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Lord Jesus! Please Come Back!
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Advent IV 11/12/18
Is. 40:1-11; Ps. 80; Phil. 4:4-7; Jn. 1:19-28
We arrive at the end of Advent, the season of looking forward to the comings of Christ, and celebrate an actual Coming of Christ which changed the whole course of human history. And yet another Coming is promised.
It all began, of course, way back with Abraham and the coming of God into his life, the beginning of the visible, historical redemption for all of us. Had there been no call to Abraham, or someone like him, it might have meant that God had given up on the human race. Imagine what that would have meant – at the very best..., assuming that God had not decided to eliminate us with another global disaster.
Rodney Stark gives the following challenge:
Christianity created Western Civilization. Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls. Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800:
A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth -- a world truly living in "dark ages".
The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, & Western Success, p. 233.
Those “dark ages” are the Fall. As Stark suggests, when you do things God’s way, they work amazingly better. The evidence is clear in every area of human life -- when we pay attention to the evidence. The world, the flesh, and the devil are poor competitors with an intellectually, morally, and spiritually healthy and mature Judeo-Christian society.
But we in the West are rapidly losing the extraordinary gifts from God to which Stark points, with which we had been blessed for so many centuries. We are drifting ever more rapidly back into the degradation of paganism which Stark describes.
We had better sit up and pay attention to what God is telling us today about ourselves. These bad things do not happen by accident, any more than the very good Christian winning of the Roman Empire was an accident of history. We will not climb out of this mess by accident, we will get out only by willingly and intelligently submitting ourselves once again to the law and grace of God.
Salvation begins with the conversion of individuals, leading then to a salvation community which becomes the bearer of the revelation from God, passing it on from generation to generation. Only a community can pass on a culture. Individuals cannot do it. We call it the Church, the Body of Christ. The true culture is the Kingdom – as described by St. Augustine in The City of God. When the Church, the community, the Body becomes corrupted, when it no longer preaches the Good News of Jesus Christ, substituting its own message, a Word of Man, not of God, the effects on the salvation process are disastrous. Darkness descends into every aspect of society – social, family, political, education, and everything else.
The Word of Man is not the Word of Reason, as so many think. Reason is God’s forte, not ours. Certainly not the secular humanists, who have given us, and continue to give us, a disaster. The revelation from God is powerfully reasonable. And His reasoning is powerfully revealing. No one reasons with God without being drawn into the Light of truth, the Light of God.
The world of Jesus’ time was no different. The same issues prevailed, perhaps a bit less sophisticated, but essentially the same intellectual, moral, and spiritual issues. The Jewish leaders were preaching a word from man, not from God. It had happened over and over through their history and in our Christian history.
Psalm 80 is a plea for God to return to Israel.
Turn us again, O God; show the light of Thy countenance, and we shall be whole. O Lord of hosts, how long wilt Thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt.... Why hast Thou then broken down her hedge, that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?
Turn Thee again, Thou God of hosts, look down from heaven, behold, and visit this vine.... Let Thy hand be upon the man of Thy right hand, and upon the son of man, whom Thou madest so strong for Thine own self.
We must make the same plea for God to return to America and the West. We ourselves have seen in the Transformation videos the good things that can happen when God returns to a broken, sinful, and self-destructive culture, when the people grieve and pray deeply, repent, and like the psalmist, ask God to return to His people. It can happen with us.
We have little record of what life was like in Exile for the Hebrews, but Isaiah 40:1-11, for this 4th Sunday of Advent, tells us that there must have been much of that deep grieving, repenting, and pleading for the return of God to His people. Chapter 40 is one of the magnificent passages in all of the Bible, rejoicing because God has answered their prayers and is leading them down the road on which they can travel safely homeward.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low... And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed....
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
you up to a high mountain, O St. Luke’s, herald of good tidings; lift up your
voice with strength, O St. Luke’s, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not,
say to the cities of Orange County, ‘Behold, your God!’”
The Gospel begins, “This is the record of John...” John the Evangelist is making a specific point – that John the Baptist is not the Messiah – no doubt because some thought that he might be. But John the Baptist is himself recorded as specifically denying that he is the Messiah, and that there is one coming whose shoes he is not worthy even to loosen. One wonders – did they play together as children.
The Baptist compares himself to the voice in Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord...” The Baptist’s words suggest that he sees himself preaching in the moral and spiritual wilderness of contemporary Judaism, not just in the physical desert wilderness, that the Jews had abandoned the true message of God and substituted the laws of man for those of God.
The passage in Luke 3 parallel to our Gospel gives more detail. The Baptist was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That itself was not startling. But the typical baptism of the day was thought of for converts, not for Jews themselves. The Baptist was saying that the Jews themselves needed to be cleaned from within by the Spirit of God. For the self-righteous, that was an insult.
“You brood of vipers!” he called those who came out to be baptized. “Do not think that because you call Abraham your father, you will get by with your sinful lives!” Like those who think they are special because their ancestors came over on the Mayflower, some Jews were thinking themselves special because they thought of Abraham as their father, their source of identity and meaning. “God does not need you,” John was telling them. “God can raise up from these stones children to Abraham. Who needs you? Your claims are worthless.... Even now the ax is being laid to the root of the trees...”
What was the tree, to which the ax was being laid, but the family tree going back to Abraham and Moses? The ax was being laid to the root of that tree, leaving them without a spiritual identity. Their roots were in the world, the flesh, and maybe even the devil. They needed to cut themselves loose from their false dependencies and loyalties, and be grafted into Jesus, the true Vine.
Both in our Gospel and in Luke 3, the Baptist is asked about his baptizing, because the coming Messiah was expected to baptize the people. In John’s Gospel, the Baptist says that he baptizes with water, but that someone far greater is coming. Luke adds details, pointing to Jesus baptizing in a new way, above and beyond what the Baptist can do. Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, an internal cleansing, healing, and forgiveness deep in the soul.
This power of the Holy Spirit among ourselves will create a renewed Body of Christ – which will then create a new public arena, a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, including Godly politics.
The culture of the Jews was degrading just as any culture will which abandons the law and the grace of God.
There is one and only one way back out of that deep pit of darkness. Turn to the Light which God wants to shine into the corners, attics, basements, and closets of our lives. If we do not seek the truth about ourselves, hard as it may be, we will never see and understand the truth about God. The Kingdom community is a bond between us and God, in which we must come to know each other, openly and freely living in the Light. The world community is inherently closed and walled. The Kingdom community is inherently open and free.
Lord Jesus, please come back!!!
But, Jesus coming back creates severe consequences. Both reasoning and revelation bring the light of truth, reality with all of its consequences. Reasoning with God is not what some call “dialogue to consensus”, sitting around a circle and discussing, until we all comfortably agree. That is not the reasoning of God.
The strategy of God is to “force the antithesis”, force the real differences, the real oppositions, onto the table, into the light – as Jesus did with the Pharisees. Everyone is free to speak his piece, the truth as he sees it, but that will be subjected to the light of Godly inspection. Every bit of froth will be blown away, every lie will be exposed for what it is, every error will have a red mark by it. And then you are free to go your way. But only the way of truth-seeking leads to life. The way of truth-subversion, as St. Paul so clearly shows in Romans 1:18 ff., leads to a deeper Fall, confusion, chaos, and finally death.
The thrust of the worldly is to blunt the antithesis, to blur it away, to make things bland and pleasant again. But God will not have it so. Truth will out.
This is how we should understand the ending of the Venite, which we say at Morning Prayer. The last verse reads, “For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth, and with righteousness to judge the world, and the peoples with His truth.” We usually emphasize “cometh”, “...for He cometh, for He cometh...” almost like a warning or a threat. “Look out! Duck! Here He comes!”
But much better to emphasize the “He”. “For HE cometh, for HE cometh...” “Halleluiah, it’s Jesus – and not someone else!” We want Jesus to come and be our judge, for none other can be so just and so graceful at the same time. None other can shine the light of truth without compromise and at the same time open the doors of heaven for those who really want what He is offering. It is the truth which sets us free.
It is only Jesus’ way of forcing the antithesis which can lead to the unity for which He prayed in John 17 – that we be unified – so that the world will know that He comes from the Father. Only truth-seeking and truth-speaking Jesus’ way can produce that intellectual, moral, and spiritual unity which is the foundation upon which the Kingdom is built.
That is what we must learn so that we can honestly face ourselves and one another in the light of God, and then take that light out into the public arena, education, politics, welfare, every aspect of our common life.
We have no way of knowing whether Jesus will come back again in the power of the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost, reviving His Church for the spiritual warfare which we face – or whether He will come back for the final time, visibly, tangibly. But He will come back. Let us this coming Christmas/Epiphany season be continually on the alert, as we are warned that the harvest is ripe, by being steadily at His work in His vineyard.
Maranatha – Lord Jesus, come! Bring Your light, bring Your judgement, bring Your truth-telling, shine those lights upon ourselves first, and show us how to shine those same lights upon our families, friends, neighbors, and the rest of the world, that we might grow stronger and stronger in our warfare for your Kingdom on earth, in the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.
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