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Saturday, 18 January 2014

Advent Sunday II 2013 - joy and peace in believing

Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, 
      For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, 
      And sing unto thy name. 
And again he saith, 
      Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 
And again, 
      Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; 
      And laud him, all ye people. 
And again, Isaiah saith, 
      There shall be a root of Jesse, 
      And he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; 
       In him shall the Gentiles hope. 
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Romans 15:4-13 

"[T]he God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing" + 

Last week I spoke of the Four Last Things, and why our Lord's uncomfortable words about two of them, Judgement and Hell, were words of love. Truth, precisely when it is dangerous truth, is said to us in love when it is said to protect us from that danger. 

But the danger is that Advent sermons can become mere moralism: all about warning us to avoid evil or else, or to do good and get goodies. But this is to miss the distinctiveness of Christ's Gospel, of the Apostles' preaching. Yes, there is Judgement, yes, evil is punished and good rewarded. But there is no set of scales between the two. 

Click on image to enlarge: This is "Last Judgment" painted by Giotto di Bondone in 1306
"Joe Bloggs, you have a record of 432,000 minor sins, 5,987 major ones and 63 ridiculously bad ones. This gives a weighted total of 102,483 medium mortal sins. On the other hand you did 300,005 minor good deeds, 509 major ones and 75 excellent ones, giving you a weighted total of 101,892 quite virtuous deeds. Your sin outweighs your virtue by 591 points. Sorry ... you lose. See ya." No, no, no. 

The predicament of Fallen humanity is deeper than sins, individual or counted. Our sins are the symptom of a primal rebellion, a radical self-assertion and selfishness that poisons everything we do insofar as it is without God's grace. This is the Sin, capital S, that makes sins and, if left unchecked, prevents a real turning toward God and acceptance of forgiveness: what the Bible calls "repentance". Whatever springs from this, whether outwardly good or evil, cannot acknowledge the true source of Good, and so remains cut off from it. 

 Good works independent of God can never outweigh sin. 

Yet, wherever grace enters and is acknowledged, both forgiveness and inner healing work their way in us, and through us. In other words, our good works do not save us, they reveal the presence of Him who has saved us, and is transforming us. And the salvation and consequent good works require that grace comes first, and that it is acknowledged by trust. To put it simply, we are saved by grace, through faith, for good works. The salvation of Fallen humanity is deeper than any of our good works.

Good works that are dependent on God can not but do not need to outweigh sin, because by then sin has already been cleansed by grace. 

So, Judgement is not about counting or weighing. We are judged guilty irrevocably and already, in our Sin. We are forgiven and renewed now and eternally, in our faith in Christ, God's Vessel of Grace. And that means as Chrisitians we are not meant to look to the Four Last Things like frightened accountants, wondering whether we are in the red or the black (or white?). 

No, as St Paul teaches us, it is hope with which we look forward to "the promises", "in believing". It is joy and peace, not terror and distress that should be our attitude. Penitent faith in Christ is the path to this joy and peace. If the terrors of Death, Judgement and Hell repel us from impenitent distrust in God, they have done their job. For the rest, it is love that will guide us to the Heavenly hope, sowing the promise of reward along the way. 

Then Judgment will be but mercy and rejoicing and reaping the reward. +

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