Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent: Christ As Savior-Christ As Judge

Sermon - Advent One Year C 2018
 Fr. Dale Matson

Advent: Christ As Savior-Christ As Judge

Because this is the first Sunday in Advent and the first Sunday of the new church year, I would like to begin with some remarks that will help us orient ourselves in the church calendar.  The church year is celebrated in three-year cycles and this is the first Sunday of year C.  In year C the Gospel readings are primarily from St. Luke.  The first of four advent candles in our wreath is lit representing expectant hope and is sometimes referred to as the “Prophesy Candle”.  That is why the Old Testament reading is from Zechariah who foretold the arrival of Christ.  “And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name one.”  The circular wreath that surrounds the candles represents eternity.
The liturgical seasons in western Christianity are Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time (Time after Epiphany), Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time (Time after Pentecost).
As I was preparing this Advent homily, I had an “Epiphany” during Ordinary Times (Epiphanies for me are rare so I accept them whether in season or out). Most Protestants rely only on the Service of the Word which is a preaching of the Gospel. The liturgical churches Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox have the Service of the Word and they also celebrate  what is called the Service of the Table. It occurred to me that the Service of the Table is both the celebration of the Eucharist and a second Service of the Word which always contains the Gospel. In the Celebration of the Table, the priest is bound by the rubrics (rules) to speak only what is written.  So, even if a wicked priest were to preach a false gospel, parishioners can always measure the truth of the priest’s gospel against the gospel truth contained in the words of the Eucharist which has been celebrated for over a thousand years. Another test of orthodoxy was stated by St. Vincent. Truth is “What has been believed everywhere, always, by all.   
So, what is this season of Advent about? Advent season is a twofold celebration. Advent is about looking back and about looking forward.  The season is a time of preparation for the Nativity of Christ. The season of Advent comes before the season of Christmas. It is a reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of the Messiah as well as the waiting that Christians today endure as they anticipate the second coming of Jesus the Christ.  We state both of these beliefs every Sunday when we stand and recite the Nicene Creed.  His first coming is stated, “Who for us and for our salvation came down from Heaven”.  His first coming was for our salvation.  In the Nicene Creed we also say that Christ will come again. “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”. He came as Savior and will come again as Judge. Our belief in His second coming is also proclaimed by the congregation in our Liturgy “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
With the beginning of Advent, we are again reminded of Christ as Savior and Christ as Judge by what is referred to in the liturgy as the Proper Preface near the beginning of the Service of the Table Today and during the season of Advent the priest will say,” Because you sent your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in him of everlasting life; that when he shall come again in power and great glory to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.
 In a way, the season of Advent reminds me of Lent. In Advent we anticipate the Birth of Christ in Lent we anticipate Christ’s death and rebirth.  Both seasons use shades of purple for the liturgical color.  Both seasons include fasts and both seasons deal with penitence and preparation.  I think however that there is a JOY in advent and a SORROW in Lent. 
Is Advent just about the return of Christ or is it also about what we are to be doing while we await His return. My question to you is this.  What are you anticipating during Advent? Are you thinking of Christ’s first coming as Savior as you think about Christmas? but are you also looking forward to Christ’s return… as Judge.  What kind of plans are you making and what are you doing? As I age, I find that my Christ as Savior is becoming increasingly Christ as Judge. Life for the elderly is similar to life for the recovering addict. Life is lived one day at a time.
  Or are you celebrating an Eschatology (deals with the end times) that calls you to action? I would say that the primary action would be the same as the season of Lent. It is a time of fasting, repentance and confession.  St. Paul says in Romans, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day.” (Romans 13:8-14)    
While we wait for His return, we are called to action.  We are not called to worry.  As we say in our concluding prayer of the Liturgy we are called to do the work He has given us to do. What work has our Lord Given you to do?  The word “Liturgy” itself means “work”. What are we doing with our gifts and talents?  Life moves so very fast.  For many of us, there is not much time left.  Each of our own end times draws ever nearer.
Our collect today calls us “…to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life.”  This life truly is mortal.
When I was a deacon volunteering at San Joaquin Valley Rehabilitation Hospital, I saw many people at the end of their lives. They were so fragile.  All of us will be there one day also.  Our primary goal at that time may be to just walk. My activities of daily living (ADL’s) are becoming increasingly difficult. I think my most common comment is, “What did you say?” Just picking up a piece of paper that missed the wastebasket is difficult. Another common statement I hear is, “You said that already”. “I can’t remember his name, I’ll think of it in a bit.” It is becoming easier to be more humble and less prideful. My younger sister is now the guardian of my older sister who was the guardian of my mother. What are we doing with the time we have now? I must confess that I spend way too much time on YouTube. It has even replaced cable TV for me, for the most part. I have journaled for 25 years. My journal is the cop that forces me to write down in the morning what I accomplished the previous day. I am at a point in my life now where I feel God is calling me to seek, find and share the beautiful things I encounter in landscape and wildlife photography. Beauty is an elixir, a balm,  a medicine for the ills of this world.    
If we consume cable news, we must feel that the world is going to heck in a hand basket. Amid global warming, wildfires, earthquakes, terrorism, shrinking dollars, crime, diseases that are resistant to antibiotics, aging, personal health, what else could go wrong? 
What are you anticipating?  Does it produce anxiety? I find I seem to know when I am doing the Lord’s business and have a sense of peace while attending to it.  True anti stress medication is conducting the Lord’s business until He returns.  During Advent, in the Opening Sentence of Scripture for Morning Prayer, the leader proclaims, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord: Make straight in the desert, a highway for our God.” The beginning of this highway is in your own heart.

We hear in our passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.  (21:25-28)

 25"There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  In the King James the passage states, “Men’s hearts will fail them for fear looking toward things which are coming on the earth.
Isn’t this what we call the stress we live under today?  Can you read the signs of the times?  Does it matter?
Biblical Apocalyptic literature was not written to afflict the comfortable; it was intended to comfort the afflicted during difficult times. These are difficult times. I used to read the book of Revelation with fear and trembling and now I see it as comforting. 
Here is the reality for us. Each one of us is in the midst of his or her own end times.  Each generation is the last generation.  Christ has come for all people before us who have died in Him.  He has come for many of our parents and will come for us too.  In John 14:2-3 Our Lord states, 2In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. In these end times, If you know Christ as your Savior and Lord, you will not be fooled by others who claim to be Christ who will also appear.
As it states in a portion of our reading from St. Paul, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
A canticle is a song of praise using Biblical texts. I will end with an Advent Canticle from Morning Prayer, the “Song of the Redeemed”.

“O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *
O King of all the ages
Who can fail to do you homage, Lord
and sing the praises of your Name*
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you*
because your just and holy works have been revealed.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” 

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