Sunday, December 06, 2015

Advent Homily: 12/6/15

Chapel PCA in Brighton once again kindly offered me the invitation to give one of the homilies at their Advent service. My topic this year was "God the Spirit in the Incarnation"; my fellows preached on God the Father and God the Son.

One brief edit: I took out the disastrous joke about Peanuts from the first paragraph. It is best on the cutting room floor.


Around Christmas time, many families read the Christmas story, the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, from the Annunciation to the Birth. Here the Spirit of God figures prominently, for as the angel Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; for this reason the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (1:35). For many of us, though, this is the end of the Spirit’s role. While necessary for Jesus’ taking on flesh, how does that Spirit affect our lives? What, in other words, other than the supernatural character of Jesus’ conception, can we learn from this? What does this story say to us about our salvation?

St Paul takes us a bit further in his epistle to the Romans when he says, “[God’s] Son Jesus Christ our Lord was...declared to be Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:4). St Luke had said that it was due to the virginal conception by the Holy Spirit that Jesus would be called “Son of God,” St Paul tells us that it was the Resurrection that would lead to the same appellation, this time with power. The Spirit has, in the life of our Savior, caused Him to be born in a womb that could not naturally bear (for she knew no man) and caused Him to be raised from the tomb that was meant to hold those who by nature would die. So the Spirit is as integral to the story of salvation as the Lord Christ -- and, of course, we could go farther in the Scriptures and see the Spirit descend at our Lord’s baptism, hear of Him compelling our Lord into the wilderness to be tempted, and His being breathed upon the Apostles.

But we must again ask, how does this go from the story of salvation almost 2000 years ago into our lives here and now? What was contemporary Pennsylvania to do with ancient Jerusalem? Hear again the Apostle Paul: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5) to which he adds, “if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11). In other words, just as the Spirit came upon Mary, pouring the love of God into her -- whom we know as our Lord Jesus Christ -- so He pours that same love into us, that we might cry out “Abba, Father” to our God. Because Jesus is the Son, we are sons.

And here is the key to rereading the Christmas story: what God the Father has done in our Lord Jesus Christ, He is also doing in us. Our Lord Christ, of course, is God by nature, something we will never be. But we have, through His grace, God Himself dwelling inside of us, giving life to us. Or, as St Irenaeus said so many centuries ago, “Because of the great love with which He loved us, Christ became what we are so that we might become what He is” (AH, V:Prologue). The Spirit is the One who accomplishes all this for us and in us.

Let us return, then, to that greatest story ever told and see how it applies to us through the Spirit. We hear of a betrothed, virgin mother bearing the Word of God. St Paul says that he intends to present the Church as a “chaste virgin” who has already been betrothed to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), but also that she is the “Jerusalem that is above, who is free, she is our mother” (Gal. 4:26), the same heavenly Jerusalem to which all believers have come (Heb. 12:22) and which descends from heaven “having the glory of God” (Rev. 21:11). The Church, by the power of the Spirit who resides in her, is our virgin mother, bearing the Word of God in her children to the weary world.

Connected to this, as we saw, is Christ’s Resurrection. The one wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger will be wrapped in burial clothes and placed in a tomb, but the Spirit that achieved His conception will soon accomplish His resurrection. We who are born again by the Spirit of God will, before we know it, be raised from the dead by the same Spirit as the earth is released from her labor pains into the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:22).

In between the announcement of our adoption in Christ, our justification, and the fullness of it, the redemption of our bodies (8:23), we travel the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, expectant of what God is doing in us, but wary of the road we must travel: for as St John tells us, “the Dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:4-5). The promise is that Christ is our King, but many do not wish to see Him reach the throne. How much more, now that He has “disarmed the principalities and powers, making a public spectacle of them triumphing over them” through the Cross (Col. 2:15) and been seated at the right Hand of the Father in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:20), how much more shall they now seek to persecute those who have been made to “sit together with Christ in the heavenly places” (2:6) for the very purpose of “making known the manifold wisdom of God” to those same humiliated “principalities and powers” (3:10), against whom we have even been marshaled to wrestle and struggle (6:12) using the spiritual weapons and armor of God.

Should we be surprised, then, that at the birth of our Savior “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men!” (Lk. 2:13-14)? The King has come with His army acclaiming Him, to fight the great battle, to overthrow the cosmic Pharaoh, and to conscript us in war that actually does end all war: “peace, goodwill to men.” We must seek the Spirit to prepare, to become like Christ, to put the passions and desires of our flesh to death -- for the Spirit is Life, life in Mary’s womb, life in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb, and life in us for the salvation of the world. Amen.

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