06 January 2006

The Son is life...

Christmas Weekday 6: I John 5.5-13 and Mark 1.7-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation: Serra Club

We are given eternal life. Given eternal life in Christ.

The prophetic witness of John the Baptist is done. His job as herald is over. Now he plunges the Lord in the River Jordan and stands back. He steps back for the Messiah. Coming out of the water of the Jordan, Jesus the man is revealed by God to be His Son, the Christ. Having waited for, longed for, the arrival of His Anointed One, heard of his imminent arrival, his salvific ministry, anticipated the miraculous works of his hands and the revelations of his wisdom—finally, the Christ is revealed!

Promised by the prophets, preached by the temple priests, and announced by the Baptist, Christ is washed in the water of baptism, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and commissioned, charged by his Father to be His beloved Son, the One Who will suffer, die, and rise again for our sakes. His is an office, a role, a part to play, but his is also a ministry, a vocation, and a destiny. His work among us and for us is the preaching of the Good News, the revelation that we do not have to live apart from God, we are not condemned to be forever separated from our Father. And to be clear: the Christ is not just a man who preaches a message. He is the message. The message of salvation to us is a person, not an idea, not an ideology, not a mystical system, or a religious routine but a Person, the Person of God Himself for us.

Ask the question this way: what precisely is revealed at Jesus’ baptism? Look at the narrative and you will read that the revelation is made to Jesus directly not to those in attendance. Coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn open and the voice from heaven spoke to him: “You are my beloved Son…” Of course, we read this revelation now and know that Jesus is the Christ, but the revelation itself then was to Jesus, not those watching, not us.

This is significant because we are called to a faith rooted in witness first; that is, we are asked by God to believe the power and truth of His revelation of the Christ not by reason of direct, personal experience but by witness, by the telling of the revelation to us by others. And this was possible back then only after Jesus reveals himself through his public ministry. It is possible for us now because we have the scriptural and apostolic testimony, whole and entire, standing witness to us. And that witness is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, given to us, for us, so that we might have eternal life in him.

In his letter this morning, John couldn’t be clearer: “Now the testimony of God is this, that he has testified on behalf of his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has this testimony within himself…” We are called upon to believe in the Son Himself, to trust, to have faith in the Christ revealed to us by the Father, and to live as testimonies ourselves, to have in us, whole and entire, the deposit of faith that is Jesus Christ. We dwell in the Spirit, being daily in the presence of God, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever possesses the Son has life; whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.”

To live as testimony, to be a revelation of Christ, a witness to his gift of eternal life is to be like Christ, to be holy as he is holy, righteous as he is righteous—obedient to the Father, generous in sacrifice, merciful in judgment, resistant to temptation, hopeful and not despairing, faultlessly forgiving of sin, grounded in prayer, and always, always willing to speak the truth in love.

Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

03 January 2006

But does it matter?

Christmas Weekday 3: I John 2.29-3.6, John 1.29-34
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

He is here! The true Light that enlightens everyone, the Word made flesh, our life of grace and truth. He is Lamb of God, Spirit Come Down, Son of the Father. He takes away the sin of the world. And he is here! After so long a wait, so long in anticipation, he is here among us, a child, a man, a victim, God. Finally, he is here.

And why could that possibly matter?

John the Baptist witnesses the arrival of Christ with this ground shaking truth: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Look! There he is: the One who will reconcile creation to the Creator, the One who will bring us back to the Father in love, the One who will dwell in Spirit with us always. John is announcing the historical healing of the wound that alienates us from our God, the breach that feeds and encourages our lawlessness, that makes us rebellious, hard-hearted, and mean. Separated from God we are less than we can be, much less than we should be, and nothing like we will be! To be everything that we can be, should be, and will be, we must wait for God, resting eagerly in anticipation of His arrival. We have. Now he is here! “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

And here is the truth of the Incarnation, the Christmas Event: Christ became flesh then so that we might become Christ now. In his letter, John, writes: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” Right now we know that we are God’s children, but what we will become hasn’t been shown to us yet. Whatever we become it starts with being children of the Father. He continues: “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This is our redemption! We shall be like him and see him as he is. That we were not like him and could not see him as he is was the result of “the sin of the world,” the yawning chasm between Creator and creation that only the Creator could close.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” The chasm is closed, bridged, healed and we are children of God now, heirs to His kingdom, prophets of His Word, priests of His Temple. We are Christs, like him, through him, with him, in him—forgiving, healing, preaching, teaching, making peace, hoping, loving, and sacrificing.

Christ became flesh then so that we might become Christ now. He becomes flesh now at this sacrifice so that we might become Christ now. To eat his Body and drink his Blood, to take into ourselves everything that he is for to us and for us, to become his flesh as he become ours—this is our redemption, this is why his coming matters, why his Incarnation makes a difference.

A witness must know that which he testifies about. John knew Christ b/c the Spirit revealed him. We know Christ b/c of John’s witness, the witness of the apostles and the continuing Church, and b/c we are children of God, given the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation. If any of this is to matter, if any of it is make a difference, it must be made known, proclaimed, heralded, preached aloud in word and deed. We cannot be quiet, deeply private, merely devotional Christs, praying in the desert! The Word is spoken. It is done. Made real for the world. Given flesh for us, for all.

We are the most faithful children of the Father, the brothers and sisters of Christ, when, in righteousness, we live our lives as witnesses to the destruction of sin, as living signs that we are no longer slaves to sin. That’s the difference. That’s why any of this matters.