As we begin celebrating Advent this year, I want to wish everyone the peace and purpose of God’s Coming in Jesus, the Christ. The people of Israel labored long and hard in the hope for the coming of the Christ of God, who would save his people from their sins and from their worldly oppressors. On the eighth day of his life, the Christ child was brought to the old Jewish prophet, Simeon, and the old prophet who held the child in his arms rejoiced: “Lord, lettest now thy servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light of salvation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel!” Luke 2:29-32. It is in this spirit of celebration of the gift of God for all people that I enter into this Advent season.
As we celebrate Advent, I ask that we understand ourselves in a holy relationship to both the universal Church and to all humanity, those who affirm Christian faith and those who do not. Our identity as Christians and as humans arises from the same source: Jesus, the revealer of God’s self: the source of our faith and the source of our true humanity. It is good to remind ourselves at this time of year that Jesus came in the will of God to restore all of us to our true humanity, our God-intended humanity. The Church is a means to that end, just as Israel was meant to be a means to the end of blessing all the earth with God’s glory and redemption. Being a Christian is not the goal, it is the means towards the greater goal of being a true human and thus honoring the One who created us to this high purpose and for unity with God and each other.
Jesus’ way is truly God’s way. Jesus’ truth is God’s truth. Jesus came in the will and the love of God to save, not to condemn the earth and all its creatures. The Church was given birth by the outpouring of God’s Spirit in this way that Jesus had pioneered on earth: a way of obedience to God, a way of love of God and neighbor that was stronger than all powers of evil that twist and destroy human beings and the created order. But, the path of life, the holy way of God is always Jesus’ way, under Jesus’ lordship, and so long as the Church follows in this way of Jesus, the way of the Church is holy, and good and life-giving. But, when the Church, or wings of the Church begin to honor creeds and traditions and human-centered salvation formulas and secular authority and ecclesiastical hierarchies above God’s way in Jesus, then the Church does not become the means to salvation, but can even become a hindrance to receiving the truth of the Gospel.
As a church, we must resist the temptation to substitute our ways for God’s ways. We must resist the temptation to become another self-serving religious institution. We want to break through sin to become witnesses to the Living God of Jesus, the Christ of all the world. We want to break through sin to become brothers and sisters with all human beings, not just friendly with those we are comfortable with. Yes, we are in a deep and holy relationship with all the churches of the world who raise the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost in praise, but we are also in a deep and holy relationship with all human beings whom God has claimed as his own through the death of Jesus, the Christ. We join ourselves with the churches of this world seeking to be a means for the salvation of all people. The goal is that the true humanity revealed in Jesus become the inheritance of all people. As we see human beings reflecting that true humanity that we have come to know in Jesus, we rejoice and thank God. Sometimes, we see that true humanity reflected in the lives of people who have never become part of the Church, but seem to us to be walking in the way of the Lord of the Church, Jesus. And, we remember that our primary allegiance is to God and his way in Jesus, not to the Church. We remember that the Church stands under God’s judgment, seeking to resist those sins of arrogance and selfishness and cowardice that have so crippled the ministries of the Church through the centuries. We remember that the repentant Church has always received forgiveness and healing and courage and joy to love the world as God loves the world, to help the world with a courage and an integrity and a persistence that is beyond our imagination.
It is in this hope that I celebrate the Coming of our Lord, and anticipate the fulfillment of the great hope of all the ages: the Coming of God’s Kingdom, that day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.