+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Theme: A Transparent Witness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
In the season of Advent the Spirit undertakes to stimulate our recognition of His intentions. It is no small task. The call to repentance is always in the present tense. We are always sinners. The need for forgiveness is always vital. Still, throughout history there have been periods of heightened awareness of the activity and presence of God. Often these were times of particular unfaithfulness and hard-heartedness amongst God’s people. God intends to shield us from the shipwreck of our faith. Advent sounds the note of promise that Christ has come on our behalf. The coming of Christ puts an end to all speculation about humanity’s future. He is the new Adam; the image of the eternal Father.
Advent is an opportunity to rediscover the dependability of God in Christ. Our lives are full of ‘ifs’, ‘maybes’, ‘could-have-beens’, and ‘possibilities’. We are liable to contingency every minute of every hour of every day. “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow,”1 warns the apostle James. We are vulnerable and that comes with serious liabilities. God however is not vulnerable to ‘ifs’ but operates with ‘whens’. He worries not about ‘maybes’ or ‘possibilities’. He is never ruled by regret. He need never justify His demands upon or promises to the sinful human race.
Today John the Baptist was asked to justify and explain his ministry. If he was not the Messiah by what authority was he preaching and baptizing? Though there were ulterior motives, the question from the Jewish authorities was a legitimate one. John answered forthrightly. He neither over-stepped his bounds, nor shied away from openly confessing His relationship to Christ. We are called also to give such witness in the world. As the pressure to openly or secretly deny Him grows our courage and faith will be challenged and tested. We have for a long time been able to witness the breakdown all around us. Sin is justified to excuse our indulgences and indiscretions. First cautiously, then boldly, then dogmatically. Soon the hypocrisy of claiming the name Christian is full-blown. We must face these realities honestly and with eyes wide-open.
Christians are not the cult of the historical Jesus; a group of followers merely inspired by Christ’s humanitarian efforts in the world. Those who follow Christ only as the finest practitioner of the Golden Rule- do unto others as you would have done unto you- might just as appropriately be adherents of Socrates, Confucius, Mother Theresa or any number of modern philanthropists. With such altruistic philosophy- understanding the burden of practicing it falls on others, not oneself- only the exceptionally hard-hearted could differ. We’re all quite happy for the next person to be generous and charitable. But we all like to think we fall into that category too. As soon as the teachings of Jesus are only for inspiration or guidance the crux of the matter has been lost.
The Jewish authorities wanted to know if John the Baptist was teaching truth. Jesus is not the truth because we’ve come to a consensus on the validity of His teachings. Jesus is the truth because there are no contenders for His bloody sacrifice for the sins of the world. Jesus is the truth because He is God-in-the-flesh. Jesus is the truth because he triumphed over the death and the grave. Jesus IS truth because His life defines the love and presence of God in and for the world. His is not the kind of truth to be debated or measured by human standards. (Though the historical facts of His birth, life, death, and resurrection are easy enough to assess. They are more than reliable by human standards.) It is the kind of truth that will draw a soul to faith, leave him mystified or trigger within him resentment and rejection. Jesus is the truth because the Holy Spirit bears witness to His Lordship. The Holy Spirit has no other purpose or goal than to give constant testimony to Jesus as this truth.
Christ’s life was not about seeking glory, reputation, leisure or pleasure. His was a life of total self-giving, a foregoing of personal establishment that He might establish a community of the redeemed within a condemned and narcissistic world. In the crucifixion we see the defining truth about God. In Christ you have the iron-clad guarantee of a righteousness that is not your own. That righteousness avails before the judgment throne to cover all your iniquity. It’s a gift you can never merit or earn. It is yours by grace.
Never discount as trivial what God has declared to be sacred. The blood of Christ has been shed. Hell is not a farce. Separation from God is not a joke. Eternity is not a dream. You have the pledge of the same body and blood shed on the cross offered to you on the altar. Through it the One who died for you unites you with Himself that you may have true life. Wisdom involves constantly re-orientating the purposes and activities of your baptismal life to reflect this transcendent reality. It involves offering a transparent witness. The Christian life is not an abstract concept but a grimy struggle. In Christ you are a new creation with new motives. The Spirit struggles within you against the flesh.
A relevant example is easily shone in the command to love ones’ neighbour. There is a difference between being driven by guilt and driven by obligation. The lines can be blurry because motives aren’t consistent between individuals. Obligation involves the duty or responsibility of one person to another. This could be on the basis of family, church, or community relationship. The Bible is full of mandates and exhortations of this sort. It is summarily called the love of neighbour. We seek to meet these obligations because we want to honour God and the well-being of others is our concern. Guilt, on the other hand, involves acting under compulsion and it has as its motivation fear. Fear of negative reaction. In other cases there may hope of reward; of receiving praise for our actions. But often fear underlies this too. We’re driven to act to avoid certain consequences. The use of guilt to manipulate others is common sinful behavior. It becomes so habitual that it’s often not recognized for what it is.
When St. Paul says, “Love must be sincere,”2 he is trying to foster the understanding that to love our neighbour properly we must believe we are loved unconditionally by God. And just as he says our giving should not be “under compulsion”3 so too the love of our neighbour. Dear friends, the word of the Holy Spirit never returns empty. He says today, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”4 And the baptized have this promise: “The One (Christ) who is in you is greater than the one (Satan) who is in the world.” 5
The witness of John the Baptist was transparent. He had no hidden agendas. No secret reservations. He would lose his head for the cause of Christ. But in the process he would receive the crown of life. John was bound to Christ and in being bound in this way he was freed from the condemnation of the world. Advent is the proclamation of the One who comes to bring deliverance. The prophet records it in the Messiah’s own words, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”6
“Come, Lord Jesus.”7 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday of Advent
11 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 James 4:14
2 Romans 12:9
3 2 Corinthians 9:7
4 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
5 1 John 4:4
6 Isaiah 61:1-2
7 Revelation 22:20