Advent 4 – December 23, 2018

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Rev’d. Canon Claude Schroeder

Sermon on John 1:19-29; Philippians 4:4-7

Today, we are nearing the end of our journey through Advent.

But we started our service today, as we have throughout Advent, in the dark.

The ringing of the Advent bell comes to us both as a “wake up call” but also as ‘warning chime,’ as we will sing in our offertory hymn today.

And were given once again, in the hauntingly beautiful chant tones of the Advent Prose, to confess and lament the wreckage that sin has brought about in our lives, and in our relationships, in our marriages, in our families, in our communities, and also in the Church.

And so were also given to express our deep longing and need for “the heavens to drop down from above, and the heavens to pour down righteousness.”

This is Advent.

The root of that word “righteousness” is the same root for the word “justice.”

These days there is a lot of talk about all the injustices of our world and of the need justice.

But what is the righteousness, the justice that is to drop down from the heavens above?

Sometimes it helps to know a little Latin.

The word “justum” translated here as ” righteousness,” actually means, ” Just One.”

So the question is not so much “what are we waiting for”, but “who are we waiting for?”

Justice is not some abstract legal principle.

It is a person.

The person of “The Chief Justice” Jesus Christ who was put to death for our sins, and raised again from the dead to set us right with God. And He, as our Creed declares , will come again to Judge the Living and the Dead.

And so we came today to the climatic 4th verse of the Advent Prose, where, the prophet Isaiah comforts us with the Good News that God “has blotted out as a thick cloud our transgressions.”

So now we understand what exactly God’s justice is, it is nothing more and nothing less restoration of God’s order in creation through the forgiveness of sins.

You will no doubt have noticed that the Christmas tree and decorations are up, in preparation for Christmas Eve, although the lights have not been turned on, and the manger as yet remains empty. We may take this as a sign, that One whose Coming we await, is already mysteriously in our midst. As Paul wrote, “The Lord is at hand, ” and as St. John the Baptist testified, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

The Jews, which represent to us the religious establishment, had sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem with a question, “Who are you?’ And John point out to them that they are asking question. The real question is not “Who am I? ” but, “Who is the One who is Coming after me?

So who is He?

The next day, John saw Jesus coming to Him, and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This reference to the Lamb of God reminds us of the story of the Exodus. This is where God, through Moses, set His people Israel free from their slavery in Egypt. Moses had instructed the people to sacrifice a lamb, and take some of it’s blood and mark the doorposts of their houses, so that the destroying angel, seeing ‘the blood of the Lamb’ would pass over their houses, and continue on his path to visit the houses of the Egyptians to slay the first-born.

Today we have come to church offer to God a bloodless sacrifice, which is the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise for the self-sacrifice of the Lamb of God of Jesus Christ of His Body and Blood upon the Cross. And just as our Jewish ancestors in the faith, we not only offer the sacrifice, we partake of the sacrifice, and so we are set free from our slavery to Satan, and the power of sin and death, and thus become ourselves the Body of Christ in the world, offering “ourselves, our souls, and bodies to be reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God.” (BCP p. 85)

“O Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.”

So at Christmas we are not really celebrating the birth of a baby, although He was of course born as a baby, and laid in a manger.

So what are we celebrating?

We are celebrating the Birth of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus, who has reconciled us to God.

So today, we are walking a bit of a tightrope, between Advent and Christmas, all understood in the light of Easter.

The tension is almost too much to bear.

“Raise Up, we beseech thee O Lord thy power and come among us.”

“Hurry up! We can’t hold out much longer!”

That is an Advent prayer if there ever was one.

And we cry, “and with great might succor us.”

I used to think that succor was one of those words in the Prayer Book that has got to go, because nobody uses that it anymore and knows what it means. But just this week, I found the word ‘succor’ in the business section of The Globe and Mail of all places, in reference to the recent beating that stocks took on the stock market.

‘Succor’ is an old English word meaning to help and support someone in deep hardship or distress.

As sometimes happens at Christmas here in Regina, somebody’s house burns down, leaving the family destitute. What do they need? They need a place to shower, warm dry clothes, something to eat, something to drink, a place to stay, and human comfort. What they need is succor.

When Jesus comes to succor us, we are not talking about handing out candy canes.

Who in the Collect needs ‘succor?’

We do. Really?

Aren’t we all doing just fine, thank you very much? Merry Christmas, everyone!

Actually, if the truth be told, we are not doing very well at all, at least according to the Collect for today: “through our sins and wickedness we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us.”

There are outward circumstances but also inner obstacles in our lives that trip us up. It’s the admission that our lives are out of control and that try ad might we cannot lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps,

As difficult as it is to make, this confession, is absolutely necessary. It’s the first step, as anybody in recovery from an addiction knows- whether it is an addiction to the pleasures of food, alcohol, drugs, or sex, or the more socially acceptable addictions of approval of others, comfort, security, busyness, shopping…

I have been asked multiple times in the last week, whether I am all ready for Christmas. I think I know what they mean. Have I bought and wrapped all the presents, written all the cards, cleaned and decorated the house, and prepared the menu?

But what about being emotionally ready? Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say rejoice! “How’s that going for you?

Let’s face it. Christmas is an emotional minefield. One wrong step and ” Kaboom!”

Why is that? Part of the reason has to do with the fact that we have turned the celebration of Christmas into a celebration of family togetherness. There is nothing wrong with family celebrations, it’s just that they cannot bear the weight we put on them. You are skating on thin ice. There is a sadness attached to this kind of Christmas. It’s the sadness of sitting down for Christmas dinner, and somebody who should be there, isn’t. Even if they are there, they sometimes wish they were somewhere else.

When it comes to the celebration of Christ we have so many hopes, so many desires, and so many needs, and so many fears, and so many regrets. No wonder that when it comes to Christmas, there are so many are stressed out of their minds with worry and anxiety, and some, who are frankly dreading the whole thing, and just hoping to make it through Christmas.

What about being spiritually ready? This actually is the easy part. If in the words of our Collect you can pray “thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us,” you are more than ready for Christmas. ” The Lord,” Paul writes, “is at hand.” And His presence is salvation. And so “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”

Do you believe this? There is a question for the ages. The joy of Christmas depends on your answer.

“You can have all the faith in the world in thin ice, but you would still fall through. But you can extremely weak and fragile faith in thick ice, and you would not fall through.” (Paul Zahl)

In the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in the Cross of Jesus Christ we have been given thick ice upon which to stand, which is able to bear all the weight we put on it, and still not give way, and collapse under our feet. It matters not if our faith is weak or fragile.

It is this Gospel which releases our spirits from the burdens we carry, and removes from our path the obstacles that stand in our way, and set us free to run the race that is set before us, a race into the arms of the who One was born, suffered, died, and rose again for us, even Jesus Christ, who receives us and welcomes us with joy. Amen.