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“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.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Christ was born in time on a specific day.  Some people think Him a mythical figure.  Others think Him some great idea.  Yet others think Him some hobbled-together semi-historical figure who spouts wise teachings.  But we should remember that the Lord was born a Jewish boy of a particular mother in a particular town under the reign of a particular king.  He is God made flesh.  When the Son of God became man, he became a particular man.  A Jewish maiden had a baby, and that baby was the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds.

No wonder many want to contain Christ in myths and ideas.  God has entered our world as one of us!  Shocking!  Scandalous!  Inconvenient!  Nothing God touches remains the same, and God has touched our world with His own flesh.

The Word made Flesh:  The eternal Son of God took on a human body to be one of us:  A Jewish boy born in the Roman province of Judea during the reign of Octavian Augustus.  He is eternally begotten of the Father, light of light, very God of very God; He is born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We were created to delight God and delight in God, but through the sin of our ancestors and our personal sins, we have become separated from God.  Our nature has been twisted, darkened, fallen.  We now live separated from God, cut off from life everlasting.  We suffer – the good Lord knows how we suffer! – we suffer and die without our good God.

But the God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, loves us so deeply, that He gave His only-begotten Son to become one of us.  Of us!  God did not become a seraph to redeem angels.  God did not become a lion to redeem animals.  God became a baby in a dusty little town in order to redeem everyone and everything:  For when God comes into the world, the world changes.  Nothing touched by God can ever stay the same.  So God became one of us so that we might be altered, that we might be changed, that we might be justified, that we might be sanctified, that we might be saved from suffering and sin and death and decay.

God changed His fallen broken world populated by fallen broken people by giving us His Son, Jesus Christ:

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become 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 . . . .

This is the gift of Christmas:  Hope of eternal life.  Jesus Christ came down from Heaven and became one of us.  He says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”  We exchange tokens of our affection and esteem and love for each other on Christmas.  But God gave us the most miraculous gift of them all:  Life.  Abundant life.  Everlasting life.

How do we receive this great gift from our good God?  Christ Himself shows us how.

Jesus came to us a little baby, a helpless infant.  Babies cannot feed themselves, yet this baby came to feed us.  Babies cannot change themselves, yet this baby came to change us.  The lowliness of the manger was a sign of the humility with which he enrobed Himself when He became one of us, a part of His own creation, so that He might save us.

Later in His life, Christ says (St. Matthew 18.3):  “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  Christ became a child to save us.  We are to become as little children to be saved.

When we experience our loved ones die, we recognize that there is something more.  When we face our own mortality, we shudder over thinking about our own end.  When we look into the faces of children, we see lives extending beyond our own.  There is more, and we are powerless to reach it.  We hurt, we sin, we hurt other people, and we see all the death and disease in the world.  We are separated from this great good thing just beyond the reach of our fingertips.

Christ came to us because He loved us.  We did not love Him first; He first loved us.  He did not come in a mighty fire or a roaring wind or a shocking earthquake; He came to us a humble child born outside with the animals as there was no room in the inn.  All the grace and love and joy in the whole universe is in Him.  We must humble ourselves like little children and take on the swaddling clothes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

“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.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

That Christ will come with glory to judge the quick and the dead is an unalterable dogma.  It is plainly taught in the Holy Scriptures and by Holy Church.

We find this article of faith in the Creeds, the Gospels, and in the New Testament.  Attached to it is Christ’s judgement of sins.  We just said in the Nicene Creed:  “And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead….”  The Apostles’ Creed and the Advent collect say the same in slightly different words.  In order to be faithful Christians, we must believe this article of faith, that Christ will judge all men when He returns from Heaven.

 

Now, Advent is not simply the name of this season of the Church’s kalendar.  It means arrival, emergence, dawn, and occurrence.  It comes to us from the Latin words for to come.   Advent means Christ coming to us:  “O come, o come Emmanuel.”

In this holy season, our focus often rests on the prophecies leading up to Christ being born a babe in Bethlehem.  Today’s Epistle to the Romans (xv.12) reads:  “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.”  This is the first advent of Christ into the world.  We remember this when the priest reads the Last Gospel after Mass:  “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

The Second Coming of Christ is His returning in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Our risen and glorified Lord will then confront all mankind.  He will end the world as we know it and usher in a new world of redeemed mankind living fully the life of Heaven.

Today’s Gospel wondrously tells of Christ’s return.  In St. Matthew’s Gospel (xxvi.64b), Christ answers the high priest during His Passion, “nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

After Christ ascends into Heaven, angels tell the astonished apostles (Acts i.11):  “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”

Christ will return.  We do not know when.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxv.13):  “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

We know that Christ’s return will be spectacular.  Christ says in St. Matthew (xxiv.27), “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.”  The Bible uses strange prophetic imagery regarding His return to convey truth beyond our experience.  Our knowledge of the Lord’s return is of necessity partial.

But we are promised that:

  1. The trumpet will sound and all men will hear it,
  2. Our bodies, whether living and dead, will change in an instant,
  3. The cosmic regeneration of a new heaven and a new earth will occur as the former will have passed away,
  4. Our Lord will appear in glory,
  5. We will all be judged according to our deeds, and
  6. God’s Kingdom will be perfectly established.

 

Divine judgement is the process whereby Christ determines the eternal fate of men.  All men live forever.  Christ’s judgement determines where and how we will live forever.  We mean two things when we speak of Christ’s judgement of our souls in the end:  His particular judgement of each of us upon our deaths and his general judgment of us all at His Second Coming.

Jesus is our judge.  St. Paul says in Colossians, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” Christ is God.  He is omniscient.  He judges truly.  He plumbs the secrets of each man’s soul.  He better understands why we do things than we understand them ourselves.  He considers every fact in His judgement; He is unlike a human judge who only has a limited and fallible understanding.  Christ fully shares the love of God as creator and as redeemer.  He values the souls of men more highly than we value ourselves.

God created us good, but we, like a dog returning to its vomit, continually turn to sin, to destruction, to death.  What can God do with us in such a state?  He can either dispose of us or save us.  God has chosen to save us from sin and death.  With infinite love and grace unbounded God sent his only-begotten Son into the world to save us from our sins.  He restores us to life.  The judgement of God is personal, but if we step back, we may consider it as the presence of God which reveals the truth about our state.  In order to live with God in love forever, we must first be judged.  Christ’s presence effects judgement.

 

When we die, we face the particular judgement, one of the two last judgements of God.  Before this judgement, we faced the daily judgement of our conscience.

The particular judgement differs from the general.  It is less a formal judgement than the completion of our life’s work.  We will have lived our life and made our inclinations and habits known to Him.  It is a private affair between Christ and the soul.  It is preliminary.  It is the last of the long line of similar judgements in our life.  The time of decision is over, for we are dead.  If we have not stifled our conscience, we will have been judging our actions during our life.

As we look at ourselves and other men, widespread solid evidence of our salvation is not apparent.  We do not die perfectly loving, perfectly moral, and perfectly faithful.  One must be holy to live in Heaven, and we do not die holy.  Our righteousness is that of Christ, but Christ does not take over our selves, remove our free will, and govern our actions to be only righteous.

Christ judges us upon our deaths as either saved or damned.  If saved, our spiritual progress does not end there.  It continues on after our deaths until our dross is fully burned off, leaving only purity behind.  Isaiah (i.25) says:  “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:”  One must not hold to the peculiar Roman doctrines of Purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits to acknowledge the universal Church’s teaching on the matter.

God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise.  He can search a man’s heart and weigh what he finds, even if the man had few opportunities to make moral actions in the light of God’s revelation.  Out of the least opportunities in the young and the ignorant, Christ can make accurate and unerring judgements.  His judgement is not hampered by our limits.

If a man is damned at his particular judgement, it will be as Abraham said in the parable of Lazarus and Dives (St. Luke xvi.31):  “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”  Which is to say that the pattern of wickedness and resistance to goodness the man had chosen for himself during his life will carry on for eternity.

But for those who are who are saved comes something entirely different.  Hebrews (xii.14) reads:  “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:”  None of us reach perfection in this life of ours, this vale of tears, of labor and pain and death.  But we start a good work that is made perfect in Christ.  Christ makes us perfect.  Christ makes us holy.

All men, no matter what heights of holiness they have achieved in this life, will no doubt have much to learn and much to cast aside before they finally enter into God’s presence in Heaven.  Our personal journey towards perfection will continue on until the day of the Lord’s Second Advent.  The purification of our souls is precious for those who desire God.

There may be pain in this growth, as perfection in Christ might require a necessary suffering on our part to refine our imperfect souls.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians (iii.15), “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”  Rest assured, Christ will weigh our life upon our death, and we do not want to be found wanting.

 

The general judgement follows the Resurrection of the Dead at Christ’s Second Coming.  Having been raised from the dead, all men will stand before Christ our Judge.  Our Lord describes this in St. Matthew (xvi.27):  “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.”

The Revelation has a longer description of it (xx.11-15):

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

 

Sin is enticing.  If sin were not so tasty, nobody would sin.  In the Garden, Adam and Eve were not only set for life, but for all eternity; yet sin was so tasty to them that they risked it all and suffered death and misery just for a bite.  We love our sin.  We love our greediness.  We love our booze and pills.  We love our prideful contempt of others.  We love talking behind each other’s backs.  We do love our sin.  So we focus on our beloved sin instead of Christ and His judgement.

We do not like to admit it, and perhaps some of us never will, but we tend not to live our lives as if we were in the presence of Christ.  Maybe we think that God has greater things to do than concern himself with our lives.  Maybe we act like atheists, living our daily lives as if God did not exist, not praying to him, not thanking him, and doing what we like instead of what he requires.

Reverend Fathers, brothers and sisters, it is better to judge ourselves now so that we may amend our broken and sinful ways while there is time.  When we die, we will no longer have time to repent and amend our wrong ways.  So must we comport ourselves and live our lives that we can joyfully and hopefully anticipate Christ’s Second Coming.

 

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

This verse exemplifies the theme of utter renunciation found throughout the Gospels.

Fishing was a prominent industry in the Sea of Galilee, so Ss Simon and Andrew were leaving behind a stable and prosperous future.  Here, the brothers leave their livelihood behind to follow our Lord.  In a moment of decision, they left their nets and followed Christ.

“Follow me!” is a manly command from Christ.  Indeed, Follow Me is the proper name of the statue we called Iron Mike at Fort Benning, of a Korean-War-era soldier leading men into combat.

St. Andrew and his brother could support themselves and their families with their fishing, but making a living differs from making a life.  They left their nets and followed the Living God to a more meaningful existence.  They became fishers of men and bold missionaries eventually martyred on their missions.  They did not follow a school of thought or pious notion but a Man, a divine Person, the Son of God, their friend Jesus.

St. Gregory the Great, a pope devoted to missions and St. Andrew wrote:

Peter and Andrew had seen Christ work no miracle, had heard from him no word of the promise of the eternal reward, yet at this single bidding of the Lord they forgot all that they had seemed to possess, and ‘straightway left their nets, and followed Him.’

We see this ready obedience to instantly follow Christ in the New Testament.

Further along in the Gospels of St. Mark (x.28) and St. Luke (xviii.28) we read :  “Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.”

St. Luke shows Christ calling various men.  In ix.59:  “And he said unto another, Follow me.”  (St. Luke ix.61-62):  “And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.  And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Christ demands our obedience to His call.  Each of us must make a decision to the command given to Ss Peter and Andrew.  Consider St. Luke xii.20, after the rich man accumulated great wealth:  “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee:”

One of my personal favorite verses of Scripture is from St. Paul in 2 Corinthians vi.2.  Quoting Isaiah il.8, he writes:  “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”

 

That now of immediacy is an interesting thing.  In that moment, that now, you can hold your breath, you can stand still, but you cannot keep it.

The now, that moment when swimming in which you are present, but within the flow of movement from what has been to what will be.  Each moment when swimming, you can feel the water flow over your skin, you can feel the resistance of the water as you move forward.  But each moment is a snapshot of our lives in time.  How can we feel the flow of our bodies in the water in a moment?  This is a paradox.

We follow Christ in a moment of immediacy amidst a journey with Him.  The now is not isolated; it is but a moment of our lives:  This moment, this most important moment.

 

Also consider what we do with our hearts and with our bodies.  When President Carter said he had lusted in his heart, he thereby acknowledged that he had effectively committed adultery in the eyes of God.  For we are culpable for what we have done in our hearts.

While you and I may not have been called to renounce our family and work to follow Christ, we ought to be willing to do so in our hearts.  He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God.  Yet many a farmer keeps ploughing with his body whilst following Christ in his heart.

You and I may not be called to shed our blood for Christ, as St. Andrew and his holy brother did.  Yet we ought to be willing to do.  Each moment is the moment we ought to turn to our Lord and follow Him.

 

As our hearts wander from our Lord, so must we turn back to Him.  We always do this in our now.  This very moment is always the moment to return to Him.  As we slip and fall along the way, so must we accept the Lord’s help in picking us up and setting us back on His path.

1 St. John i.8-9:  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We cannot confess the sins we are currently committing, for we have not turned from them.  But if we confess our past sins now, we head off into a future of righteousness in Christ.  We must drop what we are doing and follow Him.

 

Jesus “saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

The prayerful roots and intention of this national holiday are nicely summarized in today’s collect:

O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Unlike the earlier service of thanksgiving by Virginia colonists, which was focused on prayer for deliverance, our Thanksgiving Day is based more upon the harvest.  Hence, the collect’s mention of “the husbandman”, “the fruits of the earth”, and “thy bounty”, as well as praying God that “our land may still yield her increase”.  These are important things.  We still must eat, even as one-fiftieth instead of nine-tenths of our population produces our food.

 

So it is that we ought return to our more ancient roots.  Thanksgiving is more than thanking God for our physical sustenance.  Thanksgiving is primordially a response to God’s gift of our lives and his gift of himself to us.  Our giving of thanks to him is, in the words of The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, a “sign of self-transcendence”.  It is the active response of our thankfulness towards God.

God’s graciousness to us and our response of thanks to him cause us to realize our inherent contingency upon him.  We would not be here without him.  Without him, there is no us.  God did not have to create us.  However, we had to have God create us.  This is more than a case of we needing him more than he needs us.  He does not need us at all.  We need him as a matter of our very existence.

Thus, in thanking God, we transcend our limited state and acknowledge our dependency upon our creator.  In thanksgiving, our hearts, our souls, and our minds open to the giver of good gifts and especially the ultimate giver of all gifts.  Thanksgiving is a response necessary to our Christian journey which will take us far beyond our understanding and expectations.

 

Contrary to what is true and evident from the beginning of Genesis until the end of the Revelation and in all services of Holy Church, we exhibit a tendency to limit our thankfulness to a list of good gifts.  This is seen by the child’s bedtime prayers in which he thanks God for mama and daddy and sissy and brother and Rover.  And, indeed, he should show God his gratitude for them.

We read in St. James that “every good gift is from above”.  God created creation.  God gives us good gifts.  We tend to reserve our thanksgiving for blessings received and prayers answered, but we may and ought thank God for much more than these.

In Psalm cvii.21-22, we read:  “O that men would therefore praise the LORD for his goodness; and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!”  We ought to thank God for more than our usual lists.  Especially, we ought to thank him for being him.  We ought not take God, his Persons, and his works for granted.

A fine example of this more God-centered thanksgiving is found in the General Thanksgiving in Mattins and Evensong, especially where we pray:

We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

But where it continues on takes thanksgiving into even deeper profundity:  “And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful;”  Instead of informing God of our thankfulness for yet another thing we give thanks for, here we pray God to increase the thankfulness of our hearts.  You and I can only gin up so much thankfulness on our own, even when God has given us a gift which meets with our approval.  Better yet is the earnest supplication for a more thoroughly converted heart with which to thank him and to love him.

 

Thanking God for his goodness and his good gifts is as necessary for us as breathing.  An unthankful heart might as well be holding its breath for all the good it is doing.  It is difficult to pray when not thankful.  It is difficult to love when not thankful.  So we ought to exercise our thankfulness by giving thanks.

In the way of prayer taught by St. Peter of Alcantara, we learn that thanksgiving is less a set form of prayer and more of an “act of worship and joy”.  This is seated in our love for God and our response to God’s love developed in worship and prayer, study and good works.

The minute or two following our reception of Holy Communion is a most precious and delicate moment.  We are then very close to our Lord.  This is not a time to quickly mumble prayers or escape to the parish hall.  This is an extraordinary moment to commune with Christ in our hearts.

I commend to you all to relish this moment before heading out to turkey and pumpkin pie.  This is a time to let our souls thank our good God with our affect and not to effect.  Let us revel in our disposition towards Christ for this moment.  Let us truly thank God with our hearts.

 

“O sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving : sing praises upon the harp unto our God:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Paul noted the marvelous progress shown by the Christians at Colossae.  They bore evidence of good Christian life regarding our Lord, each other, and themselves.  St. Paul had heard of their “faith in Christ Jesus”.  He had heard of the love which they had “to all the saints”.  And he had heard of “the hope which is laid up” for them in heaven.  The Colossians had progressed beyond the basics of the Christian Faith, and St. Paul loved them all the more for it.

St. Paul knew that progress towards God continues on.  So, the Lord moved the Apostle to the Gentiles to make repeated intercession for the perfection of his brethren.  Five times he prayed for the Church at Colossae to continue to grow in the faith.  St. Paul knew nothing of resting on his laurels.  He prayed and preached and urged and loved until he was martyred in Rome.

God created us in his own image.  We love, we have a soul, we create.  God the Father loved us so much He sent His Son to be born of a woman, to die for our salvation.  St. Paul experienced conversion of his soul and increased in the Holy Ghost until he died and went to heaven.  Likewise, we follow our Lord Christ and the saints before us.  We put off the old man of sin and put on the new man of salvation.  Donning righteousness, we grow into Christ.

Spiritual growth is the maturity and continuation of our salvation.  As Christians, we are called to Christ, to His sacred Person.  Getting up and following Him, the journey changes us.  As we continue walking, we grow.  We are all lame and befuddled, running into each other and going in circles entirely too often.  But so long as we walk the way of Christ, we continue to progress in the Holy Ghost.  If we sit down and go no further, then we jeopardize our growth and our salvation.

 

What does this past progress and future perfection mean for the Colossians and for us?  Here are five theological words united by doctrine and their ending:  “Justification, sanctification, consecration, purification, and assimilation.”

Christ saves us in justification and sanctification.  As Fr. Francis Hall wrote, “Justification initiates sanctification, and sanctification affords the explanation and fulfils the implied promise of justification.”  Consecration, purification, and assimilation are aspects of sanctification.

Justification is Christ making us acceptable to God.  Christ makes us acceptable by His Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.  Justification is both an instant and a beginning.  Christ’s death and His sanctifying work in us sets us on the way of becoming united with Christ.

Christ continues the work of justification through the Holy Ghost in the process of sanctification.  Sanctification is part of our salvation.  Our continuing growth in holiness cannot be understood apart from Christ’s saving of us.  The two are bound together.

St. Paul depicts an image of the mature Christian, full grown.  Spiritual growth is not just about the initial act of salvation.  Rather, we wend our way along the path our Lord went before us.  We respond to a calling.  Being called to the Person of Christ, we change along His way.  This sanctification is part of our journey.

Sanctification has three aspects:  consecration, purification, and assimilation.  We are set apart as holy, or consecrated.  We are made clean from our sinful ways, or purified.  We are made to grow into the likeness of Christ, or assimilated.

As members of Christ’s Body and justified by Him, we are a holy people united to Christ.  We are consecrated.  The Holy Ghost mystically joins us together with Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, our sinful natures die, and we arise in Him.  Through Christ, the Holy Ghost sets us apart from sin.

If we are set apart, we cannot fall back to our earlier state of sinfulness.  To remain consecrated, we cannot sully ourselves continually with the filthiness of sin.  We must also be purified of all sin.  This second aspect of sanctification called purification assists in the retaining the state of the first aspect of sanctification called consecration.

Christ calls us to grow into the likeness of the divine nature of God.  He is God incarnate.  He is God with us.  As He lived, so are we to live.  He avoided all sin.  He lived in the will of God the Father.  He loved everyone.  He prayed for His persecutors and died for our sins.

This is the life we too must live.  This is the life which will let us live in the presence of God for all eternity.  This is the image of God in which we were made.  We must join in the divine character of God.  We must assimilate into Godliness.  This is the third part of sanctification.

We are justified and sanctified to be made fit for eternal life in the Kingdom of God.  Thus, we must go through this consecration, purification, and assimilation.  St. Peter quotes Leviticus when he writes, “Be ye holy; for I am holy,” in 1 St. Peter i.16.  Our Lord Himself says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” in St. Matthew v.48.  Only in the participation of the divine life of God are we fit to enter Heaven.

This sounds like a tall order.  It is.  But, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians iv.13).

To be with God for all eternity, we must change.  We cannot stay as we are.  We are mortal.  God is immortal.  We are sinful.  God is holy.  We are selfish.  “God is love.”  We are made acceptable to God the Father by God the Son through God the Holy Ghost.  As Christ makes us acceptable through His death and Resurrection, so we must continually grow to become like Christ.  Set apart in holiness, purified of all sin, we assimilate into the perfect life of the Blessed Trinity.

 

Looking back to the epistle lesson, we probably find it incoherent to simply “walk worthy of the lord”.  We are called to become united with Christ through justification and sanctification.  What does this look like?

We must grow into and keep God’s will as it is known to us in Holy Scriptures, in Holy Church, and in our informed conscience.  In particular, Christians bear six basic duties in our progress towards God.  These are weekly worship, frequent Holy Communion, regular fasting, tithing, keeping a clean conscience, and keeping ourselves chaste.

If you are able, you have an obligation to attend Mass every week.  Due to my chronic illness, I was unable to regularly attend Mass over the course of two years.  I found it frighteningly easy to get used to it.  It is not good for the soul.  Regular attendance will not get you into heaven, but avoiding the worship of the Living God is no way to live with him forever.  If we will worship Him for all eternity, we had best get used to it now.

Almost all of us receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ at every Mass.  In olden times, this was uncommon.  I am thankful that this parish is faithful in receiving the Blessed Sacrament so frequently.  Frequent communion often comes at the price of poor preparation to receive.  We should all strive to diligently prepare to meet our Lord on Sundays and other festal days.

Fasting has faded as a Christian discipline and reëmerged as matter of diets and fads.  When we read the Gospels and devotional aids, fasting confronts us frequently.  If you look at page Roman number fifty one, “LI”, of our Book of Common Prayer, we see two fasts, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and three sets of fast days.  The first set is the forty days of Lent, the second is all the Ember Days, and the third is all Fridays outside Christmastide and the Feast of Epiphany.

The Church Kalendar is particularly helpful in noting fast days.  Sometimes we see a distinction between fasting and abstention, with fasting being the reduction of amount of food eaten and abstention being the reduction of the quality of food eaten, usually meat.  Fasting is to be accompanied by prayer.  Fasting is only reserved for those physically healthy enough to fast and who do not need great physical strength in the course of their day.

Tithing can be a difficult subject.  Suffice it here to say that God has given us various amounts of material wealth to support our lives, and we have an obligation to return to him an appropriate amount in thanksgiving.  We should especially note that tithing is less a manner of fundraising or meeting a budget than it is a spiritual discipline of thanking God with our substance.

Keeping a clean conscience is a most critical method of pursuing sanctification.  There are two parts to keeping a clean conscience.  The first is to confess our sins, for by it we present to God our sins for Him to wash away.  This continues the work begun in us in Holy Baptism.  Perhaps you commit fewer sins than I, but I find the three-fold discipline of confessing my sins privately at night, daily and weekly at the Offices and Mass, and occasionally privately with a priest most helpful.

This brings us to the second part of keeping a clean conscience.  We are to avoid sin.  Sin is an offense against God, and sin is a state of brokenness between us and our loving Savior.  We are to flee from sin and to Christ.  We need to educate our conscience by learning right from wrong and seeking counsel on tricky circumstances when needed.  We need to exercise our conscience by avoiding occasions of sin and participating in the sins of others.  The more we educate and exercise our conscience, the less we will need to confess our sins.

Lastly, keeping ourselves chaste means seeking holiness in our sexual relationships.  Single or married, we are called to comport our sexual lives like the rest of our lives:  faithful and consecrated to God.  We cannot remain chaste when we lust with a roving eye or when we sleep with those whom are not our spouse.  Keeping ourselves chaste, like all these other duties, is fundamental to our journey of sanctification.

 

To “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing”, we ought to pursue God vigorously and to respond when he calls us.  Our ultimate end is with God, and our journey here on earth should take us to heaven with him.  Taking care of our fundamental obligations helps us work with Christ and the Holy Ghost and not against them.  Remember today’s epistle.  The Colossians began the race well, and St. Paul earnestly prayed that they would continue the course until their reward.

 

“. . . Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God . . . .”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

St. Ephrem the Syrian is the first in the historical record who mentioned the Feast of All Saints, doing so before A.D. 373.  The Orthodox still celebrate the feast on its older day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, when we now celebrate Trinity Sunday

We derive the word, saint, from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.  To make something holy is to hallow it.  All Hallows means All Saints.  Thus, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve means All Saints’ Eve.

A saint is a holy person.  All whom God judges righteous and elects to go with him into everlasting felicity are saints.  In the end, there are only the saints and the damned.  If we persevere in Christ, we shall be saints too.

 

Sometimes, Christians on Earth are called saints.  But as with the wheat and the tares and the wedding banquet and the wedding-garment, some who will not persevere are mixed in with those who will.  We do not know who will be faithful and who will fall away.  Thus, we usually reserve calling saints only those whom we strongly suspect of profound personal holiness.

The Church acknowledges heroic Christians as saints.  The Body of Christ can discern what we cannot as individuals.  Dying the martyr’s death is a particularly good indicator of sainthood.  A holy life and performing miracles possibly indicate sainthood.  However, being a prominent Christian, such as a king or bishop, is not a trustworthy sign of sainthood.  A common quip amongst the saints is to the effect of:  ‘the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops and priests’.

Whether recognition of saints is formal, as with the Church of Rome, or informal, as with the Orthodox and Anglicans, it is not an individual thing.  All require the recognition of the Church.  Formal or informal, the Church gets a collective sense of a soul’s holiness and faithfulness.

 

Today, we worship together and celebrate the feast of all God’s saints.  The first documentary evidence for invoking the saints is from around A.D. 156, when the Church celebrated the anniversary of St. Polybius’ martyrdom.  The cult of relics, with its own Scriptural and theological support, reinforced the cult of saints.  In the Fourth Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem distinguished between the martyrs included at the Mass who pray for us and the regular dead whom we pray for.

Some of us are quite devoted to one saint or another.  Many of us learn lessons on how to walk the way of Christ from the examples of the saints.  We ask for the prayers of the saints.  But we may take our admiration or veneration of the saints too far, confusing the creature and the Creator by worshiping or adoring them.  That is idolatry.  An immeasurable gap between Creator and creature exists between the Lord God and the saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Truly, only Christ has the merits, the unburdened freely earned goodness and virtue, to bestow upon us.  We who sin can do no good thing without the burden of our sins.  We cannot repay the damage we have caused, much less add more atop it.  Only Christ was sinless, and only He performed holiness with what He innately possessed, for He is true God of true God.  We are not.  We derive our goodness from Him.  The saints do not have their own merits.  So, we do not invoke the merits of the saints, for theirs are the merits of Christ.

During the Medieval era, the veneration of saints gained some unbalanced additions.  The Reformation cleaned house, as it were, too far amongst Lutherans and Calvinists and not far enough amongst Romans.  Our relationship with the saints ought never obscure the fundamental truths of the Faith and the Persons and work of Almighty God.  The invocation of saints is a vital but subsidiary part of our Christian faith.

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates a great many saints in her kalendar.  The feast of the apostles Ss. Simon and Jude were last week and that of St. Andrew is at the end of this month, with many less prominent saints in between, such as the Martyrs of Uganda and St. Hilda.  But a great many saints are little known.  The Feast of All Saints includes both the recognized, or canonized, saints and the saints who died in obscurity.

The saints above intercede for us as we intercede for each other down here.  We pray for the dead, the Church Expectant.  The saints in glory, the Church Triumphant, pray for us.

Holy Church understands that the prayers of the saints are efficacious to us, but we know not how.  We know that the saints pray for us and this avails in our lives in ways we do not comprehend.  Fr. Knowles, the author of The Catholic Religion, said:  “Their holy prayers to God for us must aid our faulty ones to Him!”

 

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“This world is not our home”

Christ did not say that His kingdom was not in this world.  Christ said that His kingdom is not of this world.  All men who live or who have ever lived are of this world.  We are all born of the corrupted seed of Adam.  But all who are born again in Christ are made into a kingdom not of this world.  God the Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.”

Christ is not a king like the kings of this world.  He derives His authority from God the Father, who has given Him all authority upon Heaven and Earth.  His authority derives from on high, not from this world.

Christ’s kingdom is an eternal kingdom, it lasts through the end of the world.  Given from God the Father, this kingdom existed before the world and will outlast it.  God’s kingdom is strange to the ways of this world.  Christ shows that His government is above worldly government, which is corrupt and mortal.  His kingship is not after the manner of earthly kings.

This world is the realm of power and politics and lording it over one another.  Violence and force do not bring people to the kingdom of God; persuasion and witness do.  While violence and force have their place in this world, governed as it is by the powers of darkness, they have no place in the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God sounds archaic, for it is a monarchy.  Christ is King.  Jesus is Lord.  We use ancient language to describe our relationship with Him.  The Roman Catholic Church goes even further by saying that cardinals are princes of the Church!

I suspect that we feel uncomfortable with the idea of Christ as our King.  We like Him very much as a baby in a manger.  I suppose other times we feel comfortable with God running things in heaven, looking out for us in his Godlike and almighty way.  But when it comes to subjecting ourselves to the rule of Christ in our daily lives, we sometimes hesitate.

When the early Church worshipped Christ, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not attend parishes that were most like what they wanted, make the service the way they wanted, or conform the teaching to be as they wanted.  Rather, they passed from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.

And the world spat on them, as it had done before with Christ our king.  Converting to Christ is no way of accruing worldly honor.  The early Christians obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread, adding souls to the kingdom.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Christ is the anointed monarch of heaven and earth, of Church and of Creation.  The mission of Holy Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all.  We are members of His Body in that broken cosmos.  Each one of us has a high position.  Each one of us who answers the call and conforms to Christ is part of the greatest story ever told.

 

We are citizens of two cities – the city of God and the city of this world.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of this world.  How we comport our lives in this world is both informed by the eternal kingdom and influences our eternal lives.  Conversely, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth.

The zeal of the French Revolution and the political forces which followed it sought to destroy what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society.  This was his poetic phrase for those free associations of people mediating between the state and the individual.  The governments of this world count Holy Mother Church as one of those institutions which must be controlled or destroyed.

The Bishop of Rome created this feast of Christ the King in 1925.  I heard it told that he did so as a challenge to communism.  There is some truth to this, but the truth is bigger yet.  The run of politics throughout the world in the 1920s continues today.  From totalitarianism to liberal democracy, modern men are inclined to accord the state, the worldly government, as the comprehensive authority over humanity.  This was not always true.  The modern state is, well, a modern development.

Christians, ruled from on high by Christ our King, ought to doubt the health of this development.  Old governments, tyrannous they might be, never reached so deeply into the lives of their subjects.  Neither the Roman Senate nor King Herod could watch us like communists or Nazis, who in turn could never so thoroughly search our private lives like the big data of networked computers, sophisticated software, ubiquitous cameras, and tracked internet activity.

This world is not our home.

 

This past Friday was the Feast of Blessed Alfred the Great.  Our collect for this feast sheds a powerful light on the proper relationship between this corrupt kingdom and the Kingdom of God:  “O God, who didst call thy servant Alfred to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom….”  This part of creation is passing away.  Alfred the Great’s God-given task was to govern his earthly kingdom so to advance Christ’s heavenly kingdom.

I always crack a smile when we celebrate this Feast of Christ the King during an election season.  So we well should turn in the Prayer Book to the collects following Morning and Evening Prayer.  There, we find in A Prayer for Congress the petition that God the Father would be pleased to

direct and prosper all their consultations, to the advancement of thy glory, the good of thy Church, the safety, honour, and welfare of thy people; that all things may be so ordered and settled by their endeavours, upon the best and surest foundations, that peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.

The invasion of the Kingdom of God into this world would indeed bring “peace and happiness, truth and justice”, and “religion and piety”.  This would transform our world.

We ought not be bosom friends with this here haunted and broken kingdom.  We are sojourners in this world.  United with Christ, He has graciously translated us into His eternal Kingdom.  We have already begun our lives into eternity, which will be consummated on the day of doom, the day of judgement, the day when we have our new bodies and go to live with Christ forever whilst the damned are cast into the eternal flames.

As we sing in the second stanza of Hymn 209, O salutaris hostia:  “O grant us life that shall not end, In our true native land with thee.”  Our true native land is the Kingdom of God.  We were born into this world, the same world which did not welcome Christ.  But through our Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ our Lord, we boldly “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews x.19-20) and are translated from this dying kingdom to the eternal Kingdom of God.

 

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the many Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the pages of the pagan king of Buganda.  Concerned by encroaching colonial powers and the missionary struggles between Moslems, Romans, and Anglicans, the king doubled down on his worldly authority.  In trying the obedience of his worldly subjects, he demanded that his pages submit to him sexually.  The devout Christian boys refused.  For their disobedience to their earthly king and their obedience to the King of Heaven, they were martyred.  Nourished by their blood shed for their true king, Holy Church grew enormously in Buganda through witness and persuasion, not force and violence.

Our true home is with our Lord, where He reigns.  This world is not our home.

 

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.