Sermon preached on December 17 by Fr Allen at St Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Matthews, North Carolina
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As it’s now the Third Week of Advent, the time is nearly nigh at hand to receive the gift of the Christ (along with a few other gifts from under our trees). I know my boys are counting it down: 8 more sleeps till Christmas, 8 more sleeps until they can see what is in their gifts – gifts that they have sized up and shaken trying to guess what they are. They, like every child, spend nearly the whole month looking for clues of what the gifts could be (the shapes, the sizes, and the sounds) but no one knows for sure what it is until Christmas. And this expectation applies to far more than the just the stuff under the tree, but to the Christ as well.
Think about all the expectations the faithful had in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth – like our gifts under our tree, God’s people could only see the wrapping paper of Scripture shrouding the gift God promised them. They had looked at them from every angle, shaking what they could, trying to guess what God was going to give.
The fruits of their guessing come down to us in the form The Antiphons that start this week taken from the prophet Isaiah where God’s people hoped against hope that the LORD would give the Gift of His wisdom, His Presence, His King, His Answer to Death, His Light, His Blessing, and His Salvation,
But who would it be? Well, one thing we know for certain, they didn’t think it would be anything like the babe in the manger whom they found that first Christmas. And that was a large part of their problem – they had allowed their preconceived expectations of what they wanted God to give them, to blinded them to what God was actually giving them. Their expectations of a mighty warrior, or maybe a Torah zealot, became detrimental to their experience of the coming of the real Christ.
And as we have said over the past couple of weeks, our Prayer Book is making sure the same doesn’t happen to us, as it shows us exactly Who is coming and for what purpose. This is important because even in our own day there’s a tendency to celebrate the birth of the Christ at Christmas, but then to go out afterwards to pick out the kind of Jesus they really wanted instead the one they got (a buddy, a therapist, an insurance salesman, or a benefactor).
They have little room in their lives for a Christ who comes and makes a way for them to fulfill their vocations (after all they like their present life), who demonstrates that God keeps His promises so they can find hope in him (they like the promises of success, science, and secularism), who comes with liberating power and establishes His governance on earth (they only want His governance in the next life), and who restores his people to the blessing of God’s covenant (they enjoy the blessing of being in covenant with the world flesh and devil more). Nevertheless, He who does those things is the Christ and it is He who is coming, and today we focus on the liberation and subsequent governance he brings – these two things go hand in hand as we see throughout our Old Testament.
When Abraham had liberated his kinsmen from their captivity, his victory was consummated when the first fruits of his spoils were returned to God through the priesthood of Melchizedek who blessed him with life-restoring bread and wine (Gen.14). Similarly, after the nation of Israel had been liberated from Egypt for the purpose of being a nation of priests, the governance of the Levitical priests was established for the ongoing provision of spiritual life through the atoning offerings and communing sacrifices (cf.Ex.19:5-6; 28-30).
Thus, it should be no surprise that after Christ comes to liberate His kinsmen from captivity and exile, that He then establishes a priestly order of ministers to guarantee the well being and success of those whom he delivers – to make His life available to them. The first of those minsters to exercise and maintain on earth His governing, spiritual authority were His apostles (cf.Jhn.20:21; Matt.28:16-20; Act.1:2-8; 2Cor.13;10). Those apostles, sent out by Jesus, then subsequently sent out others as Bishops to appoint priests/elders, all accomplished by the laying on of hands, or the passing on/spreading of Jesus’ authority (Tit.1:5,22; 1Tim.4:14; 2Tim.1:6), and assisting them both were the deacons (1Tim.3). Thus, by AD 110 (see Ignatius’ Letter to Smyrnaeans 8:1-2), the three-fold ministry of Jesus’ continued governance on earth was fully established to empower the Church He was, and is still, building (Matt.16:18). And it is by this ministry that Jesus continues His work so that all members of His body may be “found an acceptable people in His sight” at His second coming to judge the living and the dead. Even so; come Lord Jesus.