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The Rev. Samuel Edwards: Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Prydain ^ | 12/19/2005 | Will

Posted on 12/20/2005 9:09:54 AM PST by sionnsar

This sermon by the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama draws an interesting comparison of the Collects for the Sunday Next Before Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (2005)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

It is interesting that on the Sunday next before Advent – the final Sunday of the last season of the old church year – [see page 225 in the Prayer Book] we asked God to “stir up the wills of thy faithful people, that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded.” Today, on this, the last Sunday of the first season of the new church year, we have prayed a collect that makes a similar request, but does so in a different way: “O Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us….”

There is no difference in substance between these two prayers, but there is a difference in mood. The first prayer has a somewhat optimistic cast. It might be thought to be a prayer characteristic of a young person setting out on a new project, confident that with the help of God it will be easily achieved. However, the second prayer seems to be that of an older person, to whom experience has given a newer, more sober perspective. The nature of the sobering experience is clearly evident: It is the discovery that what most lets and hinders our running of the race set before are our own defects of character – “our sins and wickedness.” Unless he is deliberately avoiding it or just not paying attention to it, there is something that everyone who is serious about growing in the life of the Spirit recognizes by the time he has reached a certain stage of life, which is that (except for Satan and his minions) he is his own worst enemy. In Pogo’s famous phrase, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

When we have reached this point, we are ready to begin, for the real starting-point for the fitting of our crowns is not belief in God, but the development of the awareness that we are not him and that we can only even become ourselves if he enables us to do so, since we lack the resources within ourselves.

In this connection, John the Baptist’s dialogue in today’s Gospel with the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem is instructive. Here is the one of whom Jesus himself later says that, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” [Luke 7:28] John is the forerunner of the Messiah, and he knows it. He is a great man by God’s gift, yet he retains that greatness only because he is very clear about who he is not.

The emissaries of the Sanhedrin ask him who he is. John immediately responds that he is not the Christ. Then they want to know if he is Elijah. He tells them he isn’t – at least, he is not the Elijah that is popularly expected. Is he the prophet-like-Moses, they ask. “Not me,” says John. Having run out of the most common popular theories about John’s identity, they ask, “Well then, who are you? We need some sort of answer to give to the men that sent us.” He tells them that he is the voice crying in the wilderness of whom Isaiah spoke, who is sent to summon people to repentance and truth-telling (that is what “to make his paths straight” means) in advance of the coming of one of far greater importance than he is himself. “In fact,” says John, “I am not worthy to do the most menial task of the lowest servant for him – to unfasten the laces of his sandals.” John tells this commission of inquiry that while he may be baptizing with water, the One Who is Coming is going to accomplish the really important work.

John will say later of Jesus that, “He must increase; I must decrease.” [John 3:30] This will not be the lament of one who sees himself supplanted by another, but the supreme _expression of satisfaction by one who sees the fulfilling of his own life’s mission. John says this to correct the viewpoint of some of his disciples who seem to have been troubled that Jesus was now baptizing and drawing to himself those who might formerly have been expected to come to John. He tells them, “You’ve got it wrong. This isn’t about me. A man can only do the work God gives him and no other. My work is that of the bridegroom, the advance man for the wedding. When I hear the voice of the bridegroom, I know that he is here, and since that is what my work was meant to accomplish, I rejoice to the full.” This proves beyond all doubt that John knows who he is, because he knows that he is not the bridegroom, but one whose life has its true meaning through the service he does to the bridegroom.

His reaction to the “increase” of Jesus is not disappointment, not nostalgia, but rejoicing. This rejoicing is really only possible to those who forget themselves in their focus on another. In today’s Epistle, Paul tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” He also tells us why: “The Lord is at hand.”

The Lord who is at hand, characteristically, leads the way in the virtue to which he calls us – the perfect humility through which alone we can have perfect joy. For he that is the Highest stoops to be born among us poor that we through him might share his heavenly riches. If we consent to follow the lead of him who comes, not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him, then we will not have to be concerned with raising up ourselves, for according to his own promise he will raise us up to be with him where he is in the place which he has prepared for us, where forever is held the feast of which we here have a foretaste.

Paul F.M. Zahl and C. Frederick Barbee wrote about this Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (in their most helpful The Collects of Thomas Cranmer) that " we are 'sore hindered,' even so is the mercy of God bountiful and speedy. Moreover, the mercy of God is not a facile fiat. It is grounded in something: "the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord." You could have all the faith in the world in thin ice, but you would still fall through. You could have extremely fragile faith in thick ice, and you would not fall through. The thick ice which will not give way is the historic sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, satisfying the Judge of Life." As Fr. Edwards says in his sermon, we will not have to be concerned with raising up ourselves, for according to his own promise he will raise us up to be with him. His mercy endureth forever--it is not a "facile fiat."

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 12/20/2005 9:09:55 AM PST by sionnsar
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2 posted on 12/20/2005 9:10:28 AM PST by sionnsar (†† || To Libs: You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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