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Sunday, December 15, 2013

“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

3rd Sunday in Advent, 2013

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabus Anglican Church
December 15, 2013

“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”  From the Gospel for
today, this is the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus.
Recall that at this time, he was a guest of the local Herodian government, although we can rightly guess that his accommodations were hardly satisfactory…

I imagine that nobody in this room has ever been imprisoned. It has to be very, very hard, even if one has done the crime.  Imagine how difficult it would be if one was denied their freedom for having done the right thing, as was the case with John the Baptizer!  Recall that Herod had shut him up in prison, mainly because he criticized the king for marrying his brother’s Phillip’s wife, Herodias.  He had denounced him publicly, and rightly so.  In so doing, he also incurred Herodias’ undying hatred, which would later cause him to be beheaded.  We can observe here that an ungodly spirit, when provoked, is especially vehement in its persecution of its righteous critics.

Let us remember that this is the same John, who was imbued with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.  Recall the passage in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke:
Luke 1:41-42  41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:  42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

This is also the same John who, when asked by the priests and Levites if he was the Christ, the Jew’s promised  Messiah, answered in the words of John’s gospel: John 1:20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” John refused to take any credit for himself, but instead testified of Christ, when he said: (Luke 3:16) “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”

Finally, this is the same John, who, even after a lifetime of looking for Christ and having baptized Him in the river Jordan, asked the question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

Is this just the moment of doubt of some early New Testament prophet, or does it have application to us today? Might we even say that many people ask this same question, especially at this time of year.  Every year, we go through the same “culture wars” over Christmas.   The secularists fight against public displays of Christmas, and most people satisfy themselves with saying “Happy Holidays”, so that they can’t be accused of being politically incorrect.

And on and on it goes….. today is the Third Sunday in Advent. Advent, as we mentioned a couple of weeks earlier, has actually become a four-week celebration of Christmas, at least commercially and in occasions such as office parties and the like.  Many companies are having, or have had, their “Holiday Parties” already.  Of course soon, we will hear the usual mis-information about the 12 days of Christmas, which to the undiscerning public, begins on December 13 and extends until the 25th.  We have all been bombarded with Christmas (or “Holiday”) ads since before Thanksgiving, which is never a very popular holiday with the mercantile class, because they can’t commercialize it very much. 

Thus, one can see why some, maybe many people just want to get Christmas “over with.”  Of course, immediately after Christmas, the drumbeat will begin for New Years, and the World will lurch towards the parties that mostly meaningless holiday brings.

Enough….without belaboring the point, we think the reason that many folks tire of Christmas before it occurs is because they focus on the wrong things.  Celebrations, parties, gifts, trees, and decorations fill our thoughts and our efforts, crowding out the real reason for the season.  That reason, of course, is the Nativity of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is the One of which Isaiah spoke when he said, “Isaiah 11:10: ”And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” 

The very real and valuable way to enjoy Christmas is to stay focused on the Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, True God of true God, and true Light of Light, who come into this dark world to be with us, Immanuel.  When we focus on this, to the best of our ability, and despite the commercial “clutter” around us, we Christians will still enjoy peace and “his (our) rest shall be glorious.”

We feel deeply that one of our goals as Christians should be to rest in the Lord all year round.  As we focus on the Church year and as we celebrate the major events in Christ’s earthly ministry, we will find our earthly sojourn takes on greater and greater meaning.  Life, even ordinary life, becomes more meaningful and valuable.
Let us consider this: there are five major events in the life of Christ, after which the Church has patterned her year.  These are, of course, the Incarnation, the Nativity, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, all of which carry special significance to us Christians, for they are the very “stuff” of which our faith is constructed.
This season we celebrate the second of these major events, the Nativity, or the First Coming of Christ. Its significance is without parallel, for now Jesus, the very Word made Flesh, has come to live as one of us.  It is not as some anti-Christian groups claim as a charge against Christianity, that we presume to think that man became God, but rather the glorious reverse.  God became man and “dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”, to quote St. John.  Thus, Christianity is very much “top down”, that is, Grace and truth flow downwards from God to man. We Christians believe that we do not dictate to God, but He to us through His Holy Word. We have not attempted to make man into God, but God has stooped to become Man.  This is important. This is fundamental and it is truly profound, for this is the real celebration of Christmas.

Let’s return to John the Baptizer for a moment. Lying in the dark in Herod’s
dungeon, perhaps chained to a wall in his dank cell, he had heard of Jesus’ mighty works from his visitors and disciples. Perhaps John sensed that his time was short. Perhaps he sensed that his mission on this earth was drawing to a close. Maybe he questioned, “Is this the one for whom I have prophesied all my life?” We don’t know. What we do know, however, from Matthew’s account was that he asked a question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?


We know that he received his answer when Christ told the messengers: (Mat 11:4-6) “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever.   AMEN

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Distress of Nations….


2nd Sunday in Advent, 2013

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
December 8, 2013

Luke 21:25-27  “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;  26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.  27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

On the surface, it seems that we have an anomaly with this Sunday’s Gospel selection from St. Luke. Doesn’t it seem strange to have a Gospel reading that presages the end of time, with all its horrific events, at the beginning of the Church Year?  At first glance, we think it does.

Please note, this particular passage is known as the “small apocalypse” of St. Luke.  It echoes, in many details, the Apocalypse of St. John in the book of Revelations.  Some commentators see it as a preview, if you will, of that book.  Others, usually of a more modern interpretative persuasion, see this passage as foretelling the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.[i] Honestly said, both interpretations have their value, and as if often the case with Biblical prophecy, it may very well be a case of “both and”, rather than merely “either-or.”

Still, at any rate, it may seem vaguely out-of-place. Certainly for this priest, prior to some heavy Biblical study, and some blessed enlightenment by the Holy Ghost, it certainly seemed that way for a long time.

Let’s briefly examine this passage and see why it actually has great significance for this Advent Season today and now, as well as for all Christians until the world’s end.
If one backs up a few verses in Ch. 21 of Luke, it begins with the disciples admiring the magnificence of the Temple, to which Christ replies that not one stone will be left upon another.  To many students of the Bible, this reference clearly refers to the desolation of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and rightly so.  The Temple was destroyed by the Romans, when they brought their leveling bars and turned Jerusalem into a pile of rubble after the revolt of 70 A.D.

What is amazing is that Temple, although magnificent, was only a faint reflection of the truly amazing Temple of Solomon, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and, as we know from our Biblical history, was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar.  At any rate, the disciples had to be amazed that Christ would make so amazing and dispiriting a prediction. They asked the obvious question, when will thing happen?

Jesus then gives a truly fearsome answer that many have thought to be about the end times, including a discussion of the Anti-Christ, wars and rumors of wars, nations against nations, and terrifying natural disasters. He also speaks of signs in the heavens, and persecution of Christians.  Interesting, many of these things happen almost routinely in this fallen world. We have been experiencing some truly terrible natural disasters latterly, both abroad and in this country, with the recent tornadic activity, for example.

What sets Christ’s account of the end times apart from the routine effect of the curse under which the world labors, dating back to Adam and Eve, is the end result.  After Christ describes the signs in the heavens, and the powers of heaven being shaken, he caps it with the announcement (Luke 21:27-28) And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

This is where this passage begins to make a great deal of sense for our Advent journey.
The message for Christians is very plain: persevere to the end with faith, and your salvation will be secured. In short, “look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”

This is the point: one cannot celebrate the first coming of Christ without recognizing the reality of the Second Coming as well.  That is, if one is blessed with faith, one knows that beginning at Nazareth ends with the cataclysmic ending at the end of time, when Jesus Christ finally reclaims what is rightfully His.  He came the first time in great humility, and this is the Jesus, the world, especially the secular world, loves to admire. Virtually everyone has a soft spot for the Christ child, somewhere in their being.

Yet, it is the Second Christ that the secularists and non-believers reject.  They can handle, maybe, the baby Jesus.  However, they cannot abide, they cannot stomach, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He is portrayed in His glorious and divine Self.  As Matthew 24:30 tells us “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  Imagine the scene, with the skies literally splitting apart and Our Lord and Savior Christ coming to earth on a  cloud with great glory. It will be terrifying enough for us Christians; imagine what those without any faith will feel….

As a theological aside, the cloud on which Christ will arrive will not be just any ordinary cloud.  Most theologians believe that this is the Shikinah Cloud, the cloud that led Israel through Sinai, the cloud of glory that enveloped the temple in the Book of Ezekiel, and possibly the “Cloud of Winesses” that the writer of the Book of Hebrews spoke of. It was also the same cloud that overshadowed Christ and his three chosen disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. In short, it will not be ordinary.

One might be tempted, to say “So what?” Who cares what cloud Christ accompanies Christ? What is the big deal?
Beloved in the Lord, nothing that the Lord does is without significance.  The point is, that when our Lord returns in power and great glory, He will not be alone.  He will be accompanied with the host of heaven, and he will come in unspeakable power and great glory. 

This is truly what we are celebrating today.  We are not just celebrating the coming of our Lord and Savior, although that is incredibly and eternally significant.  We are also celebrating the prediction of the completion of God’s Plan for His world.  As we said, one simply cannot celebrate the First Advent of Christ without recognizing the reality and inevitability of the Second.  What God the Father began through Christ, he will complete through Christ.  Someday, the Great Cycle of Creation, Sacrifice, Resurrection and ultimate Redemption will be accomplished.

 For this, we must offer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost eternal praise, honor, and glory, forever and ever.

The time is now.  May we make the most of this Advent Season, as Our Lord and Savior draweth nigh. AMEN

Luke 21:27-28  “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”




[i] From a lecture by Rev’d. Daniel Dunlap, Cranmer Theological House, 2006