Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advent 2 Sermon for 2009

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

+ The word hope appears 4 times in today's Epistle, two of them in this final verse.

What is the reason for St Paul writing this passage? What is its historical context? In the previous chapter he has taught Christians to be tolerant of each other's scruples, even if they amount to an unnecessarily strict “code”, and not to offend or judge one another. In other words, he is encouraging unity despite differences in inessential matters. Thus it makes sense for him also to reassure the Gentiles and remind the Jews that Jesus Christ was a servant of the the Jews “for the truth”. What truth? The truth prophesied even in the Jews' own Old Covenant scriptures, which is that Jews and Gentiles would be united in the worship of God. “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.” “Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.” This means that salvation is available to all. Therefore the Apostle commands them: “Receive ye one another”. In other words, accept one another as brethren, members of the same family of God. The emphasis is on unity here as well.

So, what is the relevance of hope, also emphasised, to the theme of unity? The hope is one common to them all. And this makes it a goal that unites them. God promises the same blessings to both Jews and Gentiles, and sets them on the same footing, having the same standing, before Him.

What is the content of this hope? It is the final victory of God in Christ over all evil: “he that shall rise to reign”. This conquest has in fact already been won at the Resurrection, as these words from the Epistle suggest. But His resurrection then becomes the pattern and source for the transformation of all of Creation, including us. That means our hope is focused on the Cosmic Renewal at the end of time, but is not limited to the future. The process has already begun of the promises being fulfilled. The “comfort of the Scriptures” leading to hope does not just promise final victory and nothing but drudgery or defeat in the mean time. It promises that God will care for those who trust in Him, even in this world. “Patience and consolation” the Epistle says: if we imitate God's patience, God's persistence, consolation will come.

What is the path to hope? “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” This is St Paul's prayer, so prayer is a good place to start. Pray for a refreshing of the gift of hope. But we come to the hope through the “believing” according to this verse, so faith in God and his word is essential to hope. However, we must never forget that Christian hope is not something we can manufacture, but is given by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is given through “the power of the Holy Spirit”.

Why do we need such power? The outward reality of the flesh, the world that surrounds us, is discouraging. There is no hope for us if we are left to our own devices, if what the world gives is all there is to offer. Without God's gift of hope, the saying I heard long ago from a school friend applies: “Life's tough ... and then you die”. One might call this the message of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, written before the great Hope was fully revealed, in order to help us understand just what we were missing. This book also repeats over and over the refrain, “All is vanity”. Even if many of the most pleasant experiences the world has to offer end up being satisfied for them, people are left empty. Why? Because our most fundamental need, our inmost lack, is “God-shaped”, so to speak, as St Augustine taught. We were formed to live fully only in friendship with God. Our “summum bonum” (highest good or happiness) is to know personally and deeply the source of all Truth, Beauty and Goodness. All other blessings, all created “goods” are mere refelctions of his glory. Unless we treat them as signposts to Him, they become idols, and disappointing ones at that. The fearful truth is that nothing here belongs to us absolutely: all is on loan. To rest our unreserved trust or hope in any of it is to guarantee despair. The joyful truth is that eternal and unbounded blessedness and bliss can be ours: and that God will give them (not merely loan them) to the faithful. +

1 comment:

David Gould said...

Thank you Father Matthew for another truly edifying sermon. I very much liked your wisdom regarding our relationship with God - that it is the prime importance against which all created goods are but images, reflections at best and idols at worst.