“Disciples of the Son”
December 18, 2016
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 7: 10 – 17 / Psalm 80: 1-7; 16-19 / Romans 1: 1 – 7 / Matthew 1: 18 - 25
Bishop Elmer Belmonte
Several years ago, I have not really heard from God every day; but there are certain occasions that God allows us to hear a direction from Him. In my 35 years of serving the Lord from a Charismatic standpoint, I have heard God twice. One was when I first became born-again. I was nineteen years old and I was in third-year college, trying to be an engineer, and trying to prepare for a career and have a family. I got involved in our Church’s first outreach in 1979 -1980 in Sorsogon and I gave my life to Jesus Christ. I fell in love with the Church and in serving the Lord. I said, “This is really for me. I love to serve God.”
The question came to me on whether I was going to pursue my career or whether I was going to serve God. I was confused, so I prayed to God and asked Him what I should do. He told me these very words that I will never forget, “I don't need engineers in heaven. I want preachers now.” I got the message that He wanted me to give my life to Him. I attended CTC and my first assignment was to go to Olongapo and be a pastor. In a couple of years, I was sent to Europe, and now comes all these ministries that I have never really expected and foreseen. Have God told me then that I will go to Europe in two or three years, I would have said, “No.”
The second time I felt that God was speaking to me was sometime in 1998. I was in Madrid and I was going to do a seminar last October 12, 1998. I was praying and nearby my hotel was a Roman Catholic Church. I entered the Church and the Mass just ended. The candles were still lit. In a little while, there was a sacristan that came out from the sacristy and extinguished the candles and said to us who were in the nave, “The Church is closing because it is siesta time. Leave. Go out. We will close the Church.” As he was extinguishing the candles, God spoke these very strong words to me, “The Charismatic Episcopal Church is a new fire kindled from the embers of old.”
I am starting with this because the Season of Advent is the rekindling of four things that are important. The Season of Advent is full of many messages such as: be ready for the Lord. We get involved and distracted with so many things in life that we really forget what is important. Never forget that God is coming again, and it is the second time that Christ is coming. The first time that Jesus Christ came, man judged Him, and He was nailed to the cross. The second time that He is going to come, He will judge us. He will come as King and Lord over all His creation.
Advent has the message of readiness, the message of being prepared. The Season has a message of repentance; the message of waiting until the coming of Christ. Some people would say, “How come Jesus has not come yet? He has not said anything when He is coming.” Jesus said, “I am coming.” God is wiser than we are. People have speculated His second coming. We want His coming. We want Him to return and He will return. If Jesus says, “I am coming back on December 31, 2016, at 7:00 o’clock in the morning,” what will do if we know the time? We will sin. We will do all stupid things, and one day before, we will line up in Church and make our confession.
The problem with sin is that it feels good. We all sin and we say that the reason we are in Church is because we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and we want to come to Church and ask God to forgive us. Thank God for Advent reminds us, “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” We have divided sin in categories – venial sin; mortal sin; and cardinal sin. From the Book of Common Prayer, there are only two kinds of sin. The first is the sin of commission, which is something that we commit that God says we should not do. The second is the sin of omission which is something that God said to us to do but we did not do.
Today, people don’t like to talk about sin, and this is a danger because one day, our society will no longer know what is good and what is evil. We speak about sin because we are sinners. We speak about sin because Jesus forgave all our sins. “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” If we take away sin from the equation, then, we take away what Christianity believes. We speak not about sin because we want to condemn people, but because we have to understand that it was because of the love of God that He eradicated, annihilated, and vanquished the power of sin and death in our lives. We don’t necessarily rejoice because we are sinners. We rejoice because Jesus dealt with the sin problem.
I am not here to condemn people. I make mistakes. The Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. The reason I am here is because I made a mistake, and I need the assurance from God that He will never abandon me despite the fact that I make mistakes. He still loves me and He doesn’t condone my mistakes. I will face the consequences of my mistakes.
There was the story of a man who went to a priest for confession. He said, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I stole one chicken last night from my neighbor.” The priest said, “Well, say one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be for your penance.” The next day, the man said, “Father, forgive me again for I have sinned. I stole another chicken.” The priest said, “Well, this time you do two Our Fathers, two Hail Marys, and two Glory Bes for your penance.” The third day, the man stole another chicken so he went back to the priest. He said, “Father, forgive me for I stole another chicken for the third time.” The priest said, “Say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and three Glory Bes.” The man said, “Father, can you make it four because I am going to steal another chicken tonight?”
This is human nature, but one thing we know is that God loves us and if we are not tired of asking God for forgiveness, God will never be tired of forgiving us. God is a God of second chances. Can you imagine if you sin and you immediately go to hell?
God wants us to revive and rekindle in us hope, faith, joy, and love. Looking at hope, why do we hope in life? Hope is founded on the promise of God. Why do we hope of His coming? It is because He promised it. Will God tell a lie? He can never tell a lie. The devil is a liar, but not God, because if God lies, He is no longer God. He is disqualified to be God. God can never tell a lie. This is not His nature. When God says that He is coming again, He is coming again whether we like it or not, whether we are ready or not, whether we are prepared or not. Yes, He comes to us in the Eucharist, but there is this particular time, the consummation of time when He is going to come back, when we, the Church, will be wedded because we have been betrothed. There is going to be the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. In the liturgy, we say, “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” This means we need to be ready.
God is also going to rekindle in us our faith. What is faith? The way I learned faith during the Charismatic days was “name it and claim it.” To be faithful is to remain faithful to God until He comes. I don’t believe in polygamy; I believe in monogamy. This is teaching men to be faithful to their wives and this means being faithful to God until He comes.
There are six million Muslims that are converting to Christianity in the Middle East every year. There was this story wherein there was an Imam in Saudi Arabia that was interviewed on television because it has become alarming that six million Muslims are being converted to Christianity. They started putting emphasis on their evangelism. One day, they were evangelizing in Africa in the villages and they had this selling point. “What do you want? To worship three Gods and have one wife? If you become a Christian, you actually have three Gods and one wife. If you become Muslim, you have Allah, but you have four wives.” The African was asked this and he answered, “I would like to have four wives. I will be Muslim.” The one asking him said, “But you have to be circumcised.” The African said, “Okay! A little sacrifice and a little pain is okay as long as I have four wives.” After he entered into the Islam religion, he was catechized and he was taught the Muslim faith and was told, “If you ever leave this faith, we will cut your head.” He said, “What kind of religion is this? When I joined them, I was circumcised. Now, if I leave, I have to be cut again.”
We need to remain faithful. Is our faith in ourselves, in man, in governments or in science? We need to examine ourselves what our faith really is. Why is our faith tested? Our faith is tested to understand and to know if our faith is genuine or not.
God wants to rekindle hope, faith and the third is joy. When I was in Madrid in 1999, in our Church, we had four people. One’s name was Funny. The second was Joy. The third person’s name was Jubilee, and the fourth was named Happy. However, it was the saddest Church that I have ever been. The problem today is we don’t know the difference between joy and happiness. People today are obsessed with being happy. They say, “As long as I am happy, it is okay. I determine my own morality. Who are you to tell me that I don’t have my right to be happy?”
Everything today has to do with happiness. It is what makes one happy. Happiness is based on things that are external. Joy is something that we cannot acquire without entering into a relationship with Jesus. This is why Jesus said, “Come, enter in the joy of your Lord.” We’ve got to enter into something for us to experience joy. Frederick Nietzsche is one of the most terrible person that accused Christianity of saying that Christianity is void of joy. We cannot fabricate joy. God is the One who gives us joy when we enter into a relationship with Him.
Our gospel today is a prelude to the birth of Jesus Christ. We have different focal points. One is Joseph whom we don’t know a lot about. The only thing we know is that Joseph was a carpenter. He trained Jesus to be a good carpenter. The second one is that the birth of Christ was done by God Himself.
One of the ways to interpret Scriptures is to look at other incidents in the Scriptures that convey the same message. When Eve was fashioned by God, what happened to Adam? God got a syringe and anesthetized and sedated Adam. He was unconscious and God did what He was supposed to do. I am just making up the story to point to us that there are certain things that God does without our help. It is purely His work. We can be a part of it. Joseph was part of the birth. He was betrothed to Mary; Mary was a virgin which means she was pure and then God used her womb to bring forth Christ as an incarnate.
We may ask, “Who is the Blessed Virgin Mary?” Why do we call her by that name? She is the mother of God, but that doesn’t make her God. Otherwise, we will throw out the window the doctrine of the Trinity. To the parents, the true parent of your children is God. God allowed you to participate in His creative power, but in truth, one day, your children and you will all go back to God. Birth is not something that was created by man or a child was born because the mother and the father were in love with each other. When we were created, birth and life start in the mind of God because He wanted us to be born. It was not our parents who gave life to us. Even a mother can have a dead child in her womb. God is the Life-giver. The Blessed Virgin Mary became a part of what God was doing.
The third important point in the gospel is the names Emmanuel and Jesus. Emmanuel means God with us. God always wanted to be with His people. He wanted to be in the midst of His people. We are reminded today of two names: Jesus and Emmanuel and how important it is that we use the right name for our children.
In the birth of Jesus Christ, it speaks to us of our new birth. When we became children of God, Christ was birthed inside of us. This is the reason we were called Christians. On Christmas Day, we don’t simply celebrate the gift-giving, but we celebrate that God gave us new life, new creation. Jesus is born inside of every single one of us. Beyond all the frills of Christmas and its commercialism, let us never forget that the reason we are celebrating Christmas is because the image of Christ is born in our hearts. Christ is born in every single one of us!