Skip to comments.Sermon on the Third Sunday in Advent (2006) Last Things First: Hell
Posted on 12/23/2006 7:52:00 PM PST by Huber
In this sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama preaches on the subject of hell:
[Jesus said to his disciples,] If thy hand cause thee to offend, cut it off: It is better for thee to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [Mark 9:43ff]
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Now that we have reflected on Death and Judgment, it is time to consider Hell. Hell is one of two, and only two, mutually exclusive final destinations for each and every human being. Its duration is endless and its atmosphere is misery most fundamentally, the misery of knowing that one is never to attain that fullness of humanity which is Gods design for him the misery of a perpetual black hole at the center of ones soul which there is no prospect of filling. In it there is remorse and regret aplenty, but no repentance, for as we saw last week when we die, our life in time is over, and time is an essential requirement for the turning that is repentance.
Hell is the natural destiny of man who has chosen to remain without God. It is a harbor though not a haven into which most of the ships have simply drifted with the ocean current, or been conned by a persistent ignoring of the charts by the captain, and into which few have come with deliberate intent. One need do nothing to get there; in fact, doing nothing but what comes naturally is the most efficient way of getting there. It can perhaps be thought of as the universal roach motel, where the residents check in but they dont check out.
People generally show a great deal of ambivalence in their practical relations with this member of the classical quartet of Last Things: We are both fascinated and repelled by the idea of Hell; we can be obsessively oppressed by the thought of it, and we can determinedly ignore thinking about it at all. We sometimes so cant bear the thought of anyone being there that we deny its reality, but very often at the same time we have a whole slate of nominees who we can hardly wait to see take up residence there.
Against this torrid confusion of attitudes, Scripture casts the cold water of reality. That compilation of reflection on Scripture that we call Tradition, supported by Reason itself, only drives home the fact of Hell. We must come to grips with its inescapable reality, not least because it is something about which Jesus himself teaches his disciples. The passage from Marks gospel which I quoted at the beginning of this sermon (and which is only about one third of that passage alone) neatly summarizes the main points of what the Lord has to say about the subject namely, that if one will not give up what leads him into sin, he will be consigned, not to life (zoe) but into an everlasting death which involves, not extinction of being and consciousness, but unending wretchedness (ho skoleix ou teleuta = the worm not dying) and unquenchable fire (to pur to asbeston).
Some have attempted to evade the horrific aspect of all this by an interpretation which suggests that the damned soul will be annihilated will cease to be because, after all, it is the worm of wretchedness that doesnt die and the fire which is unquenchable, not the subject of the wretchedness and the conflagration. This is a sophistry, and it will not stand the most cursory examination in the light of catholic doctrine. What God calls into being out of nothingness he never permits to fall again into nothingness: That would be contrary to his nature. What he makes, he does not ever utterly unmake. What is does not cease to be in some form, and one of the miseries of the fallen angels is the resentful knowledge that their own existence cannot be separated from the existence of him who made them and against whom they are in rebellion and that, therefore, the autonomy they seek is an absolute impossibility. Likewise, we ourselves cannot wholly cease to be, and even those who by deliberation or by default or through a combination of both have ended their course in Hell retain at least a rudimentary awareness of their own existence which is sufficient for them to know the hopelessness of their own condition.
Many have thought that the notion of an everlasting Hell is incompatible with the doctrine of the infinite love and mercy of God, but in the final analysis this opinion is an example of the purest nonsense masquerading as piety and in the process confusing pardon with indulgence. It portrays God, not as heavenly Father, but as celestial grandfather. To be sure, God is infinitely merciful, but if our freedom (not to mention his mercy itself) is to have any genuine meaning, then that mercy must be subject to our refusal of it. God will not impose his pardon upon us, nor can he do so if we will not consent to be pardoned. (This is the point of the parable of the guest who appeared at the banquet without his wedding garment since it was the host who provided that garment, he had no excuse for not wearing it.) God loves all his creatures, even those who insist on making their abode without him, and the same holy and unquenchable Fire which warms the saints and makes them shine is the source of the torment of those who, refusing to open themselves to be tempered by it, end by being withered in its Presence.
As I said earlier, Hell is the natural destiny of man without God. It is this from which he whose Advent we both anticipate after it has happened and remember before it happens came to deliver us. Not for nothing is one of his names Emmanuel God is with us for joined to him who is God and man, we have access to a Life which enables us to look upon the Fire not as something destructive to fear but as that which refines us to life everlasting.
There is a lot of food for thought here--and how blessed it is for us to have access to this Life--and to be saved from Hell--because of the Advent of our Lord which we now celebrate.
And on Gaudete Sunday, of all days? What was he thinking?
Nah. At the Holy Pillowcase [King size] church they used to do it much better than at the Holy Comforter.
"..preaches on the subject of hell:.."
Is that the place where ACLU lawyers, crooked politicians, many liberals and MSM deceivers end up in the afterlife?
I've seen the "An eternity without Jesus is a hell of a long time" tagline here somewhere.
Well, perhaps it was like what happened one time at an Advent retreat when someone jokingly said that "Day of wrath, O day of mourning" doesn't exactly put us in the mood for "fa-la-la-la-la...." but you know what.....
it fits the meter....
Day of wrath, O day of mourning, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la
See fulfilled the prophet's warning, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la
Heav'n and earth reduced to ashes, fa-la-la, fa--la-la, la-la-la
Time to et-er-ni-ty passes, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la, la-la.
Thank goodness I know the "Dies Irae" by heart in Latin, with the Gabriel Faure' setting, so I have a fair chance of driving it out of my head.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
- John 14:25-27
Somehow I believe that such joy at the coming of the Last Things is what is commended to us in the Gospel we heard on Advent 1 "Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
But if I need to hear the sequence in a more somber setting I'll just break out my CD of the Mozart Requiem.
Maybe he thought folks that only show up twice a year should hear something other than the usual advent and easter sermons.
Probably so. As our rector says at Christmas, "You know, we're here the other 51 weeks of the year, come see us." In his inimitable Irish brogue . . .
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