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“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

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“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

Good tidings of great joy

 

Holy fear is a gift of the Holy Ghost.  It is the appropriate awe of God and the deep recognition of his otherness.  God is creator; he creates.  We are creatures; we are created.  We are utterly dependent upon him; God, thankfully, takes great pity upon us.

There is an impassable gap between Heaven and earth, between the realm where God splendidly lives in ineffable light and this mortal realm where those we love grow sick and die, where we constantly struggle against sin and each other, where even after a good day’s work we ache.  We and God are far, far away from each other.

Sadly, we are the ones who caused this gap, this distance between God and ourselves.  Our ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve, first sinned.  Ah, true, they were tempted.  But temptation doesn’t make a sin.  The sinful heart turns that opportunity of temptation into a sin.

That original disobedience from our Heavenly Father thrust us out into a world of our own making.  I don’t know about you, but I can spend a lot of time on a project, going over and over it again, and still find mistakes on the finished product.  I would rather live in a world of God’s making rather than one of my own.

Or at least I tell myself that.  In fact, I prove with my every act of rebellion against God that I want to live in my own world that is centered on me.  And I am not the only one.  If you listen to your own heart, you too will hear it beating for yourself and not for another.

For God, who is our creator and is so high above us, to become man, He had to abase Himself, to set aside His rightful place, to bear indignities for our sake.  Philippians ii.6-7:  “[W]ho, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:”

Imagine if you had to become again a helpless newborn baby.  You would go mad from lack of control over your own body and from the indignities you would face.  Yet God the Son created the universe from nothing, created all life and our very race from dust, and He voluntarily came down to live amongst us in such a limited fashion.  But even as a baby, He was still fully God the Son.

For what is great in the eyes of man is not great in the eyes of God.  The shepherds are lowly in the eyes of this world, but in the eyes of God the Father, they are worthy for his angelic hosts to sing the announcement of God the Son’s human birth.

The word St. Luke uses for glad tidings has the same root as evangelize and evangelist.  Those “glad tidings” are truly the Good News, for God has come to redeem his people.  We are no longer alone in the cosmos.  We are no longer ultimately separated by sin and death from our loving creator.  Heaven bowed down and kissed earth that night in Judea.  The world will never be the same.

And indeed, the world never has been the same.  Around the world the Good News of Christ our Lord spreads.  In this last year, Christians in the Congo, in Egypt, and in Nigeria have lost their mortal lives amidst the business of saving their eternal lives.  The world today is as sinful and difficult as it was for those shepherds on the hill outside of Bethlehem the day before Christ was born, with one difference:  God is now with us.  Our savior has lived among us.  He comes to us in every celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

And just as Christ first came into this world quietly in a stable, so He will come again to right every wrong, to lock sin and death away for all eternity, so that we might live with Him in glory everlasting with God, with the holy angels, with the holy martyrs, and with all our spiritual brothers and sisters.

It is on this day of Christ’s birth that the world changes.  Christ comes and turns the world upside down.  What is expedient in the ways of the world is revealed to be wicked.  What is foolish in the ways of the world is revealed to be holy.  Loving-kindness replaces selfishness as the smart way to live your life.  Loving your neighbor as yourself kicks loving yourself first and foremost off its idolatrous pedestal.

But it is not only we poor creatures huddled together for warmth in the face of the cold night outside for whom Christ comes.  Christ comes and redeems the whole world, for in saving us, He also saves the world:  The world of all humanity, by craftily subverting the faithful into living lives honoring Him and not the world:  But also the wider world of all creation, for it is on Christmas Day, on the Feast of Christ’s Nativity that God the Son sanctifies the material world with His very own presence.  The supernatural and the natural, the spiritual and the physical, the immaterial and the material meet in Christ.

St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints, made the first Christmas crèche in Greccio on Christmas Eve 1223.  He made a scene with a live baby surrounded by live animals.  He did this so that we would not only understand with our heads that God is very near us, but so that we could feel in our hearts that God is very near us.

In the nativity scene I grew up with, the Holy Family gathered in the middle while animals were off to each side.  Above them, angels kept watch and sang the Lord’s praises.  All three levels of creation were visibly represented to me there:  The angels up above, creatures of pure spirit; the animals on either side, creatures of pure flesh; and the Holy Family in the middle, creatures of both flesh and spirit.  Christ came to become one of us, and in doing so, He redeemed every part of God’s creation.

The angelic host of Heaven sings with joy and celebrates the Advent of Christ into our lives.  All God’s spiritual creatures sing out with gladness for the great love and mercy which the Father has bestowed upon us, which the Holy Ghost has made possible, in that the Son now breathes with a boy’s nostrils the air of our earth.

We regale each other with stories of how a president slept in a specific house or how some famous figure touched the lives of one of our ancestors.  But here we speak of the True King of all that ever was, that is, and ever will be living amongst shepherds and sheep and lying in a manger.  The idea is too wondrous for us.  We choke on it, thinking that He must not be so majestic to live with such common folk.

And friends, that is what the world will tell you tomorrow.  Foolishly thinking Christmas to be over, they will tell you that this Christ is not so majestic after all.  “He’s a fable, a story.  He’s so far lost in the mists of mythology that we actually don’t know anything about Him at all.  He’s all well and good for the fools and simpletons who need Him as a crutch, but I am important and have things to do.”  And indeed, some desperate souls will think these things.

But for those of us who travel with Him to that manger crib in Bethlehem, we have met our Lord Christ.  That is why I have included in each bulletin a Christmas devotion I encourage you to use throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas – right up until January 6th, the Epiphany.  But whether or not you use this particular devotion, think on the gift of God’s presence both now and into eternity from our God and Savior Jesus Christ:  I warmly encourage you to give Christ yourself in return.  After all, before we loved Him, He loved us first.

 

 

Christ came to us to take His place amongst us as flawed and fallible people struggling against temptation and living between birth and death.  Never before had God taken upon Himself such vulnerability.  Never before had God come, not in booming voice or cloud or fire, but in human flesh, not simply appearing like one of us, but actually becoming one of us.  We can say Christ is our brother more truly than we can call an angel or a horse our brother, for Christ truly is born of a woman into the family of Man.  Christ knew the love of a child for his mother.  He knew the sweat and exertion of physical toil with his earthly father.  He knew the camaraderie of the disciples.  He knew temptation, betrayal, suffering, and death.  And He is the first of all men to know the eternal reality of Resurrection — but He won’t be the last.

For it is through this veil of His human flesh that we come to enter into Heaven.  We are able to enter into the Holies of Holies in Heaven “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;”  Christ does not only come to earth and become a newborn Jewish boy in Bethlehem to live alongside of us.  No, He comes down to us and becomes one of us so that we follow Him up into Heaven, into His Resurrection, into the presence of God the Father in the Holy Ghost forevermore.

Our human world, our world of family, of temptations, of nations and wars, of sickness and death, this our human world has on Christmas morning been pierced with the lava-hot loving-kindness of God’s own presence.  God is this day with us.  Christ our Lord is born in Bethlehem so that He may live amongst us, to the end that He might show us His love, become the way to salvation, die upon the Cross for our redemption, and leave us His Church.

And tonight we remember and recollect that blessed night over two thousand years ago when God the Son came to us in that little child.  Tonight we celebrate the invasion of this world of sin and sadness, death and decay by the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We look forward to when that little boy will come again as a conquering king on the Last Day, when He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

Because God became Man in Christ our Lord, we are free.  We are free from the sins and mistakes of our past. That is what makes this night so special.

So tonight, let us gather around the Christmas crib and forget ourselves for a moment, letting ourselves rest and worshipping Christ our God and our Savior.

 

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

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

 

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