Pursuing Christ with our Heart and Mind
A Homily for Advent 1
December 3, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Romans 13:8-14
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
For this Advent, I picked the verse Isaiah 40:3 as our seasonal verse. “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight a desert highway for our God.’” You’ll notice that it is written on our announcement board in the entranceway, on the handy bookmark you got this morning, and on the front of your bulletin. It is one of the sentences of scriptures that we use as a call to worship in Morning Prayer, throughout the season. It is a call to repentance and to preparation for the coming of the Lord.
For Advent is not only a season of preparation, a season of returning our hearts to the Christian virtues of hope, peace, joy, and love, fruits of the spirit that bring us into a closer walk with the Lord, but it is also a season of fleeing from our sins, and returning to these good things.
So today, we not only flee our old ways, but we are called to turn our hearts and minds back to the Lord, trusting that we will not be constantly in the bond of sin, that one day he will come again to judge the quick and the dead, that one day all who are alive in Him, will rise again, and with one voice sing great songs of worship unto Him.
Advent, therefore, stands with a dual vision, first, that we look back, walking with those of Christ’s time who had an expectation of His coming into the world, similarly we look forward to his coming again. When we look back we are filled with joy in seeing his life, ministry, and most importantly his salvific work on the cross, but like his disciples we are prone to make Christ our earthly hope. To hope that he will bring us worldly blessings, but the blessings he brings us isn’t some new toy, or our best life now.
No, the hope he brings us is a life lived in him, a life that seeks to glorify the Living Lord, the King of kings in all we do. The Hope that Christ ushered into the world is not an earthly hope, but an eternal hope, a hope that humanity’s dissonance with its creator would one day be put to rest, and we would walk in peace with Him as we once did before the fall.
So, what does it mean to prepare the way of the Lord? How do we make straight the desert highway for our God? How are we to be preparing for this future re-creation?
We are called to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, we are, through the working of the Holy Spirit making straight our walk with Him. Although we may walk through valleys, and over mountains, through arid deserts we are called to walk along the straight and narrow, to constantly be turning our hearts and minds back to Him.
We have talked a great deal about our walks with Christ, how life can bring us into the valley of darkness, and how often it seems hard carry on when night surrounds us. But sometimes too we can walk through a desert. This was the reason I distributed a reading sheet for the season of Advent, found on your bookmark because we have all at times wandered, all struggled to walk with the Lord. If you feel you are alone in this, I assure you, you are not.
Our hearts grew weary, we may grow discouraged and perhaps we stop praying, or stop reading the word of God, and in that stop delighting in His goodness. At times, we all need to have our walk with him reinvigorated, we all need to be called back to Him to worship Him in his goodness from time to time. If this is where you are today, do not distress good Christian, but pick up your cross, return to the straight path following Christ, and carry on. We find our encouragement in daily reading the word of God, praying, fellowshipping with our brothers and sisters in Christ and partaking in the Sacraments of our Lord. Continuously restoring our hope in Christ, that it may remain strong, that it may redirect us, and to bring us back time and again to the Lord.
But, what is the straight path, what is the way in which we are returning to? We find the answer to this in our reading from Romans 13: Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law. This is the Christian rule of life. This is why we consistently reread the Ten Commandments, and the summary of the law, for these words point us back again to this simple truth: that we are to love the Lord our God with every ounce of our being, and to love our neighbor selflessly, that we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
This way of love is the straight path. We live in a culture that is obsessed with love. We are told that if we only find that special someone our lives will have fulfillment, goodness, and meaning. That special someone we are so desperately looking for is Christ, and the love that he is offering is deeper than any love another person can offer us.
For in the act of marriage, romantic love becomes sacramental, it forces us to die to ourselves, that we might help the other grow, that we might put them before ourselves, that we might help them to prosper, but romantic love can only take us so far.
If our definition of love stays only with the romantic, or worse, as some too often do, we constraint romance to only mean lust, we will never come into a deep and profound relationship with the Lord. We will be stuck only looking at ourselves.
Certainly, the love between a husband a wife is a good thing – but the chief end of man, is not to settle down, get married, buy a cute three-bedroom house, have 1.53 children, and adopt a golden retriever. As lovely and good as these things may be, the chief end of man is the glorify God and to enjoy him forever and we do this by submitting to the working of the Holy Spirit that He may turn our hearts and minds back to the Lord of lords and King of kings, that our whole selves may be submitted to His will.
By submitting ourselves to the rule of love the law is fulfilled. As the saint writes, the language he uses does not immediately demand that we understand that the ancient law of Moses is fulfilled, but that the general law is fulfilled. In essence, we are saying this is the new rule of life, the law that must definite our actions. That if our life is defined by loving our neighbor well, we are living the truly good life.
However, Saint Paul then shows that how the rule of loving your neighbor, loving the other does in fact fulfil the later five commandments that apply to our interaction with our fellow man. He shows that love fulfills these things:
Thou shall not commit adultery
Thou shall not kill
Thou shalt not steal
Thou shalt not bear false witness
Thou shall not covet
For how can we love our neighbor if we defile their very being? How can we love well, if we want what the other has? These desires to be better will overcome our hearts and minds.
In Christ’s sermon on the mount we learn that the law is not design to be a moralistic checklist, but a state of the heart. Christ’s contemporaries were prone to making nearly neurotic checklists, to prevent themselves from possibly offending the Lord.
Yet, this form of fundamentalism puts a heavy burden upon the soul, and instead of drawing one closer to the Lord, it makes them weary. No, the way of the cross, the way of following the Lord, it is the light burden of love, to allow the Holy Spirit to recondition our hearts to Love well.
So, the condition of our hearts matter, if we do not break the Ten Commandments, yet we hate our neighbor, lust after his wife, or hope that we will have it better than her we do not love our neighbor, but only live in our self-righteous works. So, we flee from this condition of the heart that does not love and repent, and turn back to the Lord. For, as the saint reminds us, Love works no ill: therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
As we read this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman saints we come back to the Advent call, that the time is near, the time is now to awake from the sleep of sin, the sleep that numbs us from love of God, that tells us everything is fine as kind. For every day that we walk with the Lord his coming again is closer.
The other week we talked about the salvific paradigm: that we were saved, that we are being saved, and that we will be saved. When we read what the saint wrote this morning we are reminded of this truth, that the day of our salvation is near. Not that we are not already saved, but that we were saved on the day of our conversion, that we are in the process of being sanctified through the spirit, as he turns our hearts and minds back to the law of love, and, finally, that we will be saved on the great last day.
Therefore, we are preparing our hearts and minds that in the great last day we may be ready to worship the Lord in all goodness. So, we submit to the spirit.
The saint reminds us, that we are to put on the armor of light, that we are to do all things, those things that can be seen and those things that we do in secret as though all things were visible. We are to enjoy a life in the Holy Spirit, enjoy those fruits that we would be ever growing in the Lord. Ever growing in his love for us, that we might love him wholly and love our neighbors, love each person as ourselves.
The final call of the saint this morning is this: put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. This final call may seem heavy, for it calls us to forsake ourselves for the glory of the Lord. Yet, this is a good thing. This is the Advent call, that our hearts and minds would be given to following the Lord, would be given to the law of love.
So, as we begin this Advent season, may we make straight the way of our hearts, submitting them to the working of the Holy Spirit, that we would be sanctified. Be in constant prayer that we would know what is means to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Likewise, be in prayer that All Saints would be a community that loves well, and the community in which we dwell would know that we are Christians by our love and with joy-filled hearts let us come back to the Lord again and again, praying that he would prepare his way within us.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.