considering is the idea of John as the predecessor of Christ, paving the way if you will? The Old Testament has two prophesies pointing to John’s ministry. The first is Malachi, describing John as a minister and a herald. This is sited by all four of the evangelists, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

Only John’s Gospel, however, quotes the Baptist as identifying that prophecy with himself, and claiming the endorsement of Isaiah. We have heard this in this morning’s Gospel. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”

As you know, Advent is the season that we wait and prepare for our Lord. There is within it the hint of a second advent – when the time and space will end when Christ will come to be our judge. But Advent focuses mainly on the historic.

In that sense Advent has long since come about. Yet there is also an inward and spiritual Advent – One that is in the offing for those whom Christ is touching now.

The most important thing that can happen to us is rebirth in Christ. That begins with our personal Advent: Jesus comes to us. However it is a truer fact that he is always there, and we must come to him. The Advent-Tide of our Spirits is that period between our awareness of him, and his coming to us.

The Advent Calendar recovers two things each year. One is the coming of Christ in history, beginning with his birth. The other is the coming of Christ to each of us – resulting in our re-birth. Each Advent is a rehearsal in its truest sense. We are given the re-run of a drama that is always good and always true. It takes us once again through this haunting season of anticipation.

Now for the larger significance of our test; “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Neither Jew nor Christian can think of thing of this world as wilderness – not while there is hope of a savior who can show and lead the way.

Yet without Christ our world is indeed a wilderness, it is a desert in the sense of there being no life – and little hope of finding any. It is a desert in the sense that we are alone in a vast expanse that even with us has no meaning.

The idea of wilderness attaches itself wherever life is hard or cruel or uncertain or out of order. Our wilderness is the world of natural calamity – of pain, suffering, sickness and death. It is also the world of spiritual calamity – of sin, injustice, fraud and dishonor. We need to be saved by these, lest we trust no one!

If we are to be saved, we have got at the same time to be Jews and Christians. This is to say, we must find God first in the Old Testament, then find him in the new.

There are no answers in the religions of the East. They get out of the wilderness, by looking for God within. They have a God that has no meaning, and to that point, never did exist. The morals are good, but they have no substance.

Likewise with the paganism of the West; None have room for God; none give the ultimate meaning or personal salvation. As with Minerva, who sprang full grown from Jupiter’s brow, there is not an iota of truth or goodness in them.

God’s answer is Jesus Christ. Our answer is his acceptance as our Savior and our King. He not only gives meaning to life, but he is life! It is meet and right, then that we should give him worship and adoration. Like John the Baptist, by decreasing in ourselves we are given increase in him.

3rd Sunday in Advent

Advent III. Gaudette Sunday

Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Matt 4:2

The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete (“Rejoice”), the first word of the introit of this day’s Mass

In the tradition of the Church calendar, the 3rd Sunday in Advent is often called Rose Sunday, because it represents a lightening of the dark violet of the rest of the penitential season of Advent.

This lightening has two points of significance. One is that of a greater light shining through the violet to reveal the rose tint signifying the coming of the Light, the other is a lightening of the mood, for which reason the Church has traditionally ascribed this Sunday to the quality of joy.

The rose color expresses the joy of recognition, the recognition of the One who shines from beyond the veil of violet, who is the Messenger of the Light. This is the message that John the Baptist was sending.

Today’s text is a story about Jesus and John the Baptist. John the Baptist is near the end of his life. He wants to know if his life work is being fulfilled. He sent those who lived with him to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus responds by saying to them, “go and tell him what you hear and see.”

Jesus told John’s disciples, “tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them, and blessed is anyone who takes no offense in me.”

Some would say that all change is regarded as a loss. All pastors have known people fearful of making the most basic and obvious of decisions because they don’t want to lose any of their options. All physicians know of people who don’t want to be well because wellness would change the boundaries of their lives and relationships.

Jesus went around changing things. At first glance we ask, “How can anyone be upset by blind people being given sight, or deaf people being able to hear, or lepers cleansed, or the lame walk, or the dead raised, or the poor hearing good news? How can this be regarded as troubling?” But think about it. It changes the status quo.

We live in the bloodiest century in human history. Millions have been killed in war, famine, and persecution. In the last century, we coined the word genocide. We went to a lot of trouble and expense to kill each other. The images that Jesus uses are not only events, but they are also metaphors.

And the notion of good news for the poor is really offensive to some of us. In fact, some of us are angry with the poor because they are poor. Human kind is generally uncomfortable with change. We go to great lengths to avoid change. We are especially distressed with change when it means a change in us.

Jesus said, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” The word blessed could appropriately be translated as happy. Listen to this. “Happy is anyone who takes no offense in me.” The changes that Jesus shows to John’s disciples are changes that lead to sight, understanding, walking-movement, hearing-knowledge, life-new, life- cleansing – wellness.

People are moved from despair to hope, understanding, movement, knowledge, new life, wellness and hope. These are powerful, positive forces. These are forces that generate positive, God-ward change. When we are able to embrace them, we are happy. When we fear them, we are offended by those who bring them. And Jesus was offensive enough to be killed.

John was offensive enough to be killed, too. Jesus very plainly tells why when he names John the Baptist as a prophet. In fact, Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the greatest of the prophets. Prophets weren’t necessarily predictors of the future. What they did was examine the conduct of the people or the government and, based on the examination, describe alternatives.

The basis for the examination was the will and law of God. A prophet might say, “If you, the king, continue idolatry, excessive taxation, and persist in stealing land from the poor. Then the dogs will lick up your blood in the streets. If on the other hand, you repent, turn to true worship, stop the excessive taxation, and return what you have stolen, the kingdom will be secure for your heirs.”

The message John proclaimed was simple, “repent, he is coming.” Jesus is the one who came.

He changed everything. His resurrection is the ultimate change.

Death no longer has the final say over our lives and us. The fact that death no longer has the last word is hard for us. Nothing can happen that will change anything. Despair is perfect stability. We humans crave stability. And Death is as permanent as you can get.

But that craving is a consequence of our fears and our sins. Be your own personal prophet. Examine yourself by God’s will and God’s law. Claim and accept that God loves you and seeks to give you a new life, a life that is happy with change because you are not offended by Jesus.

Are you the One, Jesus? Can you speak to us behind our thick prison walls this Christmas? Can you give strength to our feet? Give sight to our eyes? Give hope to our hearts? Give wholeness to our brokenness? Give life to our death?

And, Jesus might answer, “Are YOU the one? I live in you. You are my body in today’s world. It is through you that I can touch people’s hearts, bring wholeness to their brokenness, and set them free to love. With your hands I can reach out to the lonely. With your words I can comfort the grieving. With your voice I can proclaim good news to the poor.”

Jesus asks you today, “Are you the one, or am I to wait for another?”

First Sunday in Advent

Behold, thy King cometh unto thee” Matt 21:5

Have you ever heard the idle thought, “I wonder what I would do if Jesus came back today?” Or “I wonder if he really does know what I am thinking?”

If we were found doing something that we ought not be doing, in though word or deed, we would be ashamed, and very embarrassed. And that pain would be for him as well as us. We would hate to let down the One who has given his life for us. Or bring sorrow to the One who is altogether good.

There is a sly trick that sinners have tried, if they are familiar with the Bible, they find a welcome ally in a verse from Habakkuk (1:13), “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity.” It sounds like The God of Heaven can not see evil. But Habakkuk negates that thought with his very next verse, “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”

The pagan idea is that God cannot be pure if he has to gaze upon evil, as if evil will corrupt God! There fore, they say, his goodness limits him to seeing only good.

Those who think this have no understanding of God. A baby is pure in the sense that it is innocent of evil; they have no experience, knowledge or imagination to have corrupted them yet.

But we can not press the limits of God in any way. He is, in fact, all-seeing and all-knowing. Only the heathen can subscribe to the thought Habakkuk was testing, and rejected. The psalmist puts an example on the lips of a murder, (Psalm 94:7) “Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.”

Let it go at this: if God did not watch and grieve over the sins of men, we would have no salvation. In fact, there would be no personal knowledge of God. His pureness and holiness would shut him away from us altogether.

But God is not like that. Not the Lord who gave his life for ours. Not the Father, whose pain and sorrow had to be at least equal to the Son’s.

There is a curiosity in what Matthew wrote here. Even though all four of the evangelists speak of Christ’s Triumphal Entry, only John and Matthew refer to Zechariah’s prophecy. And they both paraphrase it, rather than quoting it exactly Zech (9:9) “O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass.”

However, Matthew weaves into his citation a similar passage of Isaiah’s which goes as follows “Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh.” The coincidence may have been accidental, but Matthew rather intended a conflation, or a melding of the two, so as to enlarge the meaning. His is what it would come to, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; he is thy salvation.”

Our King does come – Then, now and always. He not only brings salvation, but he is salvation. That means that he is the Messiah!

Let us return to our idle thought “I wonder what I would do if Jesus came back today?” That would not be a worry, if we were not occupied with sin and sinful thoughts. It also would not happen if we were engaged in prayer, inviting Jesus into our heart and mind, sensing him with us, and even expecting him to be with us, as he promised in Matt 28:20 “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Even so, we should ask ourselves how we ought to behave in Jesus’ presence. There is only one answer – with awe and reverence. Or to be more specific, we could offer him the gifts that prayer provides us – namely petition, intercession, confession, thanksgiving and adoration. All of these gifts are from us, to Him.

It would also be appropriate to give thought to the ways in which Jesus comes to us. One is history. These things we hear about really did happen. You and I could not be there. But each time we think about Jesus, or hear his Gospel, we participate in the witness of those that were there.

How else does our king come to us? One way is in his sacraments – and especially in the Sacrament of the Altar. Christ comes in the Sacred host, and in the Holy Chalice. We note in him there, the same mildness and lowliness he showed in the manger as a baby.

Again, Jesus comes not only sacramental, but also mystically. He comes in the word of God, pure and holy, but as sharp as a sword. He is also with us mystically every time we pray – whether we be alone with him or in the fellowship of the Church.

Our King also has a moral presence and comes to us in conscience. When he finds in us a conscience, it is evident the spirit got there first. It is He – the Spirit – who prepares us for the Son, and it is the Son who takes us to the Father, that is the Holy Trinity at work!

In all these modes of presence, Jesus comes in person. With anyone else, such presence would be considered as being given through a substitute or an agent. But not with Christ! Where the Sacrament is, he is there! Where two or three are gathered together in his name, he is there! Not as an idea, or a feeling, but as our living Savior and King!

The bounds that limit our vision or our presence have limitation on him. When Christ comes to us – no matter what the mode – he does so in his own power and in the wholeness of his person.

And remember this. Our King does not do things by halves. When we have made plain we want and need him, he completely comes to us, and we are in his presence!

Stir Up Sunday

Today is the last Sunday of the church year, next week the year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. Our collect today reminds us that it is ‘Stir Up Sunday’ a Sunday synonymous with Christmas puddings.

The great cry ‘stir up’ was a reminder to congregations to get the Christmas pudding made in plenty of time to mature before Christmas. An important addition to the mixture is a coin, whoever gets it on their plate on Christmas Day should get worldly riches heaped upon them.

However, the Stir Up prayer is actually asking God for something much more important. We are praying that God will stir up our wills, so that we might get on with doing the good works that he has planned for us to do. Then, as a consequence, we pray that we might receive our abundant reward.

In an age when so much is about how we feel, it is interesting to get another perspective. In the end, it is our will, rather than our feelings, that is the most important governor of our actions. Real love is not about feeling it is about choosing, by our wills, to do good to others even though we may not feel good towards them.

Our feelings should not dominate our wills. And so we pray that God will “stir up” our wills, so that they will be in charge of us, doing what we know is right. In this prayer we recognize that we need God’s help in order for our wills to function properly.

Because of the first words of the Collect for the Day, this Sunday has for a long time been called Stir-Up Sunday. Why is it so named?

Is it a day when the preacher is called upon to ask God to stir up his people, or is it just a quaint tradition where people take the first words, forget the message but remember to stir the mixture for their Christmas puddings, their Christmas cakes, their mince pies or whatever their tradition leads them to do?

Traditionally, the church was the focus of the respectable society, but that isn’t the case any more. To be honest, I’m not sure that our society does have such a focus any more. Perhaps that is part of the problem.

The other thing I put to you is the question of why are you here if your motivation is not to worship the God I have just described, and who completely overcame Saint John as he wrote “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins – to him be glory and power for ever and ever.”

That’s why we come here: to worship God, to learn more about Him and to share in prayer, in fellowship and in friendship with God’s people here. Without this fellowship and worship, we are as the grape, as it dries and becomes a raisin. Still good, but not as full of life.

It’s hard to be stirred up. If I may, for a moment, take the picture of a baking mixture, whatever it is, I know that it is hard to stir it up. You have to mix together the flour and the water and the sugar and the yeast and the salt and the butter and it’s not easy. The mixture is very stiff, and hard to move.

Stirring up the single ingredients to make a useful whole is not an easy task, and I guess that’s why we need to pray for God to stir each one of us up so that as a church we can make a useful whole.

These things take time. We look back from near the end of two thousand years to a church which has struggled against many things in many different ages. We look back to the Romans at the time of our Lord Jesus himself and just after, those who would execute people simply for being followers of The Way.

We look at the dark ages when the light of the Gospel burned exceedingly dim, when so much of God and of secular knowledge was lost or forgotten, to the times when Islam has been on the march and to our present age when the world is teaching principles so totally opposed to the clear Christian messages that so many people are turning away from the church.

Our Gospel reading shows Christ stirring up people too.

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.

And Pilate responds…You are a king then!

As time goes on, more and more people are stirred up and recognize who Christ is. Even at the crucifixion, one of the soldiers recognizes him and cries out “truly he was the son of God”.

Of course he’s a King. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. And we had better remember that, not just each Sunday as we come to worship God at our church. Not just when we are cooking or eating. Not just when we are doing good deeds or when we are praying.

We must be stirred up, aroused, excited, stimulated by our great God, not just on the last Sunday of the church’s year, but at all times, wherever we are.

23rd Sunday after Trinity

Church and State. God and Caesar.

“Is it lawful to pay tax to the emperor or not?” Jesus is the focus of a hatred so great in today’s Gospel, that the Pharisees, nationalists, and Herodians, sympathizers with Rome, have put aside their mutual antipathy and joined in an effort to entrap him and arouse the people against him.0

They think they’ve found the perfect ruse. Get Jesus to oppose taxes and earn the anger of the Romans and their minions. Get him to support taxes and arouse the ire of the nationalists. The object: eliminate this troublemaker from their midst.

As he does so often in the Scriptures, our Lord leaves his opponents and attackers stunned by his responses. He masterfully recognizes their “bad faith”, while teaching, as only God can, the simple truth that they, as desperately as all mankind, need to hear.

At first glance, one might think that Christ displays his wisdom only in throwing a plum to both sides in the national dispute. The Romans want their taxes, while the Jews want their religion and recognition of the kingship of God. Above and beyond this, our Lord speaks to them, and to men of every age, who become ensnared in competing loyalties and forget that kingship belongs to God omnipotent.

Men rule at God’s good pleasure. “You would have no power…unless it had been given you from above.” (Jn 19:11) Jesus Christ is universal king; men are blessed to share in his authority.

We have in our own day an abundance of conflicts between Church and state. Is a matter political or religious? If it’s deemed political, many believe, the Church should have nothing to say. Attempts to muzzle God go back to the beginning of salvation history. The prophets were put to death for speaking God’s truth long before the Pharisees and Herodians tried to entrap and silence Christ.

The abortion issue, many say, is a political issue, and therefore a matter for Caesar alone. Men of God, it is said, should be silent. Human life, in fact, is a moral issue, and when the laws of men are immoral, attacking the laws of God and the sacredness of human life, then Godly men should shout from every rooftop, priests should preach from every pulpit, every believing man and woman should speak out and protest.

“Render…to God the things that are God’s.” All human life is sacred, from the hands of the creator. “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful, wonderful are thy works!” (Psalm 139) When Caesar’s laws are an abomination before God, then it is Caesar who must change.

Whether opposing the culture of death or any tyranny of the political order, the Christian gives first allegiance to the laws of God. “The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel.

Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ (Mt 22:21) ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)

If a child was trapped under a car, an upright man would plow through any opposition to save the life of that child. Any infant lying helpless under the bloody scalpel of a doctor-turned-murderer deserves no less. Pray for those engaged in peaceful, prayerful and non-violent protest against abortion.

Pray also for those who heroically risk imprisonment, beatings and torture to meet and counsel mothers and fathers on sidewalks everywhere to turn their hearts away from the temptation to murder their children

CONCLUSION

I am a citizen in two kingdoms, the kingdom of earthly power, my government, and the kingdom of God, my church. I owe each everything I have. It all is a gift of God and belongs to Him anyway.