The Bride of Christ
A Homily for the Sunday Next before Advent
November 26, 2017
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Jeremiah 3:14 (KJV)
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
It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving has already come and gone, and Advent will be upon us next week. It seems that time is flying by and before we know it Christmas will be here and then the new year. In the fervor and busy-ness of life finding quietude and joy in the Lord may seem impossible.
The liturgical calendar is designed for us to know Christ better, to slow us down so that we may daily walk with Him, and that we gain a deeper sense of who the Lord is. In this rhythm of the year we walk with Christ through his life, from the anxious expectation of His coming, to His incarnation, the revelation to the gentiles at Epiphany, to his walking on earth, to his death, resurrection, and finally his ascension into heaven. In the feasts and fast of the church we are forced to stop and think about Christ’s life as it is reveled to us.
Advent, is twofold in nature. First, we are expecting, with those who awaited the messiah we look back and experience their expectation, however we also look forward and await his second coming. For we are promised that we are not here alone forever, but that Christ will come again. Second, like Lent, Advent is a season of repentance, a season of turning away from our sinful ways.
It may be that as we come into Advent you have a sense of a sin that needs repenting of, that there is something that you are struggling with. If this is the case, then now is the time to flee from it, and flee unto the Lord for he comes to those who earnestly repent. Or it may be that you feel fine and for you it is a season of prayer. Praying for those who are struggling, that they may be able to give up the things that are hurting their walk with the Lord and hunting their soul and praying that the Lord would strengthen you in the places you do not realize you need strengthening. We are all called to pray for ourselves that our walk with the Lord may grow deeper, that we would see areas for improvement, and that our love for Him may grow ever deeper.
This brings us to the vivid imagery of marriage that the lesson from Jeremiah speaks of. The imagery shows us the nature of the covenant that God makes with his people, it is not a business contract, but a covenant of love and deep spiritual commitment. It shows us a commitment that isn’t to be broken or taken lightly.
The marriage vows of the Lord, like Advent, are two-fold. They are between the Church and the Lord, and they are between the individual members of the church and the Lord. We cannot have one without the other For the Lord is raising himself a people to be committed to him, to love and dwell with him.
Often when we read of this marriage covenant we read about it being between Him and a body – between him at the nation of Israel and then between Him and the Church. However, these bodies are made up of individuals, and everyone has a unique soul. Each one of us is created distinctively in the image of God, each one of us have distinct gifts and individual callings.
When we talk about the unity of the church, and the unity of mankind, we are not talking about a complete unison, a homogenous sameness, but rather a oneness found in Christ where our diverse and unique calls are used by Him to His glory. We are talking about the harmony of a song, where each note is used to make the song. Just as each note is critical to making the song beautiful, we each have a part to play in the church, and God sanctifies those parts and uses them to His glory.
We are called to walk with God, first as a body, coming together in corporate prayer, worship, and breaking of bread. Then, leaving the congregational gathering we go to our homes and continue in our walk with God. For, though we walk together, God deals with men separately. He extends his love, mercy, and justice to each person individually.
Likewise, each person returns to God individually, and dwells with Him individually. However, as individuals we unite to work together to bring glory to our Lord. As individuals, we call to those who have wandered and welcome them home. We extend the love that we have known from God to those who have wandered and apostatized and welcome them home. It is from this calling out in the wilderness that we grow from a handful of individuals to a robust and healthy body.
For the sinful person, it is hard to believe that God would call one such as me unto him, and call me his own, and not only his own, but pronounce that he is married to me. Some have claimed that it would be easier to believe that God would call angels to be his chosen, or unfallen men, or the perfected saint, yet, he has called us, those who have wandered, who have foibles, who constantly fail to uphold their end of the bargain. He has called sinners and said to us: I have made you mine. Can we comprehend the depth and breadth and awesomeness of this love?
Scripture affirms this use of sinful men and women time and time again, we see it in Moses, in David, in the hesitant prophets, in his Apostles, particularly with Saints Peter and Paul. The first was one who persistently misunderstood the Lord during his earthly ministry, and the other who persecuted the church, and later called himself chief among sinners. But the Lord constantly affirms and proclaims that we shall be his people and He shall be our God.
So, as we prepare our hearts for the season of Advent, for the coming of the Lord into the world and we are reminded that God didn’t have to take on the seed of Abraham, he was not required to become incarnate for the sake of humanity, but still he chose to, for that was the depth of his love. He came and walked with us, that he felt our pains, our anxieties, our troubles, and woes, despite this he was not given to sin, but lived the perfect life that we fail to live, and died the death that we should have died. Not only that, but in this walking on earth with us, He sought the sheep that had been lost, and He brings them to salvation and still seeks us when we wander.
He marks the Christian his in the baptism, it is a sign of the covenant, a bringing in of the child into the body of Christ. For baptism is the wedding ring given to the wife. In our baptism, whether as an infant, or as a convert, we are made the Lord’s in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We are proclaimed dead to our sins and alive in Christ.
And although, at times it may be hard to see, He never leaves us, nor abandons us. As we read scripture we are constantly reminded of this fact, that although we may walk through the valley of darkness, although we may know the pains of death the Lord is with us, for nothing can separate us from his love.
However, this love is not free, it is not a one-way street. When we are invited into the Love of the Lord, when we are made His, He becomes our only God. We are called therefore, to Love the Lord our God, with our hearts, souls, and mind. We are called to Love the Lord with all that we have.
Not only are we to Love him fully, we cannot have any other gods. In ancient times, this would have referred to any number of pagan gods that were common in the lands around the small nation of Israel. These dark pagan gods made high promises for a higher cost, they demanded the forsaking of the Lord. In our day, we have a broader understanding of what other gods can be.
A foreign god not only refers to pagan gods that do not reflect the nature and truth of the risen and living Lord, but anything that distracts us from dwelling in His love and hope. So, what gods have we bowed down to?
Do we put our faith in a political party? Our salvation comes from Christ alone. Do we hope for love and marriage? Our deepest love comes from God and we belong to him alone. Do we long for greater financial stability? God, and God alone is our provider and the source of provision. Do we desire a better job or car or house? From God alone do we gain our security. Do we wish for a better future? Our hope is our eternal dwelling with the Lord.
Do you see that none of these things are bad things? Political stability, a healthy marriage, sound financial responsibility, a good job, a reliable car, a roof over our heads, and a comfortable, and a bright future are all good things. However, when we covet those more than a walking relationship with God, then we have made them into a god. When we hoard our earthly possession as though they can’t be lost in an instant, as though they are our source of hope and happiness, we are no longer worshipping the Lord but some other, lesser thing. The gods of our age come in many forms, and we guard our hearts against their power.
For our hope must first be in the Lord, and from that hope all other hope flows, not the other way around. Though, we may walk through valleys of darkness, and days of hardship, we know where our hope lies, and that hope and promise gives us glad hearts.
For, just as you would be angered or upset if your husband or wife was constantly looking at others, thinking, “life would be better if only we had…” the Lord has called us to make him our all in all. It is when we follow and trust the Lord implicitly that we find our peace.
Yet, we know that our love for the Lord is not yet perfected. We know that we fail, and flounder along the way, that the eyes of our hearts and minds do wander and look for things we perceive as better. So, what do we do with this? Are we a hopeless cause?
Not at all! There is a great saying about our salvation that is helpful in our struggles. Is it that we were saved, are being saved, and will be saved. For we were saved on the day of our baptism or conversion. That is, we were set aside, and made the Lords. However, we still struggle and fail along the way, and in that we are being saved, we are being constantly redirected, and remade. This process is called sanctification, we are not where we were 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. Our struggles today are different than they were yesterday and our walk with the Lord is deeper. The Holy Spirit is working in our heart to draw us deeper into Him. Finally, on the great last day we will be saved, we will be brought into the heavenly kingdom and join in perfection with all the saints, and the angels and arch-angels in singing the song of praise – singing: Holy, holy, holy unto the Lord.
Isaiah 40:3 is often associated with the season of Advent: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” John the Baptist was the voice calling in the wilderness and making known the coming of the Lord. Yet our hearts are the desert highway that God is making straight. This process of making straight helps us so that we may learn to walk deeper and deeper with Him.
Finally, the husband does more than a friend, for a friend will not dwell with us, will not humble himself to share in our fate, though he may walk with us as we struggle along at the end of the day he’ll go home to his own house, and his own problems. The Lord has humbled himself, he condensed to our level and walks and dwells with us in all things.
This is what happened in the incarnation, this is what we are looking forward to in the advent season. For in that season we are looking forward to the incarnation, the coming of the Lord to dwell among us. In this sense, the reading today, the implication that we are married to the Lord is not merely a metaphor, but a truth. For just as a husband and wife walk hand in hand through the travails of life, so the Lord has condescended to our level and will never leave us. The Lord is more than a friend, but a companion through the good and the dark. The Lord does not go home to his own comfort, but comes with us, even in our sleepless nights, and weary crying out.
Though, it may feel that we walk through the roughest of wilderness, the darkest of valleys, the Lord has been through them before and is walking with us today. Though it may seem that we have constant struggle with our sin; the Lord knows our pains and anxieties and he is with us. So, we struggle on, we cry out, we ask for mercy, forgiveness, and strength to have a deeper walk with Him.
There are two reactions that we can have to the marriage of the Lord to his church. The first is a deep impending sense of drudgery and slavish, heartless devotion. The second is complete and utter joy. For, just as there are some marriages that are bad and uncomfortable, our walk with the Lord can be uncomfortable and our hearts can be constantly given to wandering.
For in our marriages, if we or our spouse is always wondering if there is something or someone better out there, we find ourselves constantly discontented, we find that we are brutally unhappy. It is the same with the walk with our Lord. For the Lord has called for our complete allegiance and if we do not delight in his laws, if we do not delight in our relationship with Him, then our walk with him will be one of toil and misery. We will constantly be wanting to sacrifice our hearts to the gods of our society, whether it be wealth, or power, or cheap entertainment, or sex. These false idols will distract us from the incredible goodness that comes only from the Lord.
For the world says, “freedom comes from having everything you want,” but the Lord says “freedom is found in me.” The freedom the world gives is slavery to every passion, to every desire that we have, and is no freedom at all. For as soon as we have the nice thing we want, we will want more. Our worldly desires are insatiable. The freedom we find in the Lord, on the other hand, is self-control, and joy that comes only from knowing Him, Life in the Lord is freedom from the slavery of our passions.
So, we see what joy we can have in the Lord. For, when we stop running from Him we see that we have the right to claim that we are the Lord’s and the Lord is ours. It is in this proclamation that we have such a great hope. When we repent, when we flee from the pains and trials that sin brings upon us, and throw all our hope upon the Lord we are given a great joy. The joy of knowing we are no longer slaves, but that we are pronounced the spouse of the Lord and that there is no power on earth or in hell that can separate us from this love that is given to us.
This, finally, brings us back to the preparation of our hearts in the season of Advent. For, in this coming season we are called to repent from those things that have distracted us from the Lord. We are called to be given to the worship of the Lord alone. We are called with deepest joy to look forward to His coming again to welcome us into the new Jerusalem, where we will enjoy the resurrected life in Him.
So, as this week progresses and Advent comes upon us, be in prayer that the Lord would show us the areas that we as a body, and we as individuals need to improve our walk with Him. Be in prayer for your brothers and sisters in Christ that the Lord would be with them, granting them repentance and healing. Be in prayer that we would eagerly be looking forward to His coming again and that we as a community would be dwelling in his eternal joy and hope. For this is the Christian calling, promise, and hope.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.