December 4, 2011

Monday after the Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.33, Is. 8, Mk. 2:23-3:6
Evening - Ps. 42, 43, Is9:1-17, Rev. 11

Commentary
Revelation 11

Chapters 4-10 have shown God punishing the persecutor of the Church. The comments have attempted to show that the chapters have pointed to and described the conquest of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 A.D. Chapter 11 concludes the prophecy about Jerusalem. It begins with a command to measure the Temple, which is a prelude to its destruction predicted by Christ in Matthew 24:2 (see also Amos 7:7-9).

There are two witnesses killed in the city, which are identified as two candlesticks standing before God (11:3-4). This image comes from Zechariah 4, where the two lights are supernaturally enabled to accomplish their work in Jerusalem. They represent, both in Zechariah and Revelation, the civil and religious authorities in Israel, each serving God in their respective fields. As John writes this prophecy, corruption has ruined the Jerusalem Temple and government, and, instead of being enabled by God to accomplish their work, their corruption becomes so complete they cease to perform their tasks. Thus, the two pillars of Jerusalem wither and "die," and their corpses lie in the streets unmourned and unburied. In their places, anarchy and apostasy reign, and the people of the "holy city" (11:2) are plunged into deadly chaos and internal strife.

Verse 8 is important because it identifies the city in which the two witnesses die. Some people are confused because the city is called Sodom and Egypt, but this confusion is easily dispelled when we see that these names describe the spiritual condition of the city by comparing it to Sodom and Egypt in Old Testament times when these places opposed God and persecuted His people. The city is identified as the place where our Lord was crucified, Jerusalem
Rather than mourning over the corruption and death of Biblical religion and government, the people celebrate. Verse 10 says they "rejoice and make merry." Why? Because when the Church and state functioned properly they testified that the deeds of the people were evil. Now that they are "dead" the wicked think there is no more restraint on their sin. They are free to plunge to the depths of wickedness with no one to reprove them and no law to restrain them. Meanwhile, the prophets are raised from the dead and taken into Heaven, symbolic of God's blessing on true religion and good government. The earthquake is the chaos that ensued after the fall of faith and government in Jerusalem, but at least some turn to God in the crisis (11:13).

The chapter closes with a hymn of praise from voices in Heaven, probably the martyrs (11:15). Their song gives thanks to God because He has taken Jerusalem, which had become another one of the kingdoms of the world, and subjugated it under Him. It is not a city of Biblical faith by any means, but it is under God by being under His judgment. In this way all kingdoms and people will come under the rule of Christ; some as redeemed to glory, others to judgment. Either way, He will rule all, and the destruction of Jerusalem shows that He has already begun to reign.

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent

For Our Learning
Romans 15:4
Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2011


"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope."
Romans 15:4


What do we learn from the Scriptures? We learn about ourselves. We learn who we are. We learn our place and purpose in this world and cosmos. We were created for great things. We were created to rule the earth. God Himself gave us dominion over it, including the animals; not to consume it upon our own lusts, but to honour Him in the way we keep it and enjoy it. We learn that we are created to know Him and to enjoy and bask in His love forever. We learn that we were created for goodness, for righteousness, and that it is only as we follow Him in the paths of righteousness that we find happiness in this life.

But we also learn what we have always known, that we have fallen far short of the purpose for which we were created. We learn that we have erred and strayed from His ways like lost sheep. We learn that we have offended against His holy laws, done what we should not have done, and left undone what we ought to have done. In short, we learn that we are sinners.

I fear that we usually take this knowledge far too lightly. We think of it only in terms of finding forgiveness in Christ. And it is true that such knowledge should drive us to our knees before the God of holiness in fear and trembling to beg forgiveness. Yet there is more, for such knowledge should also drive us to change. It should cause us to seek to be different; not just in what we do, but in who we are. It is this part of the Gospel, the transformed and holy person, that we seem to forget, or just overlook.

In the Bible we learn about God. It tells us of One who holds the universe in His hand, yet knows the hairs on each of our heads. And it tells of One who is good. His nature is goodness in perfection. There is no variation in His goodness. He is light without darkness. As bright as the sun appears to us, there are dark spots on it, and whatever chemical reactions are taking place on it are not happening with equal intensity in all areas of it. But the righteousness of God is brighter than an infinite number of suns, and there is no variation in His righteousness, ever.

In the Bible we learn that this Great Righteous Being loved sinners so much He came to earth as a Man to reconcile us to Himself by way of the cross. And in the Bible we learn the way home. More than simply showing us, more than simply pointing the way, in the Scriptures our Lord Christ Himself comes to us as the Great Shepherd, and carries us back to the fold, carries us back to God.

This is the message of the Bible. There is more, of course, for I have only looked at the message from man's perspective, which makes it appear that God has done all of this for us. In reality He has created us, endured our sin, and even saved us for His own purpose, His own glory, to bring together all things under Christ. That is the ultimate goal of God. As St. Paul states in Ephesians 1:12, we are to exist, or, to "be to the praise of His glory."

This is the teaching of Scripture. This is what the things written aforetime tell us. This is what we learn from them. But this knowledge is given for a purpose. It is not given to add to our store of facts; it is given to make us wise unto salvation. It is given that we might have hope, hope that we can be better, can overcome at least some of our sin, can be more humble, more holy, more forgiving, more forbearing. And, most of all hope that we can be forgiven by God, hope that we will one day dwell in a place where there is no more sin, or doubt, or fear, or suffering or death. Hope that we will dwell forever in perfect peace and harmony with man and God, and all the petty little things we let divide us will be behind us forever.

And this is the way we gain this hope; embrace and ever hold fast to the promises of God declared unto mankind in Jesus Christ our Lord. I'm not talking about walking an aisle and making an intellectual decision to believe in Jesus. I'm not talking about having an emotional experience and calling it "conversion." I'm talking about coming to Him in such a way that He becomes the foundation of who you are. I'm talking about embracing Him in such a way that He dwells in you, and you dwell in Him. I am talking about the very thing expressed so well in the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent;

"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. Amen."