Advent Proclaims: The Lord is in our Midst!

 

Third Sunday of Advent - December 13, 2015

Zephaniah 3: 14 – 20/First Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6)/Philippians 4: 4 – 7/

Luke 3: 7 – 18

 

Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos

 

 

This is the Third Sunday of Advent and we continue to prepare the way of the Lord.  The center figure in the Season of Advent is John the Baptist.  We share the same calling; we ourselves are called like John the Baptist was called. Our ministry, our mission also to do as he did: to prepare our hearts and to prepare the people; to make smooth the way of the Lord; to straighten out the crooked.  We do this where it is most needed - in the wilderness, in the waterless place where there is no life or living water.

 

The calling of John the Baptist was prophesied even as far back as Malachi where he was spoken of as to come in the spirit of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. In the New Testament, he was described like Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord and to make knowledge of salvation unto God’s people, to make straight the crooked and the rough smooth.

 

In the Canticle entitled Song of Zechariah, Zechariah mentions that John’s mission is to give knowledge of salvation unto God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins. My Bible says, “The knowledge of salvation consists in the forgiveness of sins.”  It is to give knowledge. Knowledge is more than intelligence, mental understanding.  It is more of an intimate, deep, association, interaction, understanding, connection with someone or something.  Adam knew his wife; he went into her; he slept with her; they had an intimate intercourse being husband and wife. It is a realization, an actualization, and a utilization of the fullness of something.  If we have a deep understanding of our forgiveness, then, we will understand more what salvation is, what eternal life is.  

 

In Luke 7:41-47 is a story about Jesus when He was eating at a Pharisee’s house.  There was this woman who was known to the owner of the house as a sinner.   This woman wept and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and anointed it with oil.”   Jesus read the mind of the Pharisee. The Pharisee was thinking, “If this man is indeed holy, then He would know that this woman who was doing this to Him is a sinner.”   Jesus addressed the Pharisee and said, “There is a story of two debtors where one owed much more than the other, but the master both forgave them.” He asked him, “Who do you think would love the master more?”  The Pharisee answered, “I supposed he to whom he forgave the most.”  Jesus said, “You are right.  I came to your house, you did not wash My feet or offered Me anything, but this woman did these things for me.  She constantly cried, washed My feet with her tears, wiped her tears with her hair, and put oil on them.  For this reason, her sins have been forgiven.” 

 

Our understanding might tell us, “You mean you have to do good works first before you can be forgiven?”   Absolutely not!  What Jesus is saying about the woman’s sins being forgiven is because her works are evident of the fact that her sins are forgiven.  She understood her forgiveness.  Her knowledge of her salvation consists in the realization of her sins being forgiven as proven by her expression of her love for Jesus who forgave her. 

 

On the internet, I have watched a video which was scripted.  A couple of people, one as the actor and the other one filming, would go to places where the actor would beg for food.  All the people that this actor approached who had food refused to give him food saying, “There is not enough for me.”   The last one that the actor approached was a homeless person in a park sleeping on a blanket.  The actor’s friend gave the beggar a bag of burger and fries.  The beggar was so grateful.  A few seconds later, the actor comes to the beggar and asks for food and the beggar freely and immediately shared his food.  Who knows when the last time was when the beggar ate?  The others who were not homeless did not share their food thinking that they did not have enough for themselves.  The beggar was so grateful that he had a meal for a moment and he shared his food. 

 

I am confronting us in our callousness.  We have grown so used to receiving blessings from God that we have forgotten how to count them.  We are so used to privileges we think they are rights. We are so used to blessings that we tend to forget God for them anymore.   If we understand that we have been forgiven and given life, the evidence of us realizing this is we show by giving back, by expressing our love to Him who granted us the forgiveness. The woman who washed Jesus’ feet understood her forgiveness. She understood the blessing of being forgiven so she gives back.  The beggar gives back.  We have been used to certain things that we don’t thank God anymore.    

 

What is the typical theme of our prayer whenever we pray to God?  Is it just simply, “I am not asking anything, Lord.  I just want to thank You. I thank You that I am still alive when I woke up this morning conscious and breather.” “I thank You for my family, for my Church.  I thank You for everything.  I may not thank You for this traffic, but I thank You for my vehicle.”  Is our prayer to God always asking as if we don’t have enough blessings that God has poured out upon us?   Let us not forget privileges and blessings.  Let us not be so used to receiving them that we are no longer thankful.

 

In Luke 3, John the Baptist told the people who were coming to him to have the knowledge of salvation by doing good works, by bringing forth fruit. Knowledge means the actualization, the fullness, the realization of salvation and eternal life. The knowledge of salvation is sharing your tunic; sharing your food; share your bonuses; share your blessings. John the Baptist told the soldiers, the tax collector, people like you and I, sinners in the eyes of others:  do not extort; don’t falsely accuse; be content. This is eternal life!  This is salvation. Salvation is simply righteousness being lived out, being actualized, being realized, being lived out to the fullness of it.  It is not merely something that we strive to earn thinking it is a reward.  Eternal life is the living out of these things not the result of doing these things.  We are not under evaluation where depending on it, we will go to heaven or hell. The right now is the living out of the eternal life.

 

In John 12:15, Jesus said, “I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me.” Jesus said that the obedience to God’s commandment results in eternal life.  Jesus says that His commandment is eternal life.  The obedience to it is itself eternal life because it means you have knowledge of who God is and who His Son is because you have knowledge of what They do, what They would do,  what They actually do and how They live out Their lives and how They operate.  It is always out of love.  The understanding of forgiveness, if it is alive in our hearts, draws us to God and makes us actually doers of good works, obedient to our Father. 

 

This should be what draws us to God. It is not the spectacular; not the eloquence of man speaking to us or of certain gifts. Some people go to a certain Church because their music is nice and the preacher really captivates the people. What about understanding the forgiveness of God which is salvation?  What is founded on man is weak.  It is not the gift, but the Giver.  It is not the creature but the Creator.  If we understand salvation, this is what is going to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers and the fathers to their children.  This is how to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.   This is how to make straight the crooked and the rough smooth.

 

Fr. Leo, at Daily Office, shared about  having many ideas of what crooked means, but one very major thing that may be crooked that we should really, really straighten out  is the way we regard our brother. Many times, it is a Pharisaic saying, “I am better than you.”  Sometimes, this is with condemnation, with bias, without love and without the benefit of the doubt.  We have a skewed understanding of forgiveness as Christians.  We understand it as, “God has mercy on me, but He operates in justice when it comes to other people.”  When we sin, we say, “God, forgive Me.”  When somebody else’s sin, we say, “God, mete out mercy as far as that person is concerned.  He did this, this is what he deserves.  I did this, maybe it would be okay, Lord.”   “Mercy for me, justice for them.” “I will make it; they won’t.” “I am chosen, they are condemned.”

 

We sing, “I am accepted; Jesus was condemned.”  Jesus was condemned not for “I” but for the life of the whole world.  It was not just for the chosen few.  He gave His life for all because God so loved the world. Back in 1988, based on this one book, we ‘semi-believed’ the rapture where Jesus would come and harvest just the chosen few and take them up to heaven and put them individually in different clouds and give hell to the rest of the people left behind on earth.  My friend said, “If we really have the heart of God, and we want all people to be saved, what we should do is to sell all our possessions and all the money that we will get from the proceeds will be used to buy books with and distribute them freely to everyone that we can reach if we really are concerned for them.”  But what we did is we bought one book for ourselves, read the book making it sure that we make it.  This is not the heart of God at all.

 

Our attitude is Pharisaic. “Thank You, Lord, You made me holy. I am not like that tax collector.  He shouldn’t be here because he is a sinner. Thank You that You chose me and I will make it to the door of heaven.”  This is the attitude towards the tax collectors and the likes of whom John the Baptist preached to.  The likes of whom Jesus said would enter the kingdom of God ahead of the hypocritical religious people. We want to save ourselves, which is why we want to jump ship. If something goes wrong, we say, “I am not going down with you. I am jumping off and saving myself.  I will migrate from there to here.  I will leave that company and look for another job with better opportunities.” This is because we love ourselves more than we love our neighbor, which is not exactly obeying the commandment of God.  God doesn’t give up on anyone.  We should have that heart of the captain of the ship, who should be the last to jump ship, making sure that everything and everyone is okay first.

 

2Corinthians 5:16, “From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.  We regard them as sinners, but a sinner of Christ's own redeeming, a brother for whom He died, and therefore if they respond to Him, they are a new creation, just like us.”  We have to have compassion, not condemnation.  Like God, we should not be willing that any perish; and so, we weep with those who weep; we rejoice with those who rejoice because we don’t want them to perish.  The context of 2Corinthians 5:16 is the reconciliation of the whole world.  God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. We should see our brother this way.  We should not see them as hopeless and give up on them because we see that our priority is self, and maybe, the family is next.   If that crookedness of how we see and regard each other is straightened out, then, the hearts of the fathers will be turned to the children and the hearts of the children will be turned to their fathers.

 

2Corinthians 5:18 says, “God reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”  It doesn’t end with us reconciling us to Himself, but it continues with Him giving us the ministry of reconciliation so that we could continue His work to the rest of all of mankind.  He made Himself known to us by reconciling us to Himself so that we can make Him known to others.   So beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.  You bring good news to those who don’t know it yet for they proclaim the peace that comes from God.  This is eternal life and eternal life is for the life of the world, not for the chosen few.

 

As we prepare for His coming, may every heart prepare Him room by regarding even the least of His brothers as He Himself.  God is in our midst and He is right where we want to escape.  He is right where we want to live.  He is right there where there is darkness because He wants light there.  He is right there in the least of His brothers.  They are not to be avoided, but they are to be addressed and ministered to because Jesus is in our midst.  He doesn’t just stay in heaven where it is comfortable. He is in our midst where there is hatred and we are expected to bring love.  Where there is hopelessness, sickness, despair, He wants us to make channels of us because He is in our midst. 

 

Philippians 4 says, “Let your kindness be known to all men.”  Let God’s life be known to all men, and then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Then, I believe and I know that we will discover true joy and we will see that it is not a burden.  We will see that it is more than an obligation, but joy. Any time that we impart life, we bring joy and derive joy. 

 

This is what eternal life is and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.

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