First Sunday after Epiphany 1/12/20
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent | 2019
By Fr. Hayden A. Butler
Lectionary Texts: Psalm 119:1-16; Isaiah 55; St. Luke 21:25-33; Romans 15:4-13
Last Sunday, our Gospel lesson concluded with the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, after which He immediately went in to cleanse the Temple of those who bought and sold there. This morning, our Gospel Lesson opens on Jesus still in the Temple at Jerusalem, discussing with his disciples the impending doom of the city. The language of this discussion parallels the language of our Lord’s lament over the city in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and it has to do with the consequences that will inevitably come upon the city when it collectively rejects and crucifies the Messiah. The language of signs in the heavens, of chaos among the nations, of the shaking of the earth and sea, these are all signs that a problem of universal significance will unfold.
The language to describe the judgment that is coming for Jerusalem echoes the language of the prophet Isaiah, who in his own time foretold the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, when Israel proved unfaithful to its sacred covenant with God. that disobedience was its unmaking, and the images of the heavens and the earth unravelling and upending reflect a reversal of the Creation itself, a kind of cosmic house of cards that collapsed on itself because the foundations of its stability had been eroded. Fidelity between the people and their God was the cement that held their life together–to lose one meant to lose both. There was to be no permanence or enduring legacy of the nation without faithfulness.
Our Lord’s language also echoes the language of St. John in Revelation as he records the vision he received of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D., a cataclysmic world-ending event in the Jewish imagination. The language of Revelation confirms our Lord’s prophetic words as the events of history unfold exactly as He said they would. Jerusalem, the heart of the Land promised to the people of God, rejected and killed their God. With their own hands they hanged the life of their world on a cross to die and so their life could not continue. As with the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom to Babylon, so now Jerusalem and the Temple of God fell to Rome because of unfaithfulness and a failure to recognize their God when He came among them. As the Lord had stretched out the kingdom so long as they walked with Him, so now He re-gathered and unmade the Land and brought it to an end when His people departed from Him. Faithfulness is permanence, and a lack of it brings as its wages only dissolution and scattering and death.
Our Lord’s words are a reminder of the importance of Scripture in the life of God’s people. The people of Jerusalem had in their possession what they needed in the Law and the Prophets to avoid destruction. Their own history and God’s illuminating of that history in covenant terms should have taught them how the story was going to end. But a fountain of eternal wisdom will not save us if we refuse to drink from it. So it is with us. The Scriptures are written for our great benefit and learning to teach and admonish and correct us in the knowledge of who God is and in the way we are to live as His people. But if we refuse to be formed by them, and reformed again and again by them, we will fall into disastrous error and sin and our end will be just like mighty Jerusalem who departed from her Savior. We must again and again return to the Scriptures and the faith delivered if we are to find what we need to be saved.
This is why in the Anglican tradition we focus so intently on the Scriptures. It is why they are a central pillar to our worship on Sunday and in our offering of prayer at morning and evening. Every week and every day need to be framed by the pattern of life we receive in the Scriptures. We must hear them as they are proclaimed, we must read them with an open heart to receive their life-saving wisdom, we must mark them–hanging on the words and studying their meaning, we must learn them, binding them to our hearts and minds and actions as a reliable guide, committing them to memory and practicing readiness to recall them, and we must inwardly digest them, absorbing their life-giving power and seeking for them to sustain our lives in Christ.
Within the words of Scripture we find the Word of God who is Christ Himself, who makes Himself known to us in the opening of the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread of Eucharist. Christ continually and graciously offers His resurrected life to us that He might live in us and we in Him, but in order to hear the offer, we have to listen.
Christ, who has trampled down death by death and is the firstfruits of the Resurrection, offers us undying life in Himself. Because of this, we enjoy the blessed hope of everlasting life through the Christ who meets us in Word and Sacrament. As Christians, we are not called to a kind of heightened optimism for the world, holding out that the world as we know it with all of its systems of self-improvement and self-correction are really going to pull through one day and sort everything out. This sort of positive thinking is not Christian enough. As Christians we enjoy hope as it has been given to us by God, the knowledge that the world and its desires are passing away, but that the Word of God endures forever.
This is a call to patience, to suffer long in the hope, the eager expectation of future glory. For the more the world passes away, the more the Kingdom of God is manifest. The more that our lives in the world die by degrees through infirmity, declaring as they must the their impermanence and impotence, the more the strength and strong life of Christ may shine forth. We should thus not be surprised that the world is tearing itself apart. We should not expect more from it than it can deliver. But neither should we make a covenant with the world that the world cannot make good on–the world cannot give us the life we seek. And so all of the false hopes and utopian visions of somehow resolving the world’s incurable condition of dissolution and death must die in us that we might receive the true hope of Resurrection and the making new of all things.
This is the hope that renews us. For the Kingdom of God is very near to us, nearer than when we first believed and nearer now than when this sermon first started. Christ draws very near to us in the opening of the Word and in the celebration of the Eucharist. Only in Him will we find true life. Our salvation is very close at hand. And, one day, when the last veil of this world is pulled back from before our eyes, we will see the Lord as He is in His glory, who will make us luminous and solid and undying if we turn away from the darkness of the dying world to look on Him face to face. Take hope, for “when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”