Illustration by Gustave Dore'
I Corinthians 4:1-5
We need to understand why the Lord told Peter, James and John, as they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration that Elijah had already come and suffered the fate that would be dished out to the Son of Man. He tells the crowd to whom he speaks in today’s Gospel reading (a little further on), “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.”3 To understand this we have to pay attention to what the angel said. John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy, because it was not really a prediction that Elijah would come himself, but that this other prophet would come in the spirit and power that had rested on that Old Testament prophet. Only this time, the Ahab and Jezebel of the period, namely Herod and Herodius, would kill the prophet, John, who confronted their sin; something that the Old Testament king and queen could not do to Elijah.
Where does this phrase come from: “and he shall turn the hearts…?” The very concept of a prophet who turns the hearts comes from that story in the first book of the Kings where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel were filled with terrible confusion, having the religion of Baal worship all mixed up with the worship of the true and living God of their fathers (and seemed to have forgotten the golden calves of Jeroboam). Baal worship is the same as the worship of Molech, the god to whom agonized parents would offer their own children in sacrifice, because by this religion they were deceived into a dreadful compulsion. We need to understand something very important. All religions are not the same. We need to understand something else. Whenever Paganism is properly researched we learn of its unspeakable cruelty. I know why the Law of Moses commands that the altars and groves of idols must be torn down. Whether it was the human sacrifice of the so-called peaceful Celts (and the idea of “peaceful Celts” is a historical absurdity), or simply the indifference of the Norse gods who offered no blessings, but only the darkness of fate; whether it was the human sacrifice of Aztecs, or the impersonal nothingness of some far Eastern mysticism into which individual consciousness and identity is, at best, swallowed up and lost; whether it is the violence of Islam (that pagan version of monotheism with its god who is alone), or the cruel caste system of Hinduism with its Suhtee ritual banned by the British, in which widows were burned alive at their husband’s funerals (in front of their children and everyone): Paganism is often darkness in which Satan has longed imprisoned and tortured the human race due to its ignorance and fear. And, only the worship of the True God has ever set people free from this cruel tyranny of mind and spirit. That is historical fact, and as such a theme oft repeated in various times and places of human experience.
It is our responsibility in this Advent season to call upon the people of the Church to be holy, and to attend to their own salvation, to walk with God in all purity of conscience. What we do is not simply about feeling good. It is far more than a warm and fuzzy feeling that we seek to impart.
Confession followed by Absolution hurts before you do it; but it feels very good after it has been accomplished. When I have gone to another priest for confession, I have had to remind myself that I am there to appear for the prosecution. Jesus Christ is my Advocate, and he pleaded my case with his own blood as he poured out his soul unto death for me on the cross.8
In the comedy, Life with Father, Clarence Daye, played by William Powell, had a great line: “If there’s one thing the Church should leave alone, it’s a man’s soul.” Well, as “stewards of the mysteries of God” who must give an account for your souls,11 we simply have to meddle. As much as I still encourage you to make a private confession (and to do so without fear, “early and often”), consider the grace that is offered even in the General Confession that comes up shortly. If you want to appropriate what God offers you in the General Confession followed by the General Absolution, then take time before you come here to ask the Holy Spirit to show to you your own sins, not to be morbid, but in order to make a good and sincere confession. Remember the lesson I had to learn for myself: You are, when you confess, appearing for the prosecution. Jesus, your Advocate and the propitiation for our sins, has already appeared for you. He appeared for you on the cross. He ever liveth to make intercession for you at the right hand of God. 12 Finally, to summarize the responsibility that stewards of the mysteries of God have within the Church, I quote St. Paul:
- Malachi 4:5,6
- Luke 1:16, 17
- vs. 13, 14
- I Kings 18:36, 37
- Isaiah 9:6, 7, I Corinthians 15:45f
- I Tim. 3:5
- John 20:22, 23
- Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12
- I Corinthians 10:16
- John 6:51-59
- Hebrews 13:17
- Hebrews 7:25
- II Corinthians 5:17-21