The Pas Advent 2
9 December 2018
Canticle 19a The Song of Zechariah
God of timeless grace, you fill us with joyful expectation: make us ready for the message that prepares the way, so that with uprightness of heart and holy joy we may eagerly await the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
As I was reading the lessons assigned for today, a phrase of Paul’s stood out forme.
In his letter to the Philippians, today, Paul tells us “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phi 1:6b)
Now, in this passage, its easy to see that Paul is lauding, praising, and encouraging the people of Philippi in their faith, in their growth, and in their efforts on behalf of the gospel.
And according to Paul’s words, today, we could easily expect to see such works still being carried out, not just in Philippi, but all around the world where Christianity is observed, is adhered to, is followed because “the day of Christ Jesus”hasn’t yet arrived.
We can expect to find this ongoing Christian activity, this ongoing Christian education, and this ongoing love of the gospel, because this message is bigger than just for the community at Philippi.
It’s a promise that as long as we believe in Christ, as long as we follow the teachings of Jesus, and share those teachings in word, in action all around us,then we are living into Paul’s praise, today.
And frankly, it’s a message that’s still pertinent for each one of us because we can see what Paul, in the letter to the Philippians, is telling us in thegospel. We can see it in John the Baptist emerging from the life of a Desert Father to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, fulfilling the words of Isaiah, spoken.Words that were written down generations before John’s birth.
We can see that the message that John proclaims of the coming of the Messiah has been planned, by God since the dawn of the world, has been proclaimed publicly to the Israelite people centuries before it comes to pass, in the actions, inthe message, in the ministry of John, today.
“4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Lk 3:4)
And John carries on with Isiah’s words of prophesy from that point and throughout his career.
But this message in Isaiah’s book, hasn’t been hidden under a rock, rather it’sbeen celebrated, anticipated, and even looked for in the words and in the actions of the prophets since the days of Isaiah.
So, now that John emerges from the wilderness proclaiming Isaiah’s words, we’re reminded of what Paul tells us that our actions, our faith lived out today is asign of actions of deeds that will not be fulfilled within our lifetimes but will be fulfilled in the day that Christ comes in Christ’s glory.
And in looking at all of this, just looking at the increase in commercials on tv, I’m reminded that we live in a society that has become a society that focuses upon instant gratification, instead of a society that literally will wait centuries, for generations, to see the fulfillment of God.
And such waiting wasn’t easy, then, and it isn’t easy now. There were those, in John’s day, and in the generations between Isaiah and John the Baptist, who like today, have difficulty in waiting for God’s fulfillment, yet this is exactly what we’re experiencing.
If we look at the Old Testament, as a whole, we see that the Israelite people have waited from the time of Isaiah for John to emerge and proclaim the coming ofthe Messiah.
They’ve waited through captivity, through political and military domination. They’ve waited through the ups and downs of society that has seen them remember the good times fondly and think to the future with hope.
They’ve waited generations for John to come and to proclaim the words written down in the days of Isaiah. “‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’” (Lk 3:4b-6)
But it’s not just the message that John spends most of his career proclaiming but that he emerges from the meditative refuge of the wilderness to make this proclamation, to God’s people, to bring to life God’s prophesy, through Isaiah, to see its fulfillment in his own lifetime.
Although it’s unexpected, John sees the Messiah, he acknowledges that this is the fulfillment of God’s will for which we’ve waited centuries.
And,this is what Paul is talking about in todays letter to the Philippians. He’s telling them, he’s reminding us today, that we carry on works of faith that were begun by those who came before and will be carried on by others after our time is finished.
But he doesn’t stop with his opening remarks. Rather he continues with his words of gushing praise. He says “7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of youwith the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phi 1:7-8)
AsPaul points out, works of faith that are begun by us will be carried on by others, after we are gone, and this will continue until Christ comes again.
And this came up at a bible study, this week. How in the early days of Christianity, the apostles and disciples all expected Christ to return within their lifetimes. That the end of times that Jesus describes is ‘just over the hill,around the corner, and behind the tree’.
But here we are, still on our journey of faith, still living into the promises of Jesus to come again, still spreading the good news of the gospel to those who haven’t heard it or perhaps haven’t heard it for a very long time.
And still Paul encourages us.
He says: “3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phi 1:3-6)
So,we are encouraged to carry on with a life of faith, with doing good works because we are saved, because we are the children of God.
Weare encouraged by John, proclaiming Isiah’s words. We are encouraged by Paul proclaiming his hope and his pride in us, those who follow the teachings of Christ, and growing in our faith, not just today, but every day.
The road is longer than we want to imagine, yet we are encouraged.
The prophesies we see come to pass were proclaimed in generations so long ago, thatwe cannot imagine what their lives were like, yet we are encouraged.
So, if we are so encouraged from Paul, from Isaiah, from John, then we need to continue to encourage each other, and ourselves, in the face of today’s instant gratification society.
We need to look back and ponder how do we model these old values of faith and patience in the face of our modern expectations?
This is our challenge, isn’t it? How we respond to this encouragement, to grow in our knowledge of the gospel, in our life in prayer, in our good words that will be carried on until the day of Christ Jesus.
Our challenge is how to look for, how to model for those who come after us, the delayed gratification that will be only realized when we ourselves meet the Messiah face to face.
But Paul sees this, Paul acknowledges the difficulty of believing without seeing, and he encourages us to go on with our lives of faith knowing that our reward isn’t in this world, but in the world to come.
Knowing that what we do here will only be fulfilled down the road, at some unexpected time, and in a way that only God can foresee.
So, we turn to Paul. We look for the positive reinforcement, as we carry on our lives of faith, as we turn to each other for that encouragement that keeps us going.
And Paul tells us: “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”(Phi 1:9-11)
So, today, we find ourselves surrounded by Paul’s encouragement, upheld by Paul’s advice, and encouraged by Paul’s prayers on our behalf, as we continue to move forward in our lives of faith, in our ability to live out the will of God for the world around us, in the teachings of Christ.
Today we find that we can learn from the Israelite people how to wait for God, for Christ to return to us, in God’s own time, as our hearts wait for Christ’s fulfillment. We can learn from the generations between Isaiah’s prophesy to Johns fulfillment of that prophesy in word and in action.
We can learn from them the meaning of delayed gratification in the will of God as we wait for Christ to come again, to complete what was started in each of our hearts, and to see the completion in the hands of one who will come after us.
Paul reminds us: “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phi 1:6)
Because in faith, “all people will see God’s salvation.” (Lk 3:6)