The Second Sunday in Advent (2017)
(Romans 15:4-13, St. Luke 21:25-33)
“Whatsoever was written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
The four Collects for the Sundays in Advent petition God for four things we as Christians need in order to be faithful today and continue to grow in our faith unto eternal life.
Last Sunday, Advent I, we asked God to give us the strength, or maybe better stated, that we might utilize the strength we have been given, to “cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light.”
This is a petition to God for the spirit of penitence. For the spirit to let go of our sins and live more faithful lives.
What an appropriate petition to begin the New Year with; to cast off the darkness of our sins and live in the light of Christ. It is so appropriate that we are directed by the rubrics to pray it every day in Advent after the collect appointed for the week of Advent we are in.
On this the Second Sunday in Advent, today, we petition God for patience. Not patience in general mind you, but a specific form of patience.
We pray for the patience to “…hear…, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest…” the words and doctrines of Sacred Scripture.
This kind of patience allows us to gain and hold onto everlasting life.
On the Third Sunday in Advent we ask God to embolden the clergy of our day; the Bishops, priests and deacons, as well as all ministers of Christ, ordained and lay, to prepare the way for the Second Coming of Jesus in the faithful manner St. John Baptist, and all the Old Testament prophets did.
The Church needs men and women who are unashamed of the Gospel and will boldly live and speak God’s Word “in season and out of season.”
On the Fourth and final Sunday in Advent we petition God to raise up the power of His Spirit within and amongst us so that we would run the race of faith set before us in a manner that consistently glorifies God in Christ.
Just as all that our Lord Jesus did in His life, ministry, passion and death glorified the Father, so we pray that all we will do in thought, word and deed will glorify Him in Christ.
What would our lives, and the life and activity of our parish be if by the end of this Church Year these four petitions were answered? Surely we would be more faithful, productive Christians!
What a blessing that would be!
And it can be, if we petition the Father fervently and faithfully, and allow Him to use us to fulfill these prayers in our lives, by His Holy Spirit.
That takes abandonment. That takes submission. That takes obedience.
It takes the very things we are praying for in these Advent collects!
O how power-filled our lives would be if we lived fully abandoned; fully submissive and fully obedient to God’s Word by His Holy Spirit.
As I said earlier, this morning’s Collect (Advent II) petitions God for a specific measure of patience.
We pray for the patience that comes with consistent, faithful study of Sacred Scripture. While God speaks to us in any number of ways, the one way He speaks to us most directly and assuredly is through Sacred Scripture.
Scripture is God’s Word to those whom He has brought into covenant with Him through Christ by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.
It is His Word to those who have professed their faith in Christ in Confirmation, ratifying the covenant we have been brought into.
It is His Word to those who by faith receive the most precious Body and Blood of His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, feeding our bodies and souls upon Him unto everlasting life.
If we are to truly know God in Christ, it must be through His Word!
Scripture is the assured place God speaks to us, revealing His will and the Way (Jesus Christ) to us, so we may gain everlasting life.
We must read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that Word, allowing it to be the light unto our path as we walk that narrow Way that leads to eternal life.
For this to happen we must have patience.
As we are patient, He will open our understanding and our ability to apply and live what we study and digest.
How many times have you heard, or have we said to ourselves, “I just can’t understand what the Bible says!”
Of course we can’t! By nature we can’t understand. And we won’t if we do not daily, and I mean daily, spend quality time in His Word. As with any new discipline, as we get started it will likely be difficult.
We must be mindful of this, and be careful to not put pressure on ourselves to try and digest everything overnight.
Instead we need to patiently spend quality time in Scripture every day; reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting what we read to best of our ability. As we do, our understanding will deepen and we will grow a deeper, personal faith relationship with God in Christ.
Isaiah 28:9, 10 states “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”
Doing this takes a conscious act of our wills, aided by grace.
We need grace to start reading, keep reading, and for digesting what we have read. And God will give us that grace! In fact He already has!
He wants us to know His Son Jesus personally, intimately, and has given us Sacred Scripture for that very purpose.
Any inability is our own unwillingness to utilize the grace He has preveniently given to us. As Oswald Chambers wrote: “God will not discipline us, we must discipline ourselves…”
Each day through Advent let us be mindful of what we are praying for in the Collects. It’s okay to look ahead and pray all four each day.
And as we become more mindful of what we are praying for, let us pray for it all the more fervently.
Let’s abandon, submit and be more obedient than ever to God’s Word.
Let us make use of the grace He freely gives us and discipline ourselves to read and study some portion of Sacred Scripture every day.
Let us patiently and diligently read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what we read and study.
And in doing so may we embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which the Father has given us in Jesus our Savior. Amen.
The First Sunday in Advent (2017)
(Romans 13:8-14, St. Matthew 21:1-13)
“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.”
When you look back over your life, what day do you see being the most significant to your salvation?
Is it your Baptism, when you were adopted by the Father in Christ Jesus, made a member of His covenant family; the Church, and infused with the assured presence of the Holy Ghost?
Is it your Confirmation, when you formally professed personal faith in Jesus Christ in the Church, and the bishop laid his apostolic hands upon your head, giving you the fullness of the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit?
Is it the first time you received the Holy Eucharist? As you knelt at the rail and the priest held the consecrated host and then the chalice before you and said “The Body, The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life”, was your spirit struck with the great truth that all Christ merited by His life, death, resurrection and ascension was being given to you, in the Sacrament, to feed you unto everlasting life?
Did you experience a time of conversion? Was there a crisis situation or some maturing moment when you realized you really believe that all Jesus did for the salvation of the world was for, and includes, you?
For most of us it is likely a combination of all four.
The grace given to us in Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist one day conjoined and the Holy Spirit lead us to take hold of it in our spirit and know the presence of Jesus Christ personally by faith.
That was the day when we knew: “I believe! I am being saved! I want to live my life by, in and for Jesus Christ! He is my Saviour and my Lord!”
That was a great day. Wasn’t it?
Yet the question we must ask ourselves today and really every day of our lives is, What about now?
How real is the presence of Jesus Christ in us now?
Is it as real or even more real now than the day we first believed?
In both today’s Epistle and Collect we are reminded that now is the day of salvation!
What happened on the day of our Baptism, Confirmation, first reception of the Eucharist or conversion is of little use to us if we do not believe upon, and are not living for Jesus Christ now!
The doctrine “once saved, always saved” is not supported by Scripture.
It was unknown in the Church until well after the Reformation.
It is a deception that continues to lead people into a sense of false security which, if not repented of, will one day surprise those who adhere to it.
While Scripture teaches there are times when Christians might “back-slide,” times when we are not living the consistently faithful life we are called to live, backsliding cannot be into mortal sin (sin that breaks one of the Ten Commandments) or into the ongoing practice of venial sin.
The teaching of Scripture and Tradition is that Christians are either living in the state of grace or have fallen from the state of grace.
There is little room for “back-sliding” in between.
While Christians who fall from the state of grace are still Christians, because they are indelibly marked by God in Baptism and Confirmation, their capacity to receive the ongoing means of grace through Scripture, prayer, and Holy Communion, and grow in sanctification unto salvation is impeded if not blocked.
Having little or no ability to grow, they are in the process of dying spiritually. As with all living things, once growth stops, death begins.
Only repentance, and in the case of mortal sin perfect contrition or priestly absolution in the Sacrament of Penance, can break free the sin that clogs the flow of grace and restores those who have fallen from it, back into the state of grace.
This is why “now” is the time that matters most to Christians.
In Hebrews 3:8, 9 St. Paul exhorts “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith) To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts…”
In v. 13 he adds “But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
The day of our Baptism, Confirmation, First Eucharist and / or conversion are all important moments in our life. They are times when God pours His grace into our spirits in a very intimate and particular manner.
But if we are not utilizing the grace given in those moments and living in the state of grace, faith and obedience now, Today, they can become the means by which God will judge us unfaithful instead of the means for which they were intended; to lead to our sanctification and eternal salvation.
This is the first Sunday in Advent.
For Christians today is New Years Day.
Where are we at in our faith and our faithfulness today, now as we start this new Christian year, compared to where we were at last year on this day?
How about in comparison to when we were baptized, confirmed, received our first Eucharist or consciously by faith took hold of the grace we’ve been given?
Are we striving by faith to live a life that reflects the grace of Jesus Christ who lives in us by His Holy Spirit?
Or, are we living a “double-minded” life?
St. James says a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
Do we divide our life into “sacred time”: when we are in church, around other Christians, and in prayer; and “secular time” when we are at work, at social functions, and watching television or surfing the internet?
If we are dividing our lives then we are living double-minded, unstable lives.
If we are not striving to live a life that reflects the grace of Jesus Christ who lives in us by His Holy Spirit, then we must take heed to what St. Paul says in this morning’s Epistle:
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day;”
No matter when the appointed time for Jesus’ Second Advent (His Second Coming) to judge both the quick and the dead is, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
It is nearer now than when we were baptized.
It is nearer now than when we were confirmed.
It is nearer now than when we received our first Eucharist.
Even the youngest among us is not getting any younger, and the day of our Lord’s return is not being pushed back any further than the time the Father has already appointed for that return.
Are we ready? Are we prepared?
Have we repented? Are we living in the state of grace?
If not, Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.
Hear the exhortation of the Holy Spirit now; turn from sin, turn to Jesus, repent, believe the Gospel and strive to live faithfully, today.
God has given us the grace to repent, believe and strive to live faithfully.
There is nothing incomplete about the means of grace God has given us in Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Sacred Scripture and prayer.
If there is any defect, it is in us.
It is in our will and willingness to receive what God has given us in our Lord Jesus; to take hold of it, utilize it, and be saved by it.
But all that can change; now, today.
My brethren we must know the time.
If we are asleep spiritually, we must wake up!, for our redemption draweth nigh.
Our salvation is truly nearer now, today, than when we first believed. Amen.