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|Written by Roberta Bayer|
|Thursday, 09 December 2010 08:17|
On December 1, 2010, I delivered this sermon at Patrick Henry College. Although the text allotted for the day was the passion of Christ, it seemed appropriate to tie this to the Advent season. So the sermon is about how it is that the Incarnation shapes our understanding of the Christian year. Roberta Bayer, Editor, Mandate
The narrative of the passion of Christ seems somewhat out of place as we enter the season of Advent and prepare for the great feast of Christ's birth at Christmas. But, despite the odd juxtaposition of birth and death, there is something that ties them together - in that in both birth and death God proclaimed in time and in created nature that Mary's son, Jesus, was God Incarnate, He was fully man and fully God. Both direct our faith to know Christ as the Son of God, and to the Incarnation as the very foundation of our Faith.
In the Gospel narrative heard today we are told of miraculous events surrounding Christ's death. First, there were the two criminals, one of whom, on looking upon our Lord was moved to make a confession of faith in the suffering, innocent Messiah. Christ absolved him and told him that today he would be with him in Paradise. In doing so Christ did not speak as a man who is dying, but as God. Even in the moment of death, which can only come to man, never to God, He spoke, He taught us, that He was divine, thereby showing that in him man and God are one.
Above the cross were inscribed the words This is the King of the Jews. This superscription was intended to be mocking. Yet in those three hours while Christ hung on the cross suffering the agony of death, Luke states that there was darkness over the whole land: "the sun was darkened", and indeed also "the veil of the temple was rent in the midst." In the darkening of the sun, the whole of creation acknowledged that Christ was King and was in anguish with him. We also know from the parallel account in the Gospel of Matthew that the earth quaked and rocks were rent, and graves opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. Nature cried out that Christ was King of heaven and earth.
And not just nature suffered, but even the temple in Jerusalem proclaimed the very mystery of Christ's divinity -- the curtain in the temple split from top to bottom. This signified indeed the very truth of the words over the cross, namely that Christ was King over the Jews. The temple was no longer the center of the faith.
Finally, and no less miraculously, was the cry of the centurion upon seeing these events: "Surely he was a righteous man." The Gospel of Matthew repeats this cry but makes the connection to incarnation more directly. "Now when the centurion, and they that were with him watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."
The death of our Lord was accompanied by the most obvious and clear signs that he was God Incarnate.
The same might be said of his birth. Luke states that there was a miraculous light at Christ's birth, just as at his death there was miraculous darkness. The shepherds watching over their flocks by night saw the skies above them become as bright as day. They saw an angel, a heavenly host, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. No less important was a miraculous star shining brightly in the sky which guided the three kings from the east to the stable to lay presents before this new and greatest of kings. As Saint John writes more theologically: the Word, and life, and light came into the world all at once as Christ.
I found myself thinking about all this while preparing for Advent. "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever shall believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life." The Incarnation is the foundation of the Faith because it is through it that we have the promise of eternal life. This means that in this Advent season when the church prepares for Christ's first coming into the world 2000 years ago, it also is preparing for his second Coming at the end of time.
Notice the effect of this -- in thinking about the First Coming and Second Coming together one is confronted with the fact that there are really two measures of created time. There is created time measured by birth and death, Christ's birth and death which we can date to reign of Herod in Judea. But also there is time measured in a different way, there in that promise of eternal life. This is time measured in terms of Christ's first and second coming, the calendar centered on the Incarnation. This calendar of salvation begins with Christ's Incarnation in time, and will finish at the end of time with his Second Coming, at which we enter into eternity. There are two ways of measuring time, days and years, the other by the Incarnation, but belong to God's ordering of things in creation. It is interesting that he has created the world in such a way that there is a sacred as well as a chronological yearly calendar by which Christians live. Think about these two measures of time in relation to the Incarnate nature of Christ.
So these two feasts, Christmas and Easter, are extraordinarily important for thinking about the the sacred calendar centered on Christ's incarnation. To relive the events of the Incarnation of God each year, is to know the events of the past as present reality, and strengthen hope for our future life. As a peripheral point, it is interesting to note that Christmas and Easter have for different parts of the church, from very early days marked the beginning of the Christian year. In the Eastern Orthodox Church Easter is the first day of the sacred year, in the Western Church, the oldest service books of which we are aware begin the Christian year with the Vigil of Christmas. That difference is, one might say, not terribly important because the same theological point is made either way.
The Advent collect written by Reformer Thomas Cranmer sums up that for which we should pray at this time of year: give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal:
At Christmas, therefore, among all the other things to think about, remember that we are at the beginning of the Christian year. Spend time in prayer preparing for the Second Coming; remember that Christ was once here in time as Incarnate God and yet fully man, He is with us now in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit, and He shall come again. Remember that when Christ was born and when he died the skies and earth proclaimed that fact that this was a new beginning for mankind. Think about how rightfully therefore one ought to engage in outward expressions of the faith, in orienting one's life to God's year. From the very earliest centuries of the Christian church, the season of Advent has been a penitential season, followed by Christmas which is celebrated for 12 days, from December 25 to January 6, or the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany which historically concluded the festivities of Christmas, is a celebration marking the manifestation or appearance of Christ as Saviour and Redeemer to the Gentiles, and associated with the visit of the three Magi to the cradle. Together the Advent and Christmas season are a way of imposing on chronological time, days and years, a measurement of time which is marked by the promise of eternity.
So I leave this thought with you. The gift of life from God is twofold. The one measured by created nature, the stars the sun, the revolutions of the planets and the years, which Christ entered as a child in the stable in the year 1 and from which he departed in the year 34. The other is a sacred calendar based upon Faith in the Incarnate God, and which is governed by the knowledge that we are made for righteousness and eternal life, and not death. The chronological calendar will some day come to an end, the Christian calendar is directed to eternity.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 09 December 2010 08:31|