Audio link: First sentence missing,"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."
“Unto us a child is born” [Is. 9.6, in anthem].
Christmas is a time of wonder, awe and thankful worship. For we go back to Bethlehem in our hearts and minds to see God for the first time, not only in human vesture/nature, but as a helpless baby! The beauty of the vulnerable infant united mysteriously to the divine majesty.
Now, all babies are lovely and bring out affection in all but the worst people. And Jesus would have been the same in that regard. Yet, babies are also demanding: they are hard work, as they can do nothing for themselves. Baby Jesus was the same in this regard: utterly dependent on his parents, especially Mary. We have to take the less “romantic” aspects of newborns seriously in order to remind ourselves that he was truly human. “No crying he makes” is a nice line, and certainly Jesus would have been a “good baby”, as his human nature was faultless, but Jesus had to let his parents know when he was hungry or in pain somehow. And we can be sure he didn’t say “Mother, I need to be breastfed” as an infant! And, yes, nappies would have to have been changed. Jesus was a real baby. [Burped, carried. Not superman in diapers.]
Christmas then is a reminder that our faith is not merely a philosophy that teaches us wise sayings and tells us what to do to be good. Christianity is Christ himself. God has not just talked to us, he has acted in human history, even to the point of becoming one of us. The Word has become flesh, because we needed more than the light of truth spoken or written, for our hearing was dull and our sight dim due to sin. We needed the Truth to come and live among us and the light to overcome the darkness by shining in the midst of it.
But even this would not have been enough, if the whole life of Jesus had just been one great long “object lesson”: a “fine example” for us all to follow. Yes, Jesus is an example to imitate, but he’s also much more. Indeed, we cannot imitate him until we have his life, his human (not just his divine) life, flowing through us. [We can become like him, because he became like us.]
So, Christians “get in and get dirty” and do many good deeds in the world, and don’t just sit back and think clever or holy thoughts. Why? Because God did! Yes, “it’s the right thing to do”, but we need more than ordinary, weak old conscience to explain the charitable works of Christians like Mother Theresa and St Francis of Assisi in the past and the millions of Christian volunteer-workers in the present. They are drawing on the strength of Jesus, the Incarnate God: the God who came down into our muck and mess, shared in our sufferings and gave himself completely for us.
And one major way we share in the wisdom, strength, life and love of the man Jesus (so we can be the sort of people who do these things) through the Sacraments. Physical, touchable things to create our bond with the physical Jesus. We connect to God through the humanity of Jesus.
And so we see that Jesus is our everything. He is the path and the bridge, as well as the goal we walk towards. He is our best friend, our brother, the human being closest to us; and our God. He is the teacher and the lesson. He is the priest and the sacrifice. He is the humble, sweet little infant of the First Coming and the all-conquering king of the Second Coming; our gentle Advocate and our fearfully holy Judge. O come let us adore him.
"The day is at hand" +
In the Epistles of St Paul "the Day" often has reference to the return of Christ and final Judgement. Judgement is one of the main themes of Advent . And when St Paul first preached the Gospel, this theme was clearly present (Acts 17:31, 24:25).
Does Judgement, from God's perspective, apply to what the world calls victimless crimes? Sexual impurity, drunkeness, envy/jealousy? Yes, as we see in today's Epistle. It's easier for people to see validity of judgement of sins against loving neighbour, but they inwardly rebel against the idea that God punishes the other sins, that they should even be considered sins at all. "No harm, no foul." However, their conscience can still prick them when they do these things, despite this attitude. Why? Where is the sin?
For a start, they are often not victimless, even in the conventional sense. And they are usually strongly associated with sins more obviously harmful to others.
Drunkenness in one person often claims the life of another, or seriously injures them, as the alcoholically-enhanced road toll reminds us, and as do the scenes of drunken brawls, whether at schoolies venues, as we have seen recently, or elsewhere.
Jealousy can seldom help but break out in gossip and back-biting. It is unusual for it to remain a purely hidden vice of the mind.
The scandal of the abuse of children and minors by RC clergy is due to the same domino effect of sin. The abuses noticeably peaked between the late 60s to the 80s, but were below general community averages before and after this time. Why? They were partly the result of a dangerous change in the choosing and education of seminarians (trainee priests) that occured in the 60s. What was this change? The Church institutions relied on the advice of so-called experts on human sexuality. These experts didn't explicitly teach potential priests to abuse the young, nor did they instruct seminaries to choose paedophiles or ephebophiles. What they did do was teach seminarians and others that traditional sexual morality was foolishly restrictive and that pornography and seeking pleasure for its own sake were ok. And they counselled against allowing through men into the priesthood who they found believed in the classical teaching on these issues, labelling them as too rigid. And, too make things even worse, they told bishops they could cure the abusive clergy, while telling each other that the age of consent should be abolished. These experts based their beliefs on the work of a man called Kinsey. Kinsey, who deliberately set out to overturn concepts of sexual perversion, has been shown to have used scientific fraud to make such perversions appear much more common and therefore normal than was truly the case. And, worse still, he has been shown to have used at least one paedophile rapist, working even on infants, to get his data. He couldn't bring himself to stop at so-called victimless crimes. In each case, we find that the philosophy of the only bad sex is non-consensual sex (rape) leads to rape anyway.
So, victimless crimes do in fact lead quite naturally to victims, offending against love of neighbour.
The second point to make about these sins is that love of neighbour not the only love. Love of God, love of self, are part of the great commandment. Human dignity is the missing ingredient in so many people's ethical thinking: the good life is not just about maximising feelings of happiness or pleasure and minimising feelings of unhappiness or pain. "You owe it to yourself" is an old saying. How can one sin against oneself? "You are not your own, you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20). Twice-purchased, by creation and redemption. We belong to God. Self-destruction, self-dehumanisation is an insult to Him, a defacing and defilement of his work of art. Fulfillment of our humanity requires that the reason rules the passions, that the will governs instincts. It also requires that sexual faculties which are designed for creating new life, forming loving unions and sealing the mutual gift of the whole self in a marriage, are not squandered on mere pleasure for self. When we degrade ourselves, we defile God's image, God's gift of spiritual life.
The morality which denies all of this, and judges actions only on how they maximise pleasure or feelings of happiness in the greatest number, is utilitarianism or consequentialism. Why does utilitarianism-consequentialism fail? It cannot make any sense of purely internal sin, despite the essence of morality, of human goodness, obviously being dependent on motive. It cannot even explain why a bedridden man who has secret murder fantasies impossible to fulfill is being a bad man. Or why a hypocrital woman who is outwardly polite and "nice" to a colleague at work but inwardly despises her for her less fashionable dress sense, is being a bad person. Or why a child who chooses not to steal something only because they know they would get caught and punished, is not virtuous.
It is not enough to avoid inflicting pain on others, as essential as that is to goodness. It never has been.
Here is the link to the playlist of recordings and livestreams from 2020 at St Hilda's.