The Region of Theophany

As we continue our transformative pilgrimage through the province of Christmas toward the province of Theophany, let us hearken to the universal characteristics of the land in which we journey – the Kingdom of God (the land of our pilgrimssalvation).  I have underlined the themes I noted as I reflected on it during my quiet time this morning. Perhaps you will be blessed by what I have noted.

Fr. Thomas

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From a homily by St. Basil the Great

God on earth, God among us! No longer the God who gives his law amid flashes of lightning, to the sound of the trumpet on the smoking mountain, within the darkness of a terrifying storm, but the God who speaks gently and with kindness in a human body to his kindred. God in the flesh! It is no longer the God who acts only at particular instants, as in the prophets, but one who completely assumes our human nature and through his flesh, which is that of our race, lifts all humanity up to him.

BasilHow, then, you will say, did the light come everywhere, through one sole person? In what manner is the Godhead in the flesh? Like fire in iron: not by moving about, but by spreading itself. The fire, indeed, does not thrust itself toward the iron, but, remaining where it is, it distributes its own strength to it. In doing so, the fire is in no way diminished, but it completely fills the iron to which it spreads. In the same manner, God the Word who ‘dwelt among us’ did not go outside himself; the Word which was ‘made flesh’ underwent no change; heaven was not deprived of him who controlled it and the earth received within itself him who is in heaven.

Look deeply into this mystery. God comes in the flesh in order to destroy the death concealed in flesh. In the same way as remedies and medicines triumph over the factors of corruption when they are assimilated into the body, and in the same way as the darkness which reigns in a house is dispelled by the entry of light, so death, which held human nature in its power, was annihilated by the coming of the Godhead. In the same way as ice, when in water, prevails over the liquid element as long as it is night, and darkness covers everything, but is dissolved when the sun comes up through the warmth of its rays: so death reigned till the coming of Christ; but when the saving grace of God appeared and the sun of justice rose, death was swallowed up in this victory, being unable to endure the dwelling of the true life among us. O the depth of the goodness of God and of his love for all of us!

Let us give glory to God with the shepherds, let us dance in choir with the angels, for ‘this day a Saviour has been born to us, the Messiah and Lord.’ He is the Lord who has appeared to us, not in his divine form in order not to terrify us in our weakness, but in the form of a servant, that he might set free what had been reduced to servitude. Who could be so faint-hearted and so ungrateful as not to rejoice and exult in gladness for what is taking place? This is a festival of all creation. (Celebrating the Seasons, pg. 53-54, by Robert Atwell, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1999)

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THE NATIVITY ACCORDING TO THE FLESH OF OUR LORD GOD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST

First, I want to express my deepest Christmas tidings to you. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!nativity in a cave

Let me quote from a Nativity reflection by Father John Abdalah of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. He says:

We greet one another with this confident exclamation during the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. With this seasonal greeting we affirm that Jesus, who took on flesh and was born into our world, is indeed the Christ, and worthy of glorification… In this feast we celebrate our salvation through the good news of our Savior’s advent. When we greet each other with the news of Christ’s birth, we seize the opportunity to glorify the new born Savior. This greeting carries within it the promise of salvation, and the very meaning of life.

Okay, so go get your favorite Christmas (Nativity) season beverage and munchies. Get settled in a nice comfortable chair.

Here are some resources you can browse through to, I hope, find a Christmas blessing. I invite you to draw near the manger with me and encounter Him Himself who is our Savior and Lord.

Here is a list of the readings for today over the course of the Hours and Divine Liturgy according to the Eastern Orthodox lectionary. A beautiful narrative tour of the saving work of God throughout history:

  • Hours

Micah 5:2-4
Hebrews 1:1-12
Matthew 1:18-25
Jeremiah (Baruch 3:35-4:4)
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 2:1-20
Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4, 9-10
Hebrews 1:10-2:3
Matthew 2:1-12
Isaiah 9:6-7
Hebrews 2:11-18
Matthew 2:13-23
Genesis 1:1-13
Numbers 24:2-3, 5-9, 17-18
Micah 4:6-7; 5:2-4
Isaiah 11:1-10
Jeremiah (Baruch 3:35-4:4)
Daniel 2:31-36, 44-45
Isaiah 9:6-7
Isaiah 7:10-16; 8:1-4, 9-10

  • Divine Liturgy

Hebrews 8:7-13
Mark 10:46-52

Or

Hebrews 1:1-12
Luke 2:1-20

If you prefer the Western lectionary, here are the readings appointed for today and tomorrow:

  • Daily Office

Christmas Eve:
Psalm 89:1-29
Isa. 59:15b-21
Phil. 2:5-11

Christmas Day:
Psalm 2, 85; 110:1-5(6-7), 132
Zech. 2:10-13
1 John 4:7-16
John 3:31-36

  • Holy Eucharist

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

Or

Isaiah 62:6-12
Titus 3:4-7
Luke 2:(1-7)8-20
Psalm 97

Or

Isaiah 52:7-10
Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)
John 1:1-14
Psalm 98

In addition, a wonderful selection of Nativity sermons that represent some of the greatest voices of the Church’s Holy Tradition can be found here for your edification.

I was also pleased to come across an downloadable copy of The Sermons and Conferences of John Tauler, published in 1910.Here is a copy of one of his not so “Christmas-ee” sermons from that book. By the way, short biography of Tauler can be read here.

SECOND SERMON FOR THE FEAST OF CHRISTMAS
By Johannes Tauler (1300-1361)

“In the beginning was the Word.” John 1.1

Learned men say of the Eternal Word, that God never spoke it but once, and that in a certain sense it is yet unspoken, which means that the Eternal Word is the speech of the Father, even His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, without beginning and without end, has the Father uttered all created things. Nor can we say, in every meaning of the terms, that the Word has been uttered, since He has  never come forth out of the Father.

And, mark well, dear children, that we may understand this Word in four ways. The first is His place on the altar in the hands of the priest; there shall we know and love the Eternal Word, just as we shall be known to the Father in the same Eternal Word. Again shall we know the Eternal Word in what we are taught by the preacher from the pulpit, uttering His Divine truth. And we must receive Him thus properly, for, as water flows through the stream, so comes the Eternal Word through the lips of the preacher. We must not be hindered by the preacher’s defects; we must rather look at the Eternal Word in His very essence, as He floweth forth eternally from the depths of His being. Thirdly, we must recognize the Eternal Word in all our Lord’s friends, who, having imitated Him here on earth, are now joined to Him in everlasting life, or who are yet His disciples here below. These are all they who are in living union with our Lord Jesus Christ. Fourthly, we must know the Eternal Word as He is uttered in our very souls by God Himself ; and this is a revelation of Him not to be described, for the soul has no words that can tell it.

You must know that the Eternal Word is self-begotten in the soul and that the soul itself, when favored with the Divine generation within it, knows the Eternal Word better than all teachers can describe Him. What one can put into speech is all too little, and, therefore, the Word itself quickly teaches the soul. Hence we are instructed to hurry gladly to that school in which the Holy Spirit is the schoolmaster. And be sure, dear children, that when He is the schoolmaster, He wants to find His scholars very well prepared for Him, so that they may be able to understand the precious lessons which He draws for them from the Father’s heart.

Hence the soul which would experience this birth of the Word must stand forth in great purity, and its life must be a noble one and wholly interior, not running after the pleasures of the five senses, nor absorbed in multiplicity of created things; but it must live in the utmost purity of heart. Says Master Eckhart: “What God does in a soul which He finds free and stripped of all things, so detached from creatures that He can be spiritually born in it, is both more pleasing to Him and more communicative of His own self than the creative act by which He drew all things out of nothing.”

And why is this? Because God has no creature with so great a capacity as a soul in which He is spiritually generated, for in none can He express Himself so perfectly; into none can He pour Himself out so entirely and in all the force and essence of His being. Now, we have already said that the birth of God in the soul, is nothing else than that He reveals Himself to the soul with a new knowledge and after a new manner of communication.

It may be asked if the greatest blessedness of the soul is to be found in this work of God in it? I answer: Although God has more joy in this than in all His other works among creatures, whether in Heaven or earth, yet the soul’s supreme joy is rather in its own work of receptivity while this birth of God takes place in it. It is not the soul’s supreme joy that God is born in it, but rather that, with intimate love and union, it responds to the knowledge God imparts by this generation, whereby the soul is born again and restored to Him who is its origin. In this the soul departs from self and cleaves to God, and is thereby blessed not by self-blessedness, but by God’s. The soul now has, if it will, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Now is it dissolved into the Divine Unity; now shall be revealed God alone to the soul’s self alone. Hence a famous doctor teaches, that no one may come to this state who has so much of earthly taint on him as could be held by the point of a needle. Into the pure Godhead can no man enter except he be as pure as when he came forth from God. Thus teach spiritual writers, and they wisely counsel us to yield the victory to God, and receive everything from Him direct and nothing from creatures. And it is thus we give God His best glory, and, being detached and empty, we await His action, when and how He wills it; for we must own that God does all things best. Our part is to help God, as far as in us lies, to advance His glory.

A certain teacher says that a king pays little heed to those of his underlings who do menial service, but he is attentive to those who are his personal associates, and these he always favors. God acts thus with His chosen friends—souls that are in His company in His hidden retirement; God refuses them no petition. Some teachers tell us, however, that many souls reach the Kingdom of heaven, who on earth enjoyed no more familiar intercourse with God than a man buried in a dark forest enjoys the sunlight. But let us in our lives and in our purposes earnestly strive after the highest privilege; and may God grant us His help. Amen.

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I pray that God will be continuing to bless you to overflowing with His loving presence now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Fr. Thomas

O Emmanuel

And so we come to the last of the O Antiphon days – O Emmanuel.o antiphons symbols

The great Advent hymn has a refrain that reiterates the main point that all the heavens and earth proclaim – God with us. Perhaps the greatest curse of the fallen universe is the delusional logic that concludes, “God is absent or distant.” God’s separation from us is a hateful illusion. As a result of sin and death, we may be in a broken relationship with God, but it is a broken relationship. We may not be on “speaking terms” with God but God continues to be present among us and to speak to us – making His appeal in a variety of ways. Indeed, He is in a mysterious sense, more present than ever as a result of our sin because of His great love for us and desire that none should be lost (1 Timothy 2.4). When we were in grievous danger God made His presence known to us “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1.1-2).

Martin Laird, writes compellingly of the never-absent and radically ever-present and ever-pressing God:

… this God we seek has already found us, already looks out of our own eyes, is already, as S. Augustine famously put it, “closer to me than I am to myself.” “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,” he continues, “you were within and I was outside myself.”

People who have traveled far along the contemplative path are often aware that the sense of separation from God is itself pasted up out of a mass of thought and feelings. When the mind comes into its own stillness and enter the silent land, the sense of separation goes. Union is seen to be the fundamental reality, and separation a highly filtered mental perception…. “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” (Psalm 62:1,6) (Into the Silent Land, pg. 8, 10, by Martin Laird, Oxford University Press, 2006.)

There is no such thing as “God absent.” To sing such a refrain would be absurdity itself. And yet, that is the refrain of the hymn of sin and death. Such singing, such behavior, is typical of those who we call “God” but who is not God but an idol. The proof that what we call “God” is not, in fact, God, can be summed up using a line from a Don McLean song, “American Pie.” Although he is not referring in any sense to God, the behavior pattern makes the point,

And the three men I admired most
The father, son, and holy ghost
They caught the last train to the coast
The day the music died.

Has the “God” we worship, “caught the last train to the coast?!” If so, he is not God. He is an imposter.

The feast of the Nativity is the once and for all, defining revelation; the unveiling in a unique and essential manner (incarnational), of what has been true all along – God is with us ! ! God with us, in our midst, while we continued to rail against Him, and spit on him, and scourge Him, and crucify Him, He is in our midst, providing for us – loving us. The Divine Liturgy reminds us and challenges us to proclaim, “Christ is in our midst. He is and ever shall be.”

O Emmanuel ! !

But, this is not enough according to God. It is not enough for God to become man. What?! Yes, it is not enough.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, says, in Article 460:

The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature”: “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

According to St. Irenaeus in the Preface of Book 5, of his Against Heresies:

In the four preceding books, my very dear friend, which I put forth to thee, all the heretics have been exposed, and their doctrines brought to light, and these men refuted who have devised irreligious opinions. [I have accomplished this by adducing] something from the doctrine peculiar to each of these men, which they have left in their writings, as well as by using arguments of a more general nature, and applicable to them all. Then I have pointed out the truth, and shown the preaching of the Church, which the prophets proclaimed (as I have already demonstrated), but which Christ brought to perfection, and the apostles have handed down, from whom the Church, receiving [these truths], and throughout all the world alone preserving them in their integrity (bene), has transmitted them to her sons. Then also—having disposed of all questions which the heretics propose to us, and having explained the doctrine of the apostles, and clearly set forth many of those things which were said and done by the Lord in parables—I shall endeavour, in this the fifth book of the entire work which treats of the exposure and refutation of knowledge falsely so called, to exhibit proofs from the rest of the Lord’s doctrine and the apostolical epistles: [thus] complying with thy demand, as thou didst request of me (since indeed I have been assigned a place in the ministry of the word); and, labouring by every means in my power to furnish thee with large assistance against the contradictions of the heretics, as also to reclaim the wanderers and convert them to the Church of God, to confirm at the same time the minds of the neophytes, that they may preserve stedfast the faith which they have received, guarded by the Church in its integrity, in order that they be in no way perverted by those who endeavour to teach them false doctrines, and lead them away from the truth. It will be incumbent upon thee, however, and all who may happen to read this writing, to peruse with great attention what I have already said, that thou mayest obtain a knowledge of the subjects against which I am contending. For it is thus that thou wilt both controvert them in a legitimate manner, and wilt be prepared to receive the proofs brought forward against them, casting away their doctrines as filth by means of the celestial faith; but following the only true and stedfast Teacher, the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.

According to St. Athanasius in Section 54 of his classic work, On the Incarnation:

As, then, if a man should wish to see God, Who is invisible by nature and not seen at all, he may know and apprehend Him from His works: so let him who fails to see Christ with his understanding, at least apprehend Him by the works of His body, and test whether they be human works or God’s works. 2. And if they be human, let him scoff; but if they are not human, but of God, let him recognise it, and not laugh at what is no matter for scoffing; but rather let him marvel that by so ordinary a means things divine have been manifested to us, and that by death immortality has reached to all, and that by the Word becoming man, the universal Providence has been known, and its Giver and Artificer the very Word of God. 3. For He was made man that we might be made God and He manifested Himself by a body that we might receive the idea of the unseen Father; and He endured the insolence of men that we might inherit immortality. For while He Himself was in no way injured, being impossible and incorruptible and very Word and God, men who were suffering, and for whose sakes He endured all this, He maintained and preserved in His own impassibility. 4. And, in a word, the achievements of the Saviour, resulting from His becoming man, are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in. 5. Better is it, then, not to aim at speaking of the whole, where one cannot do justice even to a part, but, after mentioning one more, to leave the whole for you to marvel at. For all alike are marvellous, and wherever a man turns his glance, he may behold on that side the divinity of the Word, and be struck with exceeding great awe.

Christ is the Light shining in the midst of the darkness, not alongside it ! ! AND, we are to be the light shining in the darkness, not alongside it – He in us and we in Him as one by the action of His grace ! !

I have already provided several resources for your fruitful reflection on the theme of “God with us.” But, here are even more to help you continue on your pilgrimage to the Christmas crèche, where you and I along with all the other pilgrims can affirm the radical proclamation of God’s faithfulness – He has, is, and ever shall be in our midst.

Fr. Thomas

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Veni, Veni Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. Refrain

Latin, Com­bined from var­i­ous an­ti­phons by an un­known au­thor, pos­si­bly in the 12th Cen­tu­ry
trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851

O Emmanuel – English: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

Some Relevant Scripture Reference:
Isaiah 7:14; 8:8
Matthew 1:23
Haggai 2:7

Relevant verse of Veni, Veni Emmanuel:
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Micah 5.1-4
[1] Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us;
with a rod they strike upon the cheek
the ruler of Israel.
[2] But you, O Bethlehem Eph’rathah,
who are little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
[3] Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in travail has brought forth;
then the rest of his brethren shall return
to the people of Israel.
[4] And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.

Psalm 80
[1] Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
thou who leadest Joseph like a flock!
Thou who art enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
[2] before E’phraim and Benjamin and Manas’seh!
Stir up thy might,
and come to save us!
[3] Restore us, O God;
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!
[4] O LORD God of hosts,
how long wilt thou be angry with thy people’s prayers?
[5] Thou hast fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
[6] Thou dost make us the scorn of our neighbors;
and our enemies laugh among themselves.
[7] Restore us, O God of hosts;
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!
[8] Thou didst bring a vine out of Egypt;
thou didst drive out the nations and plant it.
[9] Thou didst clear the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land.
[10] The mountains were covered with its shade,
the mighty cedars with its branches;
[11] it sent out its branches to the sea,
and its shoots to the River.
[12] Why then hast thou broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
[13] The boar from the forest ravages it,
and all that move in the field feed on it.
[14] Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
[15] the stock which thy right hand planted.
[16] They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down;
may they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance!
[17] But let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand,
the son of man whom thou hast made strong for thyself!
[18] Then we will never turn back from thee;
give us life, and we will call on thy name!
[19] Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
let thy face shine, that we may be saved!

Hebrews 10.5-10
[5] Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared for me;
[6] in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.
[7] Then I said, `Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’
as it is written of me in the roll of the book.”
[8] When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),
[9] then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.
[10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Luke 1.39-45
[39] In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,
[40] and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth.
[41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
[42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
[43] And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
[44] For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.
[45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Today is the commemoration of St. John of Kanty. From all the reading I have been able to do, he is an icon of light in the midst of darkness; a bearer of the fruit of the Spirit. More can be learned about him here and here.

Sources:

http://www.catholic.org/clife/advent/advent.php?id=7

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.toc.html

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.toc.html

O Rex Gentium

o antiphons symbolsI tend to hand out in the Western traditions regarding Advent and Christmas. I find them to offer a tremendous context of transformation.

One of my favorite Advent hymns is “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” One of my favorite traditions is the “O Antiphon” days – December 17-23 – the seven days that precede the feast of the Nativity. Rather than burden you with the history and customs surrounding them, which are readily available online, let me just say they provide one final “Wake Up!! Pay Attention!! Your salvation is here!!” jolt from the Holy Spirit.

The antiphon for today, December 22nd is “O Rex Gentium.”

The Incarnate Son of God is the Messiah for all mankind, the Jew first and then the Gentile. Come one, come all!! And that is just what happens in the accounts of the nativity.

Here are some resources to help you continue on your pilgrimage to the place where not only God but all of those who have surrendered their life to God dwell or seek to dwell in contentment – your heart.

Fr. Thomas

———————-

Veni, Veni Emmanuel
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. Refrain

Latin, Combined from various antiphons by an unknown author, possibly in the 12th Century
trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866), 1851

O Rex Gentium – ENGLISH: O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

Some Relevant Scripture References:
Revelation 15:3
Psalm 118:22
Isaiah 28:16
Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 21:42
Mark 12:10
Luke 20:17
Acts 4:11
Ephesians 2:20
I Peter 2:6

Relevant verse of Veni, Veni Emmanuel:
O come, Desire of nations, bind,
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of peace.

1 Samuel 1:19-28
[19] They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elka’nah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her;
[20] and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the LORD.”
[21] And the man Elka’nah and all his house went up to offer to the LORD the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow.
[22] But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the LORD, and abide there for ever.”
[23] Elka’nah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only, may the LORD establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him.
[24] And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine; and she brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young.
[25] Then they slew the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.
[26] And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD.
[27] For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me my petition which I made to him.
[28] Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is lent to the LORD.” And they worshiped the LORD there. (RSV)

Samuel 2.1-10
[1] Hannah also prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD;
my strength is exalted in the LORD.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in thy salvation.
[2] “There is none holy like the LORD,
there is none besides thee;
there is no rock like our God.
[3] Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
[4] The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
[5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
[6] The LORD kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
[7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
[8] He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S,
and on them he has set the world.
[9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones;
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might shall a man prevail.
[10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Luke 1:46-56
[46] And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
[47] and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
[48] for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
[49] for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
[50] And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
[51] He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
[52] he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
[53] he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
[54] He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
[55] as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
[56] And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.


A Reading from a commentary on St Luke’s Gospel by the Venerable Bede

Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’ The Lord has exalted me by a gift so great, so unheard of, that language is useless to describe it; and the depths of love in my heart can scarcely grasp it. I offer then all the powers of my soul in praise and thanksgiving. As I contemplate his greatness, which knows no limits, I joyfully surrender my whole life, my senses, my judgement, for my spirit rejoices in the eternal Godhead of that Jesus, that Saviour, whom I have conceived in this world of time. ‘The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’ Mary looks back to the beginning of her song, where she said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.’ Only the soul for whom the Lord in his love does great things can proclaim his greatness with fitting praise and encourage those who share her desire and purpose, saying: ‘Join with me in proclaiming the greatness of the Lord; let us magnify his name together.’ Those who know the Lord, yet refuse to proclaim his greatness and sanctify his name to the limit of their power, ‘will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’. His name is called holy because in the sublimity of his unique power he surpasses every creature and is far removed from all that he has made. ‘He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy.’ In a beautiful phrase Mary calls Israel the servant of the Lord. The Lord came to his aid to save him. Israel is an obedient and humble servant, in the words of Hosea: ‘Israel was a servant, and I loved him.’ Those who refuse to be humble cannot be saved. They cannot say with the prophet: ‘See, God comes to my aid; the Lord is the helper of my soul.’ But ‘anyone who makes himself humble like a little child is greater in the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘The promise he made to our forebears, to Abraham and his children for ever.’ This does not refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, but to his spiritual children. These are his descendants, sprung not from the flesh only, but who, whether circumcised or not, have followed him in faith. Circumcised as he was, Abraham believed, and this was credited to him as an act of righteousness. The coming of the Saviour was promised to Abraham and to his descendants for ever. These are the children of promise, to whom it is said: ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are descendants of Abraham, heirs in accordance with the promise.’

Sources:
Celebrating the Seasons, pg. 39-40, by Robert Atwell, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1999
http://www.catholic.org/clife/advent/advent.php?id=7
http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2012/12/daily-catholic-quote-from-o-rex-gentium/

Promises Made. Promises Kept?

Thursday of Advent 2 – December 13, 2012

Isaiah 41.13-20 (RSV)
13 For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.”
14 Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I will make of you a threshing sledge, new, sharp, and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away, and the tempest shall scatter them. And you shall rejoice in the LORD; in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive; I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together;
20 that men may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

Psalm 145 (KJV)
1 I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.
2 Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts.
5 I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works.
6 And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness.
7 They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness.
8 The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.
9 The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.
10 All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee.
11 They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power;
12 To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom.
13 Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.
14 The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down.
15 The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.
16 Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.
18 The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth.
19 He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them.
20 The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Matthew 11.7-15
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind?
8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses.
9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’
11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.
13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John;
14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Eli’jah who is to come.
15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

St. Augustine on God as Promise Keeper
God had a time for making his promises and a time for fulfilling them. His time for making promises was from the days of the prophets until the coming of John the Baptist. His time for fulfilling them was from then until the end of the world.

God is faithful and he has put himself in our debt, not by receiving anything from us but by promising so much. Nor was a promise sufficient for him; he even bound himself in writing, giving us as it were a pledge in his own hand. He wanted us to see from Scripture, when the time for fulfilment came, how he was carrying out his promises one by one.

God promised us eternal salvation, everlasting bliss with the angels, an incorruptible inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of his face, his holy dwelling in heaven, and after the resurrection from the dead no further fear of dying. This is what he holds out to us at the end as the goal of all our striving. When we reach it we shall ask for nothing more. But as to how we are to reach our final goal, he revealed this too by promises and prophecies.

God promised men divinity, mortals immortality, sinners justification, outcasts glory. But because his promise that we who are mortal, corruptible, weak and of low estate, mere dust and ashes, were to be equal to the angels seemed incredible, God not only made a written covenant with us to win our faith, but he also gave us a mediator of his pledge. This mediator was not a prince, an angel, or an archangel, but his only Son; through his own Son he meant both to show us and give us the way by which he would lead us to the promised goal. He was not satisfied with sending his Son to show us the way. He made him the way itself.

God’s only Son, then, was to come among us, take our human nature, and in this nature be born as a man. He was to die, to rise again, to ascend into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, and to fulfil his promises among the nations. After that he was also to fulfil his promise to come again, to demand what he had previously requested, to separate those deserving his anger from those deserving his mercy, to give the wicked what he had threatened and the just what he had promised.

All this had to be prophesied, foretold, and impressed on us as an event in the future so that we should not be terrified by its happening unexpectedly, but wait for it with faith. (St Augustine, In ps. 109, 1-3 (CCL 40, 1601-1603), from Word in Season 1, found in TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ADVENT & CHRISTMASTIDE, YEAR 1)

St. Cyprian on Patience
Patience is a precept for salvation given us by our Lord our teacher: Whoever endures to the end will be saved. And again: If you persevere in my word, you will truly be my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Dear brethren, we must endure and persevere if we are to attain the truth and freedom we have been allowed to hope for; faith and hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear their fruit, patience is necessary.

We do not seek glory now, in the present, but we look for future glory, as Saint Paul instructs us when he says: By hope we were saved. Now hope which is seen is not hope; how can a man hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it in patience. Patient waiting is necessary if we are to be perfected in what we have begun to be, and if we are to receive from God what we hope for and believe.

In another place the same Apostle instructs and teaches the just, and those active in good works, and those who store up for themselves treasures in heaven through the reward God gives them. They are to be patient also, for he says: Therefore while we have time, let us do good to all, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith. But let us not grow weary in doing good, for we shall reap our reward in due season.

Paul warns us not to grow weary in good works through impatience, not to be distracted or overcome by temptations and so give up in the midst of our pilgrimage of praise and glory, and allow our past good deeds to count for nothing because what was begun falls short of completion.

Finally the Apostle, speaking of charity, unites it with endurance and patience. Charity, he says, is always patient and kind; it is not jealous, is not boastful, is not given to anger, does not think evil, loves all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He shows that charity can be steadfast and persevering because it has learned how to endure all things.

And in another place he says: Bear with one another lovingly, striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. He shows that neither unity nor peace can be maintained unless the brethren cherish each other with mutual forbearance and preserve the bond of harmony by means of patience. (from Celebrating the Seasons)

Reflection:
The story of salvation is one of a promise made and a promise kept. Can we see that in the season of Advent and Christmas? God and real people (forefathers, foremothers, fathers, mothersm, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith) in concert with God keeping promises…

“Promises, Promises!” Those words have some history in the lives of each and every one of us. We make promises but do not keep them. Promises are made to us and never kept. That is the tragic reality of a fallen world and our collusion with that fallen state. I remember, back in the early 90’s, the birth and meteoric popularity of the “Promise Keepers” movement in the United States. It was, and is, a legitimate response to the lack of responsibility shown by men in relationships. The mission statement of the movement says,

The promises are being:

  • committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
  • committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity
  • committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values
  • committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources
  • committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
  • committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission.

Hard to argue with such a list. I have nothing but deep respect for the efforts of the leaders of the movement over the last 22 years. I bless the name of God for the restoring, healing, and preventative work of the Holy Spirit in and through it. But that is OK if the tried and true soldiers of the effort stand firm and stay the course. Regardless of the fact that like many other truly life-changing efforts of the Church keep the center stage for only so long and then are upstaged by the “next big thing,” they have, evidently, shown themselves to be good Promise Keepers by staying the course and learning that, at the core of a lack of the ability to be a promise keeper is the passion of “restlessness” and an addiction to “the next big thing.” And, what is it that makes Promise Keepers or any other effort of the Church effective? Let me offer a couple of educated guesses…

It takes patience and perseverance. The making of legitimate promises and co-operating with the Holy Spirit in working toward the actualization of the shape of life those promises portray is hard work. It is the work we must do. There is no way around it. It is a warfare work that focuses not on gritting our teeth and trying hard, but of confronting our broken inner life and seeking to stay the course of that warfare until the fruit of it is borne out in our outer life. Will a person keep keeping promises when people don’t notice it anymore (except those who are being blessed by the keeping) and it becomes boring and often a matter of sheer private integrity? Promise Keepers and all the other initiatives we make as Christians, be they personal or corporate, must endure “the test of time.”

Now, of course, there are outward boundaries we must set up and seek the Holy Spirit’s power to respect and keep. But, even so, it is still NOT a matter of trying hard or harder. It is, and this may sound un-manly, a matter of surrender, trust, and vulnerability. No room for the “rugged individualist” or the “self-made man.”

The bottom line whether it is the Promise Keepers movement or any other expression of Godly integrity is to recognize from the very beginning that God is THE promise keeper that makes all promise keeping possible. The work is not, primarily one of moral improvement but of relational integrity and all integrity is the fruit of God’s involvement as THE promise keeper. Integrity of life is not built on the foundation of trying hard but of trust – first and foremost, trust in God, trust in the other person(s) with whom you have a relationship, and their trust in you. Once again, we come back to patience and perseverance. Without all of the ingredients: promises, trust, patience, perseverance, growing consistency in follow through, and most of all the power of God, it is all for naught. It is just more empty promises filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing (1 Corinthians 13).

During this Advent season, let all of us make a commitment to be authentic promise keepers by allowing the Lord to keep His saving promise in and through us. Let us commit ourselves to becoming like Christ not by imitation of Him (trying hard) but by dynamic union with Him (embrace and surrender).

St. John puts is powerfully in his epistle:

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. (1 John 4.13-17)

Fr. Thomas

Half Empty or Half Full — What Does the Future Hold?!

glass half fullAdvent 2 – December 9, 2012

Book of Baruch 5:1-9.
Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: Wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship. Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children Gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones. For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, And that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God. The forests and every fragrant kind of tree have overshadowed Israel at God’s command; For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.

Psalms 126(125):1-2.3.4-5.6.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
We were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
We are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
Like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
Shall reap rejoicing.
Although they go forth weeping,
Carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
Carrying their sheaves.

Letter to the Philippians 1:4-6.8-11.
Praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 3:1-6.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout (the) whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (All of the readings for today are taken from The New American Bible, revised edition)

From a commentary on Psalm 118 by St. Ambrose
How abundant is the grace of the Church, how great the rewards of a living faith! Since these invite us, let us forestall the rising sun to greet Christ, the Sun of justice, before he can say: See, here I am. He both wants and expects us to be there before him.

You can hear Christ’s desire and expectation expressed in his words to the angel of the church of Pergamum: Repent, or I will soon come to you, and to the angel of Laodicea: Be zealous and repent. See, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him. He will have no difficulty in entering; no barrier of closed doors was able to shut out his body after he had risen from the dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was present in the room where the Apostles were gathered. He had already tested the Apostles; he wants now to test your zeal and devotion. In time of persecution he may take the initiative; where all is tranquil, he wants you to be ready and waiting for him.

Be on the watch before the sun is visible in the sky. Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead, so that Christ may shine on you. If you are vigilant you will receive Christ’s light before sunrise. Before daybreak he will shine into the depth of your heart. Even as you say: My spirit watches for you in the night, Christ will make the light of morning illuminate your nocturnal meditation on the word of God. As you meditate, light will dawn. Seeing the light – not of the day but of grace – you will exclaim: Your commandments are my light! When day finds you meditating on God’s word and the pleasant task of prayer and psalmody delights your mind, you will once more say to the Lord Jesus: You fill both morning and evening with joy.

In obedience to their master Moses, the Jewish people have the sacred Scripture recited continuously, night and day, by elders appointed for this purpose. Ask an elder about anything else and you will find this is his only skill: to recite the Scriptures in sequence. With the Jewish elders there is no worldly conversation: Scripture alone is their occupation; voice follows voice in turn so that the holy sound of God’s commandments knows no holiday. How then can you, a Christian, with Christ as your master, take your sleep without fear of having it said to you: This people does not even honour me with its lips. The Jewish people do so, but you do not. What a length of time you are sunk in sleep, in secular affairs, in the cares of this life, in things of earth! At least divide your time between God and the world. When you cannot carry out the business of this world in public and are hindered from pursuing it by the darkness of night, give time to God, give yourself to prayer. To keep yourself from dropping off to sleep, recite a psalm, cheat sleep with holy guile. In the morning hurry off to church, offer the first fruits of your prayers, and after that, if the world and its needs call you, you will be able to say: My eyes are watchful in the morning, to meditate on your words. Then you can attend to your affairs with a serene mind. (St. Ambrose, Sermo 19, 30-32 (CSEL 63, 437-439), from Word in Season 1)

Reflection:
My “lectio” of the readings and saintly counsel for today lead me to take seriously the question of expectations in relationship to hope or, perhaps, hopelessness. In this regard, for example, St. Paul says, in the context of a situation that reveals the importance of expectations, “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4.13-14) So, expectations are important. They govern my perceptions and actions. I remember having a conversation recently about expectations using the good old question, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” What is my default starting place with regard to the future?

I notice several things with regard to expectations in the readings and reflection from one of the saints for today. The best way to read/reflect your way through my realizations that follow is to reread the passages and saintly reflection after each of the four points I make to allow each to find a deeper home in your soul.

First, if the glass is half empty, what I expect is a downward spiral – “its only going to get worse and hope is foolish.” I live a hunkered down life – survivalist. If the glass is half empty, I not only camp out in wait of what is coming, I journey out beyond to greet it with joy, knowing it is approaching. For the optimist — the hoping one — even the measurement of “half” is not really relevant because the provision is infinite. So, what does “half” mean?!! It is the pessimist who believes the “measurement” is appropriate.

Second, there is a difference between expectancy and expectations. These attitudes are often the fruit of optimism and pessimism. (Please know that I am not using the term optimism to mean a utopian idealism or sentimental wishful thinking. An optimist in my usage here presupposes a realistic attitude toward life that is fuelled by faith.) Expectancy is open-handed yearning for the provision of a good and loving God who knows how to give good gifts to those who ask (James 1.17; Matthew 7.7-8, 11). It is the fruit of the “half full” frame of reference. Expectations are more closed and grasping. If I am looking to the future with expectations, I have already made up my mind about what a good and loving God should do if He is good and loving – “And He had better get it right. If He doesn’t then we know who to blame!” Expectations are the fruit of pessimism.

Third, in my experience, unless I have become is simply passive (“a bump on a log” so to speak), both the pessimist (without hope in this world) and the Christian optimist (with a heart filled with the confidence that the will and purpose of God will prevail unto our joy and that of the whole universe) I make preparations for what I believe is about to happen, for good or for evil. So, expectations and expectancy are characterized by a certain “readiness.” The stories that Jesus tells are filled with this characteristic (wedding garments, wicks trimmed, building houses on rock instead of sand, etc.). What I expect if I am REALLY expecting anything at all reaches out from the future into the present and changes how I live here and now. That reaching out from the future either engenders patience, liberality, and persevrerance or impatience, greed, and capriciousness. The change the future I might be dreading or for which I am yearning is, therefore, transformative for better or for worse. In that sense, hell and heaven begin right here and now.

Finally, it all has to do with love and fear. If I live in fear the glass is half empty and I am governed by expectations and judgement. If I live in love the glass is half full and I am governed by a teachable spirit that is open and filled with expectancy that God is a “good and loving God” and has “already overcome the world.” My attitude of expectancy, hope, generosity, and loving gift-giving is the fruit of my confident conviction in a God who comes to fulfil every promise and intention He has revealed.

The question, “Well, what do you expect?” is a multifaceted one. It is an appropriate Advent/Christmas question. It is not difficult to answer if we are willing to take a good honest look at the shape of the “now” we are living. For me, the fruit of that honest “examen” is the opportunity to be conformed more fully into the likeness of Christ Jesus.

Jeremiah 29.11-14
For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Fr. Thomas

Illumination — The Teacher Draweth Nigh — Salvation Dawns

Saturday Advent 1 – December 8, 2012

Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ … He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.  Moreover, the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Psalm 147
1 Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
6 The Lord lifts up the downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
8 He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;*
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!

 Matthew 9.35-38 — 10.1, 5-8
And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity … These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.

Reflection:
There are two images side by side in today’s readings. Learning and nourishment. Of course, they are related. Of course, learning is nourishing. Learning, properly applied, leads to prosperity and we feast on the fruit of that prosperity with gladness.

But I am not drawn to taking those associations further.

The image that stays with me is the person who languishes in the darkness of ignorance of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and the adversity it brings. The ignorance leads to adversity and the adversity leads to deeper ignorance. A downward spiral without an intervention. Without a light that begins to shine in the darkness (see Isaiah 9.1-7 and Matthew 4.12-16).

The teacher and the student; or, perhaps the master and the disciple; or the nation and its need for a wise and just leader who will lead them in the way. All of them are used in the Old and New Testaments.

I can’t help noting the oft’ used saying that does not originate in the Judeo-Christian tradition but the Buddhist:  “When the disciple is ready, the master will appear.” But, in reality, the Isaiah reading for today basically says exactly the same thing: “When the adversity of ignorance has served its purpose, the teacher/master will appear, for at that point, the student/disciple will be ready to listen, learn, and live a changed life. No longer will he or she desire to lean on their own understanding but, will instead, yearn to be taught.” (see Proverbs 3.1-8) So, although, the Buddhist saying does say what it says and what it says is true, I don’t have to resort to it for my inspiration. Buddha is not my yearned for teacher because he cannot lead me in the way that is ultimate truth and offers the fullness of life. For that, I need Jesus and my fellow students/disciples. Together we form a school for saints (see the Prologue to The Rule of St. Benedict).

That this should be the image that sticks with me today should not surprise me. I am, at my very core, a student. I love learning. I love sharing knowledge and insight. I love the struggle to take the fruit of the “lecture hall” into the “lab” and learn how to do in life what I know in my head. I have known competent and incompetent teachers. The difference between them is whether or not they can actually help me live what I have learned and in doing so have actually taught me something. And, it must be said, the student who has truly learned (lives the knowledge) is destined to struggle to become the teacher for some yearning student. Perhaps that is the hardest part of learning – teaching what I have/am learned(ing) and attempting to live on a practical basis. The Lord does, we hear in the Gospel reading, send out the twelve (the word Apostle means “sent out” and thus, the Bishop is THE guardian and teacher of the faith – the Apostle – in the midst of the faithful that represents the apostolic calling in which we all have a share). This challenge makes living what I have learned seem simply in comparison. Passing on what I have received (see 1 and 2 Timothy and other passages in St. Paul’s letters to his students/fellow disciples). Therein lies the rub ! !

There is a profound “rightness” in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the day beginning at sundown not at dawn. The tradition reminds me that I began my journey not with the light but with the darkness. It was into that darkness that the light comes (shines) and ushered me into the light to live in the light. In the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican traditions, Evening Prayer begins, most traditionally, in the darkened sanctuary. The “Phos Hilaron,” the earliest Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still in use today, is sung at the lighting of the lights that heralds the advent of the teacher/master who will enlighten us (save us).

O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee

Later, some form of prayer for the light and the identification of Christ Jesus as the light Who meets us in the darkness and leads us into the Light is recited.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Columbanus (540 – 615), the Irish abbot, not to be confused with St. Columba, knew what it was like to be a learner and sought after teacher/master, in his “Instructions” gives us a glimpse into his inner life and his yearning for learning and teaching:

How blessed, how fortunate, are those servants whom the Lord will find watchful when he comes. Blessed is the time of waiting when we stay awake for the Lord, the Creator of the universe, who fills all things and transcends all things.

How I wish he would awaken me, his humble servant, from the sleep of slothfulness, even though I am of little worth. How I wish he would enkindle me with that fire of divine love. The flames of his love burn beyond the stars; the longing for his overwhelming delights and the divine fire ever burn within me!

How I wish I might deserve to have my lantern always burning at night in the temple of my Lord, to give light to all who enter the house of my God. Give me, I pray you, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and my God, that love that does not fail so that my lantern, burning within me and giving light to others, may be always lighted and never extinguished.

Jesus, our most loving Savior, be pleased to light our lanterns, so that they might burn for ever in your temple, receiving eternal light from you, the eternal light, to lighten our darkness and to ward off from us the darkness of the world.

Give your light to my lantern, I beg you, my Jesus, so that by its light I may see that holy of holies which receives you as the eternal priest entering among the columns of your great temple. May I ever see you only, look on you, long for you; may I gaze with love on you alone, and have my lantern shining and burning always in your presence.

Loving Savior, be pleased to show yourself to us who knock, so that in knowing you we may love only you, love you alone, desire you alone, contemplate only you day and night, and always think of you. Inspire in us the depth of love that is fitting for you to receive as God. So may your love pervade our whole being, possess us completely, and fill all our senses, that we may know no other love but love for you who are everlasting. May our love be so great that the many waters of sky, land and sea cannot extinguish it in us: many waters could not extinguish love. (Source:  Celebrating the Seasons , pg. 12-13, Canterbury Press, 1999)

May this saying be fulfilled in us also, at least in part by your gift, Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I come away from these readings being reminded of:

  • the adversity of ignorance and the darkness it spawns in my own life and the life of others.
  • the joy of literally (not figuratively) hearing the knock on my door, opening the door, and having the person standing before me say, “I am here.”
  • the responsibility to maintain a dynamic and consistent relationship with my Spiritual Father the Lord has provided that is, by His grace, the “voice of Christ” in my life in concert with the voice of Christ in my life.
  • the joy of learning and I know the joy of teaching.
  • the sometime necessary adversity of ignorance that I must, painfully, walk in so that my pride can be killed and the ever-present struggle that learning involves that give substance to the joy of learning and teaching – of experiencing the truth and walking in the way it proclaims and the life that is Christ Jesus.

Lord, thank you for your Word to me… Come Lord Jesus – teacher and master – Lord and God.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee, O Lord”

Fr. Thomas

Knowledge and Discernment

arrowTuesday of Advent 1 – December 4, 2012

The Collect for this week
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10
1     A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2     The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3     His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4     but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5     Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6     The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7     The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8     The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9     They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as thewaters cover the sea.
10   On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.    

Luke 10:21-24
21   At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
22   All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
23   Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!
24   For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

A reflection:

The readings are about seeing and perceiving. They are concerned with discernment – the knowledge of God’s will and the doing of that will.

We desire “to know.” It is central to our humanity. It was this God-given desire that Lucifer used to tempt Adam and Eve to sin.

I have, over the course of the past couple of weeks, been involved in several conversations regarding the nature of knowledge. An investigation of the nature of knowledge is fruitful and, for that matter, “essential and normative” if we are going to have the Holy Tradition become more than a lifeless set of practices and theological affirmations. The “Traditional” view of knowledge includes the intellectual (head) as well as the noetic (heart). It is good to insist that we need both to live a fully human life. Not an “either or” but a “both and” relationship. Not an equilibrium but a marriage of the two. The born again human being in Christ Jesus is a person in whom a right relationship between the head and the heart has been created and is being actualized. The fact of the matter is, the monastic tradition in the Church witnesses to the authentic form that the “love of learning and the desire for God” takes in a life of discipleship. The monastics have always been, in the Tradition, the guardians of both literacy and learning, and the contemplative (noetic) way of knowledge. In fact, over the course of our 2000 year history they have on several occasions been the saviors of civilization… (Let’s hear it for the Irish).

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Perhaps the “purity” is synonymous with humility or poverty of spirit spoken of in the collect and earlier in the Beatitudes that summarizes the character of Jesus’ coming and abiding in our lives. Perhaps the “seeing” referred to by Jesus is discernment and knowledge received as a gift that comes to hover and rest on both our hearts and heads. Could it be that the grasping for knowledge versus the willingness to receive the gift of knowledge from God was/is the difference between righteousness and iniquity – “the works of darkness” versus “the armor of light”?! Of course!! Our faith is based on revelation not discovery regardless of whether it is heart or head knowledge. Perhaps the key to knowing is the willingness to know that we cannot know in and of ourselves and any attempt on our part to grasp knowledge leads to death not the life we believe such knowledge will provide. But that means being teachable. It means having a childlike radical dependence for all things from our Master and Father. If this is the case, then the allusions in the Isaiah and Luke readings openness and receptivity are vitally important for us to notice. In what practical ways are we grasping and closed instead of open and receptive in your daily life? Are we teachable and childlike in our trust of God and His provision of knowledge to us who ask, seek, and knock not with a grasping spirit but empty hands? I am more and more convinced that the Good News IS Good News if it is relationally informed and governed and not primarily principle based and driven. (The principles fit and live inside a relational matrix not the other way around.) Jesus was discerning because of the character of His relationship with the Father in the Spirit not because of a formula or having completed a curriculum or 12 week series on discernment. What small but vital adjustments are being called for by the Holy Spirit to move from the death dealing Way of living to the life giving Way of living?

St. Theophan the Recluse said, “Whatever you may be seeking, seek it with all your strength, but do not expect your own search and efforts to bear fruit of themselves. Put your trust in the Lord, ascribing nothing to yourself, and He will give you your heart’s desire.” I don’t think he was talking about grasping but a mysterious and energetic non-grasping that is yieldedness.

Perhaps my not so orderly thoughts on today’s readings will lead you down a path of fruitful (practical) reflection.

Fr. Thomas

Advent 1 — Participating in the Two (or is it Three) Comings of Christ: Crucible of Transformation

Here is a re-post of an article I posted in 2010. It helps to continue my train of thought regarding the transformative character of seasonality. Specifically the way in which we are changed by living into the paradox of participating in both the first and second comings of Christ Jesus.

St. Aelred (1110 – 12 January 1167), was a Christian of the British Isles. “The Catholic Encyclopedia” summarizes his life, thusly:

Aelred decided to become a Cistercian monk, in the recently founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Soon he was appointed master of novices, and was long remembered for his extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those under his charge. In 1143 when William, Earl of Lincoln, founded a new Cistercian abbey upon his estates at Revesby in Lincolnshire, St. Aelred was sent with twelve monks to take possession of the new foundation. His stay at Revesby, where he seems to have met St. Gilbert of Sempringham, was not of long duration, for in 1146 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. In this position the saint was not only superior of a community of 300 monks, but 4.2.7he was head of all the Cistercian abbots in England… Aelred undertook a mission to the barbarous Pictish tribes of Galloway, where their chief is said to have been so deeply moved by his exhortations that he became a monk. Throughout his last years Aelred gave an extraordinary example of heroic patience under a succession of infirmities. He was, moreover, so abstemious that he is described as being “more like a ghost than a man.” His death is generally supposed to have occurred 12 January, 1166, although there are reasons for thinking that the true year may be 1167. St. Aelred left a considerable collection of sermons, the remarkable eloquence of which has earned for him the title of the English St. Bernard.

Here is one of his sermons for the First Sunday in Advent.

The present holy season which we call Advent directs our thoughts to our Lord’s twofold coming. We have therefore a double reason for rejoicing because we are meant to derive from it a double benefit.

Advent calls to mind the two comings of our Lord: first the coming of the fairest of the sons of men and the desire of all nations, so long awaited and so fervently prayed for by all the fathers when the Son of God graciously revealed to the world his visible presence in the flesh, that is to say when he came into the world to save sinners; the other that second coming to which we look forward no less than did our fathers of old. While we await his return our hope is sure and firm, yet we also frequently remind ourselves with tears of the day when he who first came to us concealed in our flesh will come again revealed in the glory which belongs to him as Lord. Of that day the psalmist sings: God will come openly;it is the Day of Judgment when Christ will come as judge in the sight of all. Our Lord’s first coming was indeed known only to a small number of good people, but his second will be evident to good and bad alike, as is known to us by the prophet’s announcement: All flesh will see the salvation of God.

To speak more precisely, however, the day we are shortly to celebrate in memory of our Lord’s birth brings him before us as a newborn child, that is to say it more expressly signifies the day and the hour when he first came into the world, whereas the season we keep beforehand represents him to us as the longed-for Messiah and reminds us of the yearning that filled the hearts of those holy fathers of ours who lived before his coming.

How beautifully then at this season the Church provides that we should recite the words and recall the longing of those who lived before our Lord’s first advent! Nor do we commemorate that desire of theirs for a single day, but share it so to speak for a long period of time, because when something we greatly love and long for is deferred for a while it usually seems sweeter to us when it does arrive.

It is our duty then to follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers and so inflame our own souls with love and longing for Christ. You must understand that the reason why this season was instituted was to inspire us to remember the desire of our holy fathers for our Lord’s first coming, and through their example learn to have a great longing for the day when he will come again. We should consider how much good our Lord did us by his first coming, and how much more he will do for us by his second. This thought will help us to have a great love for that first coming of his and a great longing for his return. And if our conscience is not so perfect that we dare entertain such a desire, we ought at least to fear his second coming and by means of that fear to correct our faults, so that if perhaps we cannot help being afraid here and now, we shall at least be secure and fearless when he comes again.  St. Aelred, abbot of Rievaulx (1110 – 12 January 1167), Sermon for Advent 1rom, The Two Year Lectionary, Patristic Vigils, Readings, Advent & Christmastide, Year 1

So, if we take this whole matter to its transformative end, there are actually three comings of Christ Jesus. The “present coming” is the point where the first and second converge and have their effect. This was the contention of Pierre de Blois (c.1130-1211), an English arcchdeacon who served King Henry II and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a secretary and diplomat.

Now we are in the second advent [the third coming – fr.t], provided we are such that he can thus come to us, since he said that, if we love him, he will come to us and make his home in us (Jn 14,23).

My prayer is that you will “follow the example and recall the longing of the holy fathers,” such as St. Aelred; and that He will “mightily enflame” your soul “with love and longing for Christ” as you journey with others through the Advent season and experience the third coming of Christ.

Fr. Thomas

Advent — Already but Not Yet

A little warning… The substance of what I am about to articulate was judged by a newspaper for which I was asked to write a Christmas article in the religion section some years ago (which will remain nameless) to be so much “jibberish” and “Christian double talk” and “gobledygook.” For some, it may sound like nothing more than that. So be it… But, I persist in my “jibberish” undeterred because I tesify that what I am about to say, though my language may be clumsy, has consistently been transforming my life since I was 11 years old, serving as an acolyte at the Christmas eve service when I began to realize what the heck was going on in the Advent/Christmas season and the services of it, in 1962 ! ! So, here goes…

Advent WreathAs we enter the Advent season is important to allow ourselves to be reminded of the “already but not yet” character of our life as Christians who are “in this world but not of it.” Why would this reminder be important at this point in particular? Well, as we begin our pilgrimage toward the celebration of the Nativity, the Church is inviting us to effectively (really) participate in an event that occurred almost 2000 years ago – “already.” And, the Church is inviting us to effectively (really) participate in an event that has “not yet” occurred – the second coming of Christ Jesus. This would sound very strange from a point of view that holds that effective participation in an event is limited to things that occur in the present. But, the Church has never, in its authentic expression, held this view of time or participation.

I place these time words in quotes to signal the fact that the Church believes that time is relative in relationship with the Kingdom of God. (Sorry Einstein, the Church Fathers sort of knew about relativity before you did :o) ). I do not mean that chronological time (historical timeline) is not real but rather that kairos time (Kingdom time) surrounds, fulfils, and transcends all chronological time. Chronos is not a reality alongside kairos but inside of it and filled with it. Karios “abides” in “chromos” and vice versa. Mutual indwelling.

I have been asked by many people who desire to enjoy ongoing transformation in Christ, “how” to do so. Advent is an prime example of a basic “how.” That how is seasonality. When we embrace in an intentional way, the rhythms of Advent and its seasonal emphasis, we open ourselves to the integration of the very rhythms of the life of Christ Jesus. Advent is, therefore, not a season that offers us more information about Christ Jesus or an opportunity to “remember” and “look forward” to distant events. No. The Holy Spirit, through Advent, offers us the opportunity to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by encountering Christ Jesus as He is – past, present, and future.

Anyway, here are some Scriptural passages and a reflection by John Henry Newman that might help …

The witness of the lives of the Old Testament patricarchs and matriarchs

These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11.13-16

From the New Testament apostolic experience

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6.9-13

For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13.9-13

From John Henty Newman

Our present state is precious as revealing to us, amid shadows and figures, the existence and attributes of Almighty God and his elect people: it is precious, because it enables us to hold intercourse with immortal souls who are on their trial as we are. It is momentous, as being the scene and means of our trial; but beyond this it has no claims upon us. Vanity of vanities,says the preacher, all is vanity.We may be poor or rich, young or old, honoured or slighted, and it ought to affect us no more, neither to elate us nor depress us, than if we were actors in a play, who know that the characters they represent are not their own, and that though they may appear to be superior one to another, to be kings or to be peasants, they are in reality all on a level. The one desire which should move us should be, first of all, that of seeing him face to face, who is now hid from us; and next of enjoying eternal and direct communion, in and through him, with our friends around us, whom at present we know only through the medium of sense, by precarious and partial channels, which give us little insight into their hearts.

These are suitable feelings toward this attractive but deceitful world. What have we to do with its gifts and honours, who, having been already baptized into the world to come, are no longer citizens of this? Why should we be anxious for a long life, or wealth, or credit, or comfort, who know that the next world will be every­thing which our hearts can wish, and that not in appearance only, but truly and everlastingly? Why should we rest in this world, when it is the token and promise of another? Why should we be content with its surface, instead of appropriating what is stored beneath it?

To those who live by faith, everything they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on his wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, while his perish­able type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by saints and angels circling his throne. Above and below, the cloud of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the ser­vants of God which do his pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul’s harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifesta­tion the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season

These are thoughts to make us eagerly and devoutly say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,to end the time of waiting, of darkness, of turbulence, of disputing, of sorrow, of care.’ Ven. J.H. Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons, IV, 222-224; Word in Season VIII.

As I indicated in a previous post on C.S. Lewis’ essay, “The Weight of Glory,”

“The encounter with the mysterious fullness of anything is always an ‘already but not yet.’ We cannot, then ‘locate God’ as a thing. He along with persons and the creation itself remains a mystery.”

The Incarnation of our Lord and His second coming is the mystery of the “already but not yet” character of how God has/is/will accomplishing(ed) our salvation. We, along with St. Paul must, mysteriously proclaim that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we hope to be saved. Advent is a wonderful opportunity to continue our “boot camp” training regime in how to live in the Kingdom of God into which we have already entered. We are already citizens of the Kingdom, we seek to live more and more fully in the Kingdom and according to it right here and right now, even though we also live in the midst of the remnants of the old world – the fallen world – that is also real.

“Already but not yet.”

Fr. Thomas