Heaven and Earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. (St. Luke xxi. 33)
Advent is that season which is all about preparing for Christ’s coming. What is coming to us is what endures forever. With eager expectation we await the one permanent and eternal thing that is all-important and all-defining for the life of any Christian. In the cyclical life of the Church, once again we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas time. Christ Jesus is the permanent Word of God made flesh. He is the eternally-begotten Word of God –that abiding, immutable, and enduring expression and revelation of God that was uttered and spoken into human life long ago. And the same Word is spoken each and every year, in a new and fresh way, to the souls of the faithful that they might be born again from above. Advent is about Christ the Word who is coming. Today we are called to hear the Word that comes to us, to measure our every desire by it, and to ensure that this Word is indeed our first love. We hope that the Word that comes to us this Sunday will inspire us with a more habitual hope for the enduring and indwelling Word of God.
In the Gospel appointed for today Jesus establishes Himself as the Word spoken and offered to those who will hear Him. He speaks to the Apostles in the present tense of past history, and He speaks to us in the same way today. He speaks though of a future coming, a final coming, when all things shall be summed up in relation to man’s hearing or not hearing of His Word. The Word of God, His rule and governance, will be established finally and definitively in that day when he shall measure and weigh the thoughts of all men’s hearts. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (St. Luke 21. 27) Jesus who is the disclosed and revealed Word of God made flesh, who spoke to the Apostles long ago, who speaks to us today, will come at the end of all time, to judge the world, to measure the consistency and compatibility of every man’s words and works with His will. In the end times then, all things shall be summed up in relation to Christ the everlasting Word of God, and all men shall find their everlasting abode in relation to Him.
So it is in this life that we are blessed with the gift of preparing for God’s Judgment. This is the time of discovering what God intends for us all and habituating or acclimating ourselves to it. In the Gospel Jesus fully expects that His hearers- the Apostles then and us now, will be in communion with Him already because they have spent their lives subjecting themselves to His Judgment and Desire. Jesus says today that those who have neglected Him as God’s Word made flesh can expect only confusion, bewilderment, and unending terror. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 25) Heaven will herald in the time of Judgment and the earth will respond in kind with a traumatic and paranormal seismic shift that anticipates heavenly salvation for the good and demise for the evil. The unfaithful earthly-minded man will see at last that his perishable riches are now worthless, his worldly comforts surprisingly incommodious, and his natural peace violently agonizing. At the same time, the faithful heavenly-minded man will set his eyes and heart upon a spiritual life that has been suitably readied for God’s harvest and reaping. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh, Jesus says. (St. Luke 21. 28) Though the creation’s mostly idolatrous inhabitants will be taken by surprise, the faithful friends of Jesus shall be neither blindsided nor astonished. Why? Because they have long since been judged, corrected, disciplined, and redeemed by the permanent and unchanging Word of His love. Their spiritual state is illustrated neatly in the Parable of the Fig Tree. Jesus says, Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (St. Luke 21: 30, 31) In other words, the faithful man shall see the world scorched in ruin, as unbelievers desperately and foolishly scramble for cover, because they have refused to prepare for the triumphant victory of God’s enduring Word. He shall see that the worship of earthly mammon leads only to sterility and impotence cutting off idolaters and sinners from the unchanging passion of God’s fiery love. He shall discover that the words of this world only ever come and go and are destined mostly to pass away because they are not reconciled to the Eternal Word. He shall see that man’s love and desire for the lesser gods of impermanent truth must be destroyed. He shall know that the Word of the Lord alone endureth forever. And all this because in the high summer heat of the Word’s return, the bright and burning truth of God’s Word of love shall have already been coming alive in the hearts and souls of those who have believed, hoped, and loved in and through Him. With this coming, Jesus says, rejoice and be exceeding glad, for the world will be destroyed, but the dynamically penetrating heat of God’s loving Word shall summon the fruits of His Spirit into final and unbreakable unity with Himself. The Word made flesh will come to establish man’s final redemption either as deliverance to His Kingdom or alienation from it. For those who have been judged by that Word already in an habitual dying to sin and coming alive to righteousness, final union with God is promised. For the faithful man, Christ’s words have never passed away because he has long since been habituated to desire and yearn for nothing short of the promised Word.
But how, you might ask, does this Word of God judge us now so that we shall not be judged in the hereafter? How, you ask, do we apply this Word of God to our lives now so that at the Judgment we shall be found so faithful to it so that we shall not be judged by it? Our Collect for today helps us. It exhorts us to a faith that seeks understanding and then generates hope in God’s unchanging Word.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The Word of God, His communicated Wisdom to us and for us, most fully discerned and heard in the life of Jesus Christ, is found through a diligent and persistent hearing and reading of Holy Scripture. The same Word must be marked and annotated, learned and understood, and then inwardly and spiritually digested as what alone can enable us to die to sin and come alive to God’s righteousness. We must find in the Word a record of God’s persistent, unalterable, and enduring love for us and for our salvation. We must discover that Jesus Christ, God’s Word made Flesh, has, in these last days, become the forgiveness of our sins and the resurrection into new life for us. We do so as the Holy Ghost helps us to possess our souls in patience.
The Collect teaches us that if we are to be found faithful, by patience and comfort of His Holy Word, we must embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life in Jesus Christ. Hope in eternal life must be the object of our desire. Earthly-minded man hopes for things that perish and puts his faith and trust in earthly relationships that grow old and pass away. Earthly man grows old and when life grows short, his hope grows weary, as Joseph Pieper writes. But spiritual man grows young because he hopes in a life that is ‘not yet’ and shall be as long as eternity. Spiritual man hopes in a life that is just now starting to be lived in and through God’s Word. Spiritual man hopes in the Word that even now begins to prepare him for perfect everlasting union and communion with God. He has the audacity and courage to hope supernaturally above and beyond this transitory world with its fleeting promises. The theological virtue of hope bestows upon the spiritual man a certain possession of an aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, adaptable and ready with strong-hearted freshness and resilient joy, with a steady perseverance in trust that distinguishes the young and make them so lovable. Spiritual man is forever young because he trusts, even recklessly, in a love that makes him forever new. He is forever being made new with ever-growing confidence that what he knows and how he lives can always be bettered by being perfectly possessed and moved by a love that never dies. Spiritual man is forever young because he does not look backward but forward. His youthfulness lives from a root that penetrates into an area of human nature that the powers of natural hope are unable to reach. This is so because supernatural youthfulness emanates from participation in the life of God, who is closer and more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. For spiritual man time is swallowed up into eternity because he hopes forever in the fountain of youth that flows from God’s loving heart into his own! (Faith, Hope, and Love: Chapter II, 110-111)
In this holy season of Advent we are called to be transformed by the unchanging and enduring Word of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Let us end by beginning with the poet to put our hope and trust in His love:
Fair Hope! Our earlier Heaven! By thee
Young time is taster to eternity.
Thy gen’rous wine with age grows strong, not sour;
Nor need we kill thy fruit to smell thy flower.
Thy golden head n’er hangs down,
Till in the lap of Love’s full noon
It falls and dies: oh no, it melts away
As doth the dawn into the day:
As lumps of sugar lose themselves, and twine
Their subtle essence with the soul of wine.
(On Hope: Crowley & Crashaw)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons