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!