The importance of Christmas now more than ever.

am_93473_3681716_863070This is my first Christmas sermon and I have probably written and deleted the start of it several times. I am writing this in hopes it will reach those online Christians who perhaps cannot get to a church for Christmas or those who perhaps have no inclination to go to church and happen to stumble on this sermon by chance. We live in a day and age where mankind can connect to more people across the world at any other time in the history of our being and yet studies show we are so disconnected from each other that people feel more isolated and lonely now than at any other time in history. It is with that sense of detachment that I choose the topic for my first Christmas sermon, the importance of Christmas now more than ever. And it is in that spirit that I take not the traditional Scriptural texts for my inspiration but something from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 31:6: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”

One of my favourite types of texts to read is historic biographies, specifically of prophets, ministers, missionaries, holy men, and chaplains. I could lose myself in the story of military chaplain’s for hours. I recently came across the story of a Christmas miracle that I would like to introduce this first Christmas sermon for me. It was Christmas 1969 and a young corporal in the U.S. military was spending his first Christmas away from home, in South Vietnam. To ring in the holidays he had been under constant gun fire, he had lost a large amount of his unit and his brother in law whom he had come over with was M.I.A. Now this corporal, we will call him “Charlie” was alone, he had not seen anyone from his company in days and truthfully he did not even know what day it was-he could only roughly guess it was close to Christmas. Now at this time guerrilla’s in the bush was quite common and so the threat of being captured or killed was very real. Charlie felt someone watching him, he was cold, wet, hungry, exhausted, and was sure he would be dead very soon. Then a jeep came up behind him, Charlie immediately went on the defensive ready to engage the enemy but he heard a voice in the headlights, “Corporal Charles is that you?”; Charlie was immediately taken aback, the voice was American, he crept forward slowly ever wary and fearful his mind was playing tricks on him. The driver approached and he immediately saw the signs of the cross, the American uniform, and the chaplain pins. This large man approached Charlie, he was rugged, large, and a mountain of a human being but Charlie would later describe him as having the most gentle of natures. The chaplain had received the remaining of Charlie’s unit including his brother in law and everyone was worried about Charlie and giving that it was the day before Christmas Eve the commanding officer had given special dispensation to go and do a search for this lost soldier. Charlie found himself amongst a very distraught unit with several other companies as well. They had been decimated, they had lost so many men and even though they were together somewhat they were away from home, not at the USO shows and were living off bare rations in a hollowed out Vietnamese church with candles. The priest had been working with the chaplain and they had tried to create a makeshift home for Christmas, some of the villagers had donated some meagre rations even. Morale was at an all time low and things like sing alongs, games, and storytelling raised spirits only minimally. The chaplain looked at these 70+ beaten boys sitting around the church, huddling by little make shift fires and lying on pews. He knew going up the pulpit for a rousing sermon may not end up working. These boys felt alone at Christmas and so they needed to be unified as a family. Chaplain went around and rounded up and had them sit around a larger campfire just outside the front door of the church, he sat amongst them, and he looked up at the sky, the stars were so beautiful and that text of God putting the stars into place and knowing them by name came into his mind, and it is with that inspiration he began his Christmas sermon, completely improv! Slowly boys started listening, they arose from their stupor and began to hang on his words, contemplating them, and if anyone was looking off into the distance it was not because of boredom or disagreement but because of reflection. The chaplain was not giving an eloquent sermon but just talking in the manner that someone would if they were praying by themselves or talking with a close friend. One soldier recounted that at that moment they did not feel lonely but almost at a spiritual retreat or a camp, they felt connected to each other, the chaplain, and the Being he was talking about. “Charlie” said that the sermon had given many of them hope and truly still does even decades later. Now this was a summary of an anonymous story I read in an article called “Christmas Miracles at the Front” and I am sure I did not do it justice but it sets the tone for the rest of the sermon on how God dispels loneliness particularly at Christmas.

In the Holy Bible we see images of darkness, evil, loneliness, and yet they are always balanced with light, good, comfort, and hope. The Bible is very realistic in the way the human condition is presented but it also presents God as the one who corrects it and brings salvation. I want to look at 3 groups of people who played a part in the Christmas story and the comfort they would have received in their times of loneliness, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds, and the wise men.

Let us look at Mary; Mary came from a peasant background, she was a descendent from the line of David as was Joseph but her father Joachim and Anna were relatively obscure and poor.  Nazareth would have been the equivalent of our low socio-economic areas in today’s society.  Mary being in a traditional Jewish family would have always been chaperoned by either her father, brothers, uncles, or other women.  She would have rarely been alone.  But then when the angel Gabriel came to her at the Annunciation the loneliness Mary felt must have been overwhelming.  This would have been for several reasons, 1)  She was still a child, 13 or 14 maximum she did not have the comprehension or understanding of what was being asked of her, all she had to go on was her faith but she had no concept on who to go for support in this at that moment.  She had to know that an unmarried woman with a child could be executed, and also these consequences would extend to her family as well.  Even if she claimed she had been raped by a Roman soldier the child would be killed and she would still be viewed as unclean so while it would save her life it would be a lie and still culturally stigmatised; Mary was a pious girl but she was in a no win situation if she tried to do anything but submit to God’s will.  But then Gabriel gives her hope that this is of God and the proof lies with Cousin Elizabeth.  We know the prophecy is true, Elizabeth is with child at an impossible age and even more this child reacts to the Spirit of God while in the womb informing Elizabeth of what Mary carries as a further reassurance to the Virgin.  See these moments of loneliness and fear for us in the grand spectrum of eternity do not make a difference because when these fears, negative anxieties, and whispers of the enemy are quickly in God’s time countered with reassurance in real and legitimate form.

But then there is another person in this equation, very much the forgotten player in the Holy family; Jesus’ foster father, Joseph.  Joseph would have been older than Mary, some scholars say as old as late 30’s; he would have been a distant relative of Mary because Jewish custom dictated that a potential husband should be someone relatively connected in lineage to the family.  Joseph  had just been told about what has happened, the feelings he must have experienced, the obvious one being betrayal, he must have felt isolated that this happened, because while he would not be punished he would have been isolated from the community and shunned for letting this happen.  He would have been living with Mary’s family but would have had to move out since the contract was null and void.  Truly he would have felt rejected and outside God’s favour for such a thing to happen.  Yet again the Lord comes swiftly with reassurance in the angel reassuring Joseph, not only is this all true but God wants you to raise the boy.  Joseph goes from shock, hurt, and despair at this time to reassurance, blessing, and honour.  So he takes Mary into his house they have just each other to rely on and God.  See ladies and gentlemen God often brings comfort to us in different ways, it often times is a friend, neighbour, or even a stranger to bring us Christmas cheer.  Other times it can be an email or note arriving to us at our lowest point.  See in the gospels of Luke and Matthew it gives us the facts but negates a person’s mental status and emotions at this time.  I believe this is a benefit for two reasons: 1) it allows us to empathise and relate to the characters and 2) the writer does not assume what someone like the Virgin Mary should be feeling, emotions and thoughts are often between you and God, God knows our desires, hopes, and dreams and only He can respond with exactly what we need.  Imagine Mary and Joseph leaving Nazareth towards Bethlehem, the whispers of scandal still swirling around about the pregnancy (later in the gospels Jesus is still identified as Joseph’s son so even then in Nazareth He was not recognised for what He was).  The Holy Family journeyed through one of the harshest environments on earth, we are not sure if they knew that out of Bethlehem the Saviour would be born and we are not sure where exactly Christ was born but we know there was no room in the inn, even then they felt rejected but there is one thing we must always remember brothers and sisters, when we feel the world is against us (and as Christians they may be) God is always for us and we cannot lose then!

I remember a story of a homeless teen in Montreal, Canada.  She had been abused by her foster parents, had been living with a much older boyfriend and had gotten into the drugs and alcohol.  She was in a particularly bad way one night; it was miserably cold, too cold for even snow and she was contemplating ending it all.  She decided to walk into the river, she did not take anything off, but suddenly she panicked and tried to get out, as the cold filled her body she started to feel hopelessness, she thought it was too late and fell into the depths of sadness and depression.  She sank below and it went black.  Time seemed to drag on in that black deep but then this teen awoke in a hospital.  It was two days after the suicide attempt.  She had no recollection of how she got there.  She called the nurse and inquired, evidently according to the nurse someone had been boating up the river, noticed the girl and jumped in to save her, warmed her, brought her to the shore and the girl was dipping in and out of consciousness.  An ambulance came along with police, they took the girl away, the police questioned the hero and he disappeared into the mist.  The girl never found out who her saviour was and the police could not locate his statement.  She took it as a gift from God, and got the hint, several years later she is a successful school teacher with a husband and foster kids.  She is now the saving grace that God sends to people who are like she once was.

This woman has been a wise guide to many.  Now I would like to move onto others who were wise; the wise men in the Bible or the Magi, specifically whose story is located in the Gospel of Matthew.  Historians and Biblical scholars agree they were most likely of Persian, Chinese, or Middle Eastern in some way.  Since they were tracking the Star of Bethlehem they were also most likely astrologers and since they had a sense of the Son of God being connected with the star and the prophecies behind it they were assumed to be holy men, possibly Zoroaster priests.  In the Gospel of Matthew they come sometime after the birth of Christ when He is a young child, most likely a toddler.  They followed the star and worshipped Him.  I think about the far trek they had to make, truly farther than the shepherds or the Holy Family.  I imagine them journeying through desert, jungle, forest, and hostile territory.  They may have had servants, and they did have each other but they were feeling a loneliness that the others did not, the loneliness of being away from ones home.  They would have been gone for months if not years and there is no guarantee they returned to their homes safely since the journey was so perilous.  Yet this was inconsequential for them because the star was so important for their knowledge and the Christ child was important for their knowledge, faith, spirits, and everything else.  Meeting Him and Mary was the pinnacle of this pilgrimage of theirs and it made up for the countless months of loneliness, isolation, and separation from all they knew.  In this day of easy travel people are often separated from their loved ones at Christmas and it can be a very hard; some people do not mind it, but most often that is from developing a thick skin from it happening multiple times over the years.  When I was in China for a year we did not have Christmas off and the employer warned us of this when we were hired and I did not think it would bother me.  Being in China many people travelled or went with friends, we saw many Christmas decorations but what stands out to me is being in my own hollowed out apartment in a grungy apartment building.  I was in my room with a small stand-up cross on a small desk with a small candle reading the Biblical Christmas stories and listening to carols and Christmas chants.  I had just finished a very nice dinner in a restaurant but it was by myself.  And I was going to watch some Christmas movies and Skype wit my parents and my then fiancée but as I was reading my Bible at that desk in my pathetic little apartment I was overcome with sadness and absolute emptiness, a sense of being so insignificant that I felt forgotten.  And yet I felt a connection, because in that communist country I shared this holy time with millions of underground Christians who many were alone in their own hollowed out hovels; we were connected by the Spirit.  I felt so reassured by that, I did not feel empty or cut off from the world I felt God’s hand of peace on me but it made me think about another group of people who would have felt isolated and empty and cut off from the world; the shepherds.

The Annunciation to the Shepherds is one of the most memorable stories in the Bible found in the Gospel of Matthew.  These shepherds often inherited their flocks ancestrally.  They often lived in caves in the wilderness and many of them lived by themselves for most of their lives.  These people were a culture unto themselves; they were not versed in religious or political matters, they were concerned with the seasons, the survival of their families, their flocks, and themselves (in that order most of the time).  They had their own oral traditions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter.  Truly the Bible is filled with countless references to shepherds and a nomadic lifestyle (Moses, Abraham, and many more).  Yet this class of people would have never expected to encounter anything that would have them recorded in the memory of the world for all time.  They were not aware of a coming Messiah and they maybe got to the temple or a synagogue occasionally having a rudimentary sense of God and a simple yet pure faith.  So when the angel of the Lord announced to them the birth of a Saviour they were the first to worship. They were chosen out of all of humanity.  The theme of Jesus’ life was of a Saviour coming for the lowest of the low, the sinner, the sick, not the priests and the rich.  It was a theme that began with the shepherds.  It was not necessarily that they were geographically close but that the most important event which happened to humanity was being reserved for them.  It must have been so overwhelming, a sense of loneliness, isolation, and emptiness that may have possibly occupied their lives replaced by self worth, awe, humility, a sense of God’s love and joy.  See people can empathise with the shepherds because they too are lonely and isolated by their lives, the situation they were born into, or their jobs.  I knew a woman once who was born the only girl in an all male Muslim family, truly even her mother was gone and so she had no one to guide her in the ways of womanhood, she was to serve her family until she was married in an arrangement organised by her father and then she would serve her husband.  This was a large amount of culture being enforced in the name of a religion.  Even the girl’s friends seemed to happily follow this and both them, the family, and even the girl could not understand why with every fibre of her body and soul she rejected this culture and teaching.  She felt like her fate was decided before she was born and she hoped for an event that would alter her destiny.  She encountered this in a born again Christian missionary who visited her village.  This nun was accepted into the village due to the Muslim respect for Mary and the clergy.  The nun enlisted the assistance of the Muslim girl in setting up community programs.  The father did not have an issue with it because it was keeping her away from the secular influence but she was not to go into the church.  Yet the wonderful thing about Christ ladies and gentlemen is that the Spirit works from the inside out and the seed was already planted.  One night, the girl gave her life to Christ and the plan began to smuggle her out of the village to a safe haven because the penalty for conversion was quite severe.  After years of hardship, danger, and abuse the girl escaped her former life and now resides in Europe working with aid agencies.  Her, like the shepherds felt this isolation and loneliness from birth and felt like it was beyond possibility to experience a miracle, and yet it was the greatest miracles that were reserved for the forgotten or untouchables of society.  The greatest miracles can be and are meant for the single mother raising 4 kids on her own, the senior citizen who is alone on Christmas, the international student who is separated from country and kin.

Mary and Joseph experienced loneliness and isolation from actions initiated by others.  The wise men experienced loneliness and isolation from country and home due to a call of God.  And the shepherds experienced these feelings from birth and the lives they were born into.  This Christmas you may be alone and dismayed by actions outside your control, those that you initiated, or those initiated by others.  What you need to know is that whatever your circumstance God loves you!  There are countless church services happening right now, there are outreach programs, and community programs to connect you to a spiritual family.  The baby Christ was born into poverty and an enslaved people and yet He had people there to support Him, including God the Father!  You have God there with you right now, and people are out there who want to make that connection with you this Christmas.  This is the central tenant of Christ’s message.  God loves you, Christ is here for you and you are never alone!  “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”Luke 2:10-15.  In this day and age when we can be connected to people more than at any time in human history we are disconnected more more than ever and yet God remains, He will never leave us nor forsake us, we are never alone, never really alone.  Merry Christmas, may the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ whose nativity we remember this day grant you the peace of God, the joy of salvation and the sense of belonging and fulfilment that only He can bring.

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Keeping a Holy Advent

AdventI personally wish I had done an Advent sermon series every week this year, but we will save that for next year. This sermon is an interlude from the “Attributes of God” series that we have been plugging through. Often the early church missionaries, preachers, and pastors from churches all around Europe preached at length on the topic of Advent and Lent. They spoke about the importance of increased prayers, devotions, fasting, and true penance. In this day and age we take a very laid back attitude to these types of holy times thinking that they are from an antiquated time. That it is neither necessary nor acceptable. But as Paul says if a person is worshipping Christ we should not try to curtail their efforts or their forms of worship and devotion. Everyone I have spoken to speaks of how keeping a holy Advent and Lent gives them substance and a closer, more sacred experience leading up to Christmas. Jews and Muslims for centuries have been going through their own holy high holidays and have gained deeper, more meaningful experiences in their faith; why do we give up that same right? The point of this sermon today for our online parishioners and those who will be hearing it in an actual church is to give an overview of the Advent season, the meaning behind it, the journey through it, and the devotions it brings to the Nativity.

Most Christians know how December 25th was chosen as the universal day for Christmas, but not as many people know the story of Advent. An anglicanized version of the Latin “adventus” (coming) formal observances, fasting, and devotion began in the fourth century. The Eastern Orthodox churches have an Advent like time that begins in the middle of November and goes into January; it is focussed on fasting, prayer, repentance, and abstinence. As I said in the western church Advent began to be a formalised holy time around the 4th century. It is hard to assess where this formal time first emerged as a recognised portion in the church liturgal calendar but the earliest record we have of a formal observance is in France. It was originally meant as a preparation time for the Feast of the Epiphany where converts would be baptised. It began as only a few weeks but to mirror Lent in a parallelism was made 40 days. In 380 A.D., the local Council of Saragossa, Spain, established a three-week fast before Epiphany. It was inspired by the Lenten regulations, the local Council of Macon, France, in 581 designated that from Nov. 11 (the Feast of St. Martin of Tours) until Christmas fasting would be required on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Eventually, similar practices spread to England. In Rome, the Advent preparation did not appear until the sixth century, and was viewed as a preparation for Christmas.

The Church gradually formalized the celebration of Advent. Traditionalists attributed Pope Gelasius I (d. 496), to be the man that was the first to provide Advent liturgies for five Sundays. Later, Pope Gregory I (d. 604) went further composing prayers, antiphons, readings, and responses. Pope Gregory VII later reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four. Finally, about the ninth century, the Church designated the first Sunday of Advent as the beginning of the Church year.

But what are the Advent customs? Some of the more common customs I will touch upon (because the actual focus of this sermon is keeping a holy Advent). The first is being the Advent wreathe. This 4 candle wreath ornament came about in the 1500’s from German Lutherans (legend states that Martin Luther himself may have been the original creator of it). Each candle is meant for each week and each candle has a specific meaning. The wreathe is a circle, which has no beginning or end: So we call to mind how our lives, here and now, participate in the eternity of God’s plan of salvation and how we hope to share eternal life. The wreathe is made of fresh plant material, because Christ came to give us new life through His passion, death, and resurrection. Three candles are purple, symbolizing penance, preparation, and sacrifice; the pink candle symbolizes the same but highlights the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudette Sunday, when we rejoice because our preparation is now half-way finished.

The light represents Christ, who entered this world to bring light to a dark room. The lighting of candles is meant to be a journey as so many journeyed to worship the Babe wrapped in swaddling and lying in a manger.   Let’s look at the devotion that each week holds, who are the players in it, what are the circumstances, and what is the reflection for that week. Some of the things that bother me with many advent devotions are that people often use random, glib, and shallow reflections for their advent devotions that have nothing to do with the preparation of Christ’s Nativity.  One devotion recently compared the coming of Christ to a Justin Bieber concert!  While all of the Bible is important Advent is a time of reflection, study, and devotion focussing on one specific event, Christ’s birth and while it is all leading up to Christ’s resurrection other things can get in the way, worldly noises that can drown out the glad tidings of great joy.

2081228827_545468587e_sWeek 1: In this first week traditionally Advent observers will begin either on the last day of November or the first of December, or roughly when the beginning of the 40 days counting back from Christmas begins. They light that first candle on a Sunday night, some let it burn all week and others light it every night after the evening meal. This parallels the Chanukah candles. We reflect on how that single light throws us back to 1000 years before Christ came.  To the time of the prophet Isaiah, that single light offering hope in a world of craze and darkness. It symbolises the longing and hope the people of Israel (as well as us for we are Abraham’s decedents) have for the coming of the Messiah and how long we have been waiting for Him. In the Advent devotions we begin with the texts of Isaiah. This was a book that was found 100% in tact at the Dead Sea and it is often called the book of prophecy since it deals largely more than any other Old Testament gospel with direct signs, histories, references, and prophecies of the coming Messiah. Even though it often speaks in metaphor and imagery Jewish and later Christian scholars could clearly see that it was referencing times that were being recorded through the eyes of the Prophet. In the book of Jeremiah the Lord proclaims that there is a time where someone will arise from the House of David, He shall save Judah and Jerusalem and make them secure and safe. In Isaiah we are shown how Israel has angered God consistently and has fallen away so many times that a plan will be revealed to save them from their bondage (granted they thought literal bondage, whether it was the Babylonians or the Romans) but it was their bondage that prevented them from living in a holy state before a just God. The first week emphasises to us the importance of being earnest in the same way we have made the mistake of turning away from God we are told that enough is enough just as the Israelites had been told. There is something coming that you will either accept and be saved, or reject and be lost. It is the last chance, prepare, be fearful but have hope. For He shall judge and those who are enslaved will be set free, the poor will be lifted up, and the persecuted will be vindicated. But also the haughty and proud will be thrown down; the wicked and vile will be cast out. Prepare; be vigilant and watch (Peter).

second_sunday_in_advent_and_two_candles_are_litWeek 2: In this second week as we light the second and then the first candle we are called to observe the closing of our exile outside God’s grace. We are given more hope, the Old Testament focuses on how the Messiah will save God’s people and how God will judge those who do not accept this generous gift.  However Isaiah and the other prophets make the coming of the Messiah so obvious and portray it as the greatest miracle of all time with such truth we cannot be afraid but excited. This week is a time of purification, sanctification, and cleansing. We are called to prepare our hearts, minds, souls, and make our paths straight. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Like Jews of the Old Testament who had to perform ritual preparation to enter the Temple we are to do the same for the coming King. We are so close to being freed. I recently read a journal account from a minister who was a former slave. This man was once an African prince who was transported to the Indies then England. He was a slave for many years, but through the grace of God he became educated, freed, and eventually a minister and activist. This man’s name was Gustavus Vassa or better known later as Olaudah Equiano. He worked with William Pitt, William Wilberforce, and others to bring about the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. In his still popular auto-biography he talks about the anticipation of his freedom when he knew he would be released from slavery. In his book he describes it almost like salivating over a great meal. You can almost taste it. And that is what we are called to focus on in the Advent season. In this materialistic culture we are excited for gifts, parties, and holidays yet we are to transport ourselves to ancient Palestine and relive the emotions of those people in awaiting Christ. It is when we can achieve that empathy that we become more intimate in our relationship with Christ. The Bible in the second week frequently references imagery of parched lands being rejuvenated with Living Water. This Utopia is coming, we have been told in this first week of what has gone wrong and been given a small hope, now it is more tangible like a mist appearing in front of us we can feel it.

untitledWeek 3: We are currently in week 3 of Advent. In my personal journals I often express my thoughts, vent my frustrations, record my travels, and reflect on my devotions. This Advent season I reflect on my Advent readings. In week 3 the Advent readings (which are sent out by church denominations-they are pretty much the same ones since the Bible is quite linear) focuses on the joy of the first coming. It is called Gaudete week. When a candle is lit in the third week it is often the rose candle. Yet certain denominations may do blue, or gold-it does not really matter. Gaudete literally means in Latin “rejoice.” This is the second part of Advent and we see the movement from the prophecies of old to the New Testament and the setting of the scene in Roman occupied Israel. Isaiah’s prophecies were laced with the Babylonian rule; the New Testament with Caesar’s but both dictatorships had something in common, the sin of Israel. See the children of God were not called to rejoice because a military leader was coming to overthrow a tyrannical king. Empires will always rise and fall so that was only a matter of time but the human disease of sin is constant and degenerative and the consequences were torture in the kingdom of darkness. That is why we should rejoice, we approach a time of remembrance when we were ripped from the shadows. Now it is not 100% rosy for those involved with Christ’s birth. We focus on the key players; first and for most- the Virgin Mary. Her first reaction to being told she would bear the Son of God was not a positive one, she was afraid and distressed by what she heard. We can imagine why, people would think she was immoral; they would think she was a liar, unfaithful to her betrothed, a blasphemer, truly she may even die. Joseph must have felt like he had been cheated on or that Mary had gone mad, or that he had gotten himself into something that he was unaware of. Yet when the angel came to Joseph in a dream how did Joseph feel after?  Was he ashamed that he did not believe Mary? Was he embarrassed that he did not trust or consult the Lord or a rabbi? And yet the relief and acceptance Mary must have felt once she was with Elisabeth and Zechariah! She must have been in a microcosm of safety where she could reflect and pray in peace. We hold onto that feeling this week and try to keep it in the times that the darkness seems overwhelming.

90_20_20_webWeek 4: We light candle number 4. This is traditionally a shorter advent week as we are within a breath of the Nativity. In this fourth week I think of Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, a holy family, walking through sand storms, camping under palm trees, and going through rugged terrain. They were not the most popular people in their community because they followed God’s plan instead of cultural appropriate customs. All they had were each other, but still it was a lonely time. Christmas often is a lonely time for many; sadly it is one of the worse times in the year for depression and suicides. We can take a lesson from this, in this fourth week of advent let us take a lesson from the early Christian converts and seek out those who are alone. One of the most appealing facets of our faith is the sense of fellowship people feel-this should be emphasised and reinforced during Christmas tide. When I was a young teenager there was an older woman I knew. She was from what we would call “the other side of the tracks.” She was a larger woman who had a rough life. We will call her “Joan”. Joan was extremely poor and the community program I knew her through was her only chance to get a meal and a welcoming atmosphere. She had several children varying from different ages and fathers.  She had a boyfriend who was abusing her. Joan had mental health issues, was a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and had no job. 4 days before Christmas Joan disappeared. We do know her boyfriend had left her and the doctors had changed her medication and had done it improperly. Though I was a young teen I remember that very few people treated Joan well even at the community outreach program. I hope and pray Joan is ok and has gotten her life together but I am reminded of the ways we could have reached out to her before she left.  Did the people of Nazareth treat Mary and Joseph like this? In the time they needed people the most they may have been abandoned. The Holy Bible commands us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, be kind for we never know who are angels hidden or even Christ Himself! For all of us, the story behind these days can draw us in, and invite us to bring our lives to the mystery of how Jesus came into this world and why. Our best preparation for the Holy Night ahead and the Joyful Morning to follow is for us to reflect upon how He came. He came in a time that was laced with strife, prejudice, and poverty. He came as the most helpless member of society; not the military leader as many thought. He was rejected before he was born. He was laid in a filthy feed trough in a stale, rank cave. He was declared an enemy of the state. He grew up with the whispers of His conception. He did not shun us even though we never gave him a chance. He embraced us, we crucified Him. And He desires to embrace us now. On Christmas Eve I love listening to “Silent Night Holy Night” and imagine a peaceful, quiet, and sombre night in Bethlehem, the world was hushed and I feel at peace. Yet Christ is comforting us and giving us that peace-pass it onto others and be Christ to them. If we accept the gift of Christ Jesus’ love we will find ourselves entering the sacred night and morning of Christmas “joyful and triumphant” as never before and we will truly understand the meaning of Christmas.

advent-wreathNow I do have some suggestions for keeping a Christ-focussed Christmas, because after all that is the whole point of Advent. First, keep the devotion and intimacy you found in Advent by keeping the “reason for the season” in mind and treating it not just as a family get together and presents but also a holy time. Mix your devotions with the gift of grace which was more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Look to what Christ was ultimately born for and be humbled by it, you will feel all the more grateful even for the smallest joys. The key to finding intimacy with God in the midst of this time of Christ’s mass (as it was once called) is to be aware of what it all means. With focus and a conscious attention to the Infant we go through our day in constant prayer and praise as the Bible calls us to do. I love church services on Christmas Eve and at midnight or dawn services. There is something in the air that I must say is what the Spirit tastes like because I have no word for it in any other language. Secondly, we are to keep the day for all year. In Charles Dickens a “Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge says that he will keep Christmas in his heart every day of the year and that is what we should remember to do, it is not a day, but a season that is to be an eternal one. I had a friend in university who loved listening to Christmas carols year round because he said they were the best kind of praise and worship songs and we missed out when we denied ourselves the other 364 days a year. Thirdly, use Christmas to spread the Gospel. This is our primary mission as Christians. Christmas is a tool we can use to do this. Replace the gifts Santa gives with the sacrifice of Christ. Take away the Christmas tree and supplement the star of Bethlehem. Offer with the stocking a Bible with the Christmas story highlighted! I have experienced such a deeper level of God’s love this season I am excited for my devotions during Christmas, Lent, and Easter but I do not need these holy times to have this level of devotion year round and that is how you keep a holy Advent, don’t keep it limited to Advent. Merry Christmas!

Attributes of God-his eternity

eternity

This is our third instalment on our sermon series focussing on the attributes of God.  Today we focus on his eternal nature.  Granted, this overlaps with his aseity, the wonderful nature of God is indivisible and wonderful but we can look at what it means to be eternal.  His aseity is more so that he is existent upon Himself and as such exists eternally in joint harmony with that aseity.  We will be looking at the two bodies of thought on God’s eternity, the first that God exists eternally outside of the time/space continuum.  That he exists outside the rules of past, present, and future.  The other body of thought we will examine is that God has existed in our linear time eternally, and yet exists at all times thus he exists constantly in the present because the past, present, and future are the same so one can say he exists only in the past, only the present, and only in the future yet all of them at the same time.  With that we have the possibility that God exists outside our concept of time but exists in ours to interact with us.

God’s eternity (or existence of time) is one of the hot topics in the Bible.  Literalists in the Bible believe that the world was created in literally 7 days, and other Christians believe that the concept of 7 days cannot be viewed by our current standards and with this debate comes the thought, “how does God view time?”  In the 1977  film “Oh God” our Creator is portrayed by the comedian George Burns, in an OT type story he comes down to inform Jerry Landers (John Denver) that he is to be a prophecy of God and Jerry suffers much, being sued, fired, and committed.  One of the key quotes I like to start of the sermon with is when Denver questions God at the beginning of the film asking him questions and when Burns tries to explain the concepts of time he says “when I woke up this morning Sigmund Freud was in medical school.” Time, as Einstein would have said, is relative.  An eternal being, by whatever name, saying “time is short” probably carries an entirely different meaning for you or I.  I once asked a child when I was teaching a Sunday school on an inner city mission trip what we know about God.  The child responded that He was old, that’s why His beard was always white but other than that it was a miracle He looked that good for His age.  And age is the question in the Bible; many literalists believe the world is 6000 years old based on the adding of the years backwards from when the last word in the Bible was recorded and summing up all the generations.  It is this modern concept of traditionalist time that we will start with, both the pros and pitfalls behind it.

Our modern Gregorian calendar has only been used for the last few millennia before that varying calendars were used and they varied even more around the world.  At the time the Bible was composed and over the thousands of years it was written concepts of days, time, and years varied.  The traditionalist view is very much under the realm of the young earth creationist theory.  These theologians believe the universe, Earth, and humans came into existence at maximum 10, 000 years ago.  The opposite types of believers are called historic critical Christians.  This view is not only held by Christians but also the other Abrahamic religions. The Seder Olam Rabbah, which was a reflective discourse and history of the world.  It was compiled by Jose ben Halafta in 160 AD.  He dates the creation of the world to 3751 BC while the later Seder Olam Zutta dates it around 4339 BC. The Hebrew Calendar (which is the calendar that 99% of the Old Testament is written in) has since the 4th century AD dated the creation to 3761 BC.  If this is the case then the fall of the Lucifer (Satan) and the 1/3 angels must have occurred a short time before that.  Needless to say ancient to medieval scholars date it roughly between the aforementioned 5000-10, 000 years ago.  Now you may be asking well this is ok to focus on our concept of time but how does this involve God’s eternal nature?  Well it comes down to how did the Lord view the timeline of creation and that is our focus.

St. Augustine once said that time exists only in this universe thus God is out of time; “In the eminence of thy ever-present eternity, thou precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times, for they are still to come — and when they have come, they will be past. But “Thou art always the Self-same and thy years shall have no end.” Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass. All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today. Thy “today” yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Thy “today” is eternity.”  You see brothers and sisters in Christ, for thousands of years we have been debating and pondering such things as the Trinity, the timeline of God, and miracles.  We ponder at the awesomeness of all these things but to God they just are.  We debate how long God took to do things such as the freezing of the sun for Joshua yet, would that seem like a full day?  2nd Peter 3:8 says “a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day with the Lord.”  Many theologians believe that this is the view of time from God’s perspective and have tried to date events on the Bible based on that theory but notice Peter uses the word “like” it is a simile.  He is saying that a day to God does not mean a day but some large number.  In Psalm 90: 1-4 the author says the same thing.  In Genesis Abraham planted a tree at Beersheba and called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.  In other world religions the God’s have some sense of being they are not aseitic but have a beginning and their ends are unclear.

This concept of the eternal nature of God being in the present, past and future summed up as I AM-meaning always a state of being is not a concept grounded in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ; the very reason why we do all of this he said in John 8:58 “Before Abraham was born I AM.”  God reveals himself by and in his Names. The ineffable name of Jehovah in this respect is very significant, for the inner meaning of Yahweh – “I am the One who is” – emphasises God’s dynamic and active self-existence. The name Yahweh is connected with the verb meaning “to be” (Exodus 3:14).Truly God’s eternal being is also evident in “His eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Eph 3:10-11)  So God never had an idea one day to just send Christ down as a solution He just came up with, his aseitic eternal nature always had this eternal purpose but if God’s concept of eternity is I AM thus He would not have viewed it as a long standing plan but like the air we breathe it just is.  In one of the rare instances this concept of an eternal nature is in sync between the Old and New Testaments; (Deut 33:27): “The eternal God is your refuge.” (1 Timothy 1:17):  “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  You see my friends eternity to God is an unchanging present, to us it is a succession of moments, an evolution of events leading to an inevitable effect, death.  When we come to Christ though we are partially removed from time here and partially put into God’s realm of time, we have one foot in and one foot out for we have had a beginning but we will have no end.  I believe this is why the human mind is incapable at this time to comprehend the concept of the eternal present because we have not experienced that.

The second point I would like to briefly touch upon is the difference between His eternal Being and when God uses the word eternal.  For example when God establishes an eternal covenant; like us, this covenant has a beginning but no end.  This is something we can easily comprehend.  Even angels themselves have a “conditional eternity.”  In the Bible it does not out rightly state that human spirits and souls have always existed.  Many Mormon churches hold to this tenant in their doctrine however unconditional essence of an eternal being is reserved for God alone.  I believe He does this intentionally; in Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the fruit God says to the heavenly host and celestial bodies that “they have become like Us (meaning Jesus and the Spirit).  If Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of Life they would have been transformed into celestial, free thinking beings, similar to the fallen angels.  Aside from the glory of God being a reason for sole eternal nature I believe it was also meant as a safe guard for He knew what the consequences were.  Nothing can share equality with God is a reason we should be happy that we are not unconditionally eternal.

The last point I would like to discuss (there is much I can say on this topic but to avoid babbling I need to restrict myself) is the concept of God’s eternal nature in the span of being in our universe and the agreed upon truths.  Now in this sermon series I will most likely overlap as I have said before many times, but that just shows that God’s nature is often indivisible.  One of the reasons God has an eternal nature that is outside our space/time continuum is because He created matter, time, and space.  When something is created, its creator is often separate from its creation.  For example if we clone a biological organism we are not bound by the same properties as it for we are separate and the creator or at least the higher life form.   God is outside His creation of time, just as we are outside of a food we have created or a science experiment.   Since God is the creator, He is not bound by such realities of the laws of the universe. These came to be by His own sovereign will “in the beginning.” Before that, God was and still is Blessed in Himself, lacking nothing and completely self-sufficient (aseitic-see how it overlaps).  God is immanent in his universe. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” God is also transcendent, beyond the realm we now experience, beyond time and space. He is “El-Olam,” the Everlasting God.  Going under this hypothesis, which is freely supported by Scripture, and then whatever was, is or will be is ever-present to God. Thus, Christ was historically crucified more than two thousand years ago (according to our modern calendar) and this is proven historically; but Scripture does not stop there. It says also that he “was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” Above that, we find: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

Though God has created out concept of time and the thought of the before, he does not bind himself to live in time just to relate to us better, we are privileged enough to close that gap via Christ Jesus. He is fully conscious of what time is, but God is beyond it. Time brings changes to such an extent that the philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t jump into the same river twice,” meaning that by the time you are ready to jump the second time the river has changed. ”  10 “He also says, In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,  and the heavens are the work of your hands.11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12).  Now what are the implications of this body of thought and what does it mean for us as Christians, because that is why we are here to understand the nature of God and the nature of His Son. “With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17; cf. Malachi 3:6).  But what does all this imply and what are the contesting theories or pitfalls of this difficult concept?

1. To begin with we must resist “Process Theology” of Clark Pinnock and others, these theories put forth the thesis that God changes according to man’s decisions and unfortunately because of our conflicting understanding of pre-destination and free will this is a common struggle amongst Christians. God’s independence must be kept in mind. From him and through him and unto him are all things; he is the source, the agent and the end of all existence.

2. We should continue using the traditional method of interpretation, in recognising the differing language in regard to God (for example God using the word eternity to describe something as opposed to the word eternity being used for Him). Though years are ascribed to God, yet they cannot be numbered or finished, since there is no proportion between the duration of God, and the years of men.

3. We cannot fully comprehend these topics until we are fully recreated before God.  God is eternity; it is not a separate concept-He is it.  Those who please God must believe that God “is” (Hebrews 11:6), the ever-present reality. God is not dead and irrelevant; he is not coming to become. He Is.

The ontological (study of the nature of existence, nature, and reality) argument in favour of the eternal existence of God argues from the premise that “we can conceive of a Most Perfect Being. But a most Perfect Being must exist and ever exist, otherwise he is not Perfect, for non-existence detracts from perfection.”  Therefore God must exist, and that from eternity. For God to be God “he must be from eternity; eternity is an integral attribute of God, not something appended or added to him.”

God’s eternity is fundamental:

1. If God were not eternal, then neither is He immutable (unchanging, we will discuss this in 3 sermons from now). He must be a changeable God, for better or for worse. If for better, then he is not perfect and therefore not God. If for worse, then he loses his perfection and therefore cannot be God. All of God’s attributes as said before are interconnected and indivisible and only can be partially analysed separately.

2. If God were not eternal, then he is not almighty. A being that can be traced to have a beginning cannot carry the title of totally omnipotent, for what had a beginning was once nothing. If he was nothing, then he could act, neither to a larger nor to a smaller extent. “Nothingness spells powerlessness.”

3. If God were not eternal, then he is not the Alpha and the Omega. Then the cause of all things must be somewhere else but since nothing could fill that possibility.  The issue with that is an ultimate cause must exist, while it can have a series of causations it cannot exist randomly, even the universe according to sceptics had a cause.

4. If God were not eternal, He would be robbed of His glory, as said before an unconditional eternal nature is a reason for glory to God and that can never be shared with man;, for though he would be greater than us, he would still be “one of us,” a being with a beginning, just like us and we “just like Him”-Gen 1

Let us sum up the points that you want to take from this and use the above information to support your beliefs about the eternal nature of God:

1)  The world has a beginning as does all matter, time, and energy.

2)  The world could not exist if God is not (remember eternal present) eternal because He would have a beginning as well.

3)  God was in being and present at the creation of the world.

4)  His being is everlasting to everlasting; in a circle; constant.

5)  This being known as God shall endure time and space.

6)  There is only one God that can claim I AM.

The prophets understood this truth and avoided that greatest sin of idolatry. “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O king of nations?  But they are altogether brutish and foolish…But the Lord is the true God, he is the living God and an everlasting king” (Jer 10). Psalm 115 also shows the clear differences between gods of wood, stone, gold, and man’s imagination as opposed to an eternal God. A god that has a beginning is no god. Brothers and sisters I know I have thrown a lot at you today and truly there is so much more.  This seems like a deep discussion but it actually only touches on the foundations of theological and apologetic studies that have existed for thousands of years.  What I want you to take from this sermon, this entire series is to dig deeper so we can discuss, debate, and profess eloquently the deeper understanding of God to do honour to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Our next sermon will be an interlude to this 2 months series and will focus on something I could do a sermon on every day; the holy time of prayer, fasting, and devotion-the time of Advent.  Let’s pray.

I will now give the benediction:  I take this from the book of Psalms with the concept of the evermore; I take it from Psalm 21 verse 6:  “Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence.”  God bless you have a great week!

Attributes of God-aseity

God_Is1  This is the second instalment on the sermon series of the “Attributes of God.” Today’s is on aseity. Unlike grace or wrath which is relatively easy to understand and well know characteristics of God aseity among others are deep theological concepts that very few Christians outside seminary are aware of but every Christian should study. The full appreciation of the Bible is not limited to the understanding of culture and language but also to the deeper theological issues. It is with that in mind that this sermon series was begun. Aseity is defined as the theological concept that “refers to the property by which a being exists in and of itself, from itself, or exists as so-and-such of and from itself.” This is often symbolised by a horizontal 8 which in mathematics is a symbol of constant, never beginning and never ending. In logic terms put forth by Plato, Aristotle, or Augustine it could be represented in the concept of energy. Energy has no beginning or end but just transforms into something else. The same is the characteristic of God; He has no beginning or end but always was. In the Old Testament when Moses goes before God in the burning bush he asks what he should tell the Hebrews when they ask God’s name and the Lord responds “I AM that I AM” this implies that God was in the beginning, is now, and ever more shall be (Ex 3:12).

The study of Aseity has been formalised by rabbi’s and Greek philosophers for thousands of years. It was picked up by Christendom in the Middle Ages and Islam as well. Aseity has two aspects, both positive and negative. These two aspects come under absolute independence and self existence. The negative (not implying an emotion but rather a theological, mathematic, scientific, and logical constant) is that God has no beginning outside of itself, He was; there is nothing that caused Him to come into being. This is a very different concept from the Greek and Roman mythology that states even the gods and titans had beginnings that started in chaos (the great void). In the positive angle God is completely self sufficient, not needing anything outside of Himself to qualify or quantify His existence or needs; since He has none of the later. Humanity has no real issue imagining having no end, immortality. But the issue lies in the concept of a being that always was, that has no beginning. The human brain cannot comprehend it because it is out of our nature-we are a species designed around a beginning and an end. But there is another facet of God’s aseitic being and that is God is incapable of changing. It is often referenced that God cannot lie, He cannot contradict Himself because of His aseitic Self. But this aseity extends to His self, many Jewish philosophers believe that the Living God is absent of spatial, bodily, or temporal materials save His incarnate form as Jesus Christ.

Now for the emotional side of aseity;  As theologians of the Roman Catholic Church began to expand their understanding they began to theorise that God was unemotional, impassable. This was a theory popularised by the likes of Gregory of Nyssa and Thomas Aquinas. But what is the Biblical basis for aseity? I have referenced the most popular one, the burning bush introduction but let’s go back to the beginning and look at several key verses in the Old Testament and of course how they point to Christ. In the New Testament aseity is not focused on as much because the predominant message of the New Testament is salvation and rightly so. Unfortunately it is an often neglected analysis in the NT but we will eventually get to that point in the journey.

“In the beginning God…” Genesis 1:1. Here we see that God already existed even before the beginning, before the beginning of man, the earth, the universe and time itself. When it references God in the Bible it very rarely uses past tense, and when it does it emphasises that in the past, God IS already, Psa. 90:2 “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” As Christians we know that heaven celebrates when a person comes to Christ and also when they are called home to the Father but we often mistake this joy that the Bible says God clearly has as something that implies God’s happiness is dependent on our salvation. In the Old Testament this is clearly shown to NOT be the case. The aseity of God in the Old Testament is shown in the depths of His power and command over all creation above all else. Many sceptics say that this concept of aseity if primarily from the Greek philosophers and this shows their influence on Christianity and thus the identity of God has been influenced. However the concept of the aseity of God was something separate from most of the world’s religions which relied on the prayers and love of man. The Hebrew faith was unique to the ancient peoples because unlike other gods, Yahweh needed nothing from us and the fact that He had commands for us did not imply He needed us to follow them but that for us to be in fellowship with Him we MUST follow them. In the Old Testament a concept was put forward which has been analysed for thousands of years, the concept of the Absolute. In philosophy the Absolute is more of a reality that goes past all temporal, physical, and conditional existence. In Christianity the Absolute can be applied to anything that always was and is and will always be. This term has been applied by some theologians in metaphysical Christianity and the Kabala to the Tetragrammaton (one of the proper names of God). The Tetragrammaton can also be translated to the verb “to be.”

Like Christ (who was not created or began from something but was begotten) God’s elements cannot be divided from His substance, as Christ’s humanity cannot be divided from His divinity. These things co-exist independent of each other and yet in full harmony as a logical constant in the universe. God is an indivisible unit, and has always been and will always be the same God in all his attributes. Spiritual creatures do not have the same simplicity of nature, since, although being simple substances, many characteristics of creatures may change, and thus are accidents rather than attributes of their essence. But what is the point of this theology and deep examination of God’s aseity? To understand that there is none like Him; Deut 4:35, 39, “You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other. . . . Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.”

Now the danger of the study of aseity is that I have been infringing on my sermon based on eternity but it cannot be avoided, when studying God we see that His personality and existence are sweetly indivisible but clearly definite. But we are not Jewish theologians we are disciples of the ultimate rabbi, Christ Jesus. What does the New Testament say about God’s aseity?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1). In the New Testament the entire point of establishing Christ’s aseity was to show sinful human beings that Christ had the authority and power to speak on God’s behalf and to forgive sins. One of the verses that particularly stand out to be me about God’s aseitic nature is Luke 11:14-18; “14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. 15 But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” 16 Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.17 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub.” This is Christ clearly showing that God cannot be divided against Himself or even be unsure of His own decisions, the same way Christ never second guesses Himself because His nature is eternal, it is perfect. The Trinity does not need to develop or evolve. Many thing because the Spirit came after Christ ascended that it did not exist before that, yet the Spirit of God was referenced in the very first verses of Genesis. Jesus said that “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Truth and life existed before the earth and even before the universe; modern scientists believe that even before the universe began some form of life existed. Sceptics say that there is no way a being such as Christ or God has always existed and is completely independent and yet science has proven that energy cannot be created or destroyed but merely transformed. Christ is a portion of the Godhead, a drop removed from the ocean, the same chemical combination but very different in identity, shape, name, and abilities. In Acts 17:25 Luke says that God has no needs at all and need not be served by human hands. Christ’s aseity can be defined as three conditions of His Lordship.

The first is Christ’s relationship with his creation, us. Like grace Christ’s self existence outside of any needs surpasses our understanding particularly since He came down and became subject to the laws of human nature, death. What an amazing ability to give up complete independence and self sufficiency to become a man subject to hunger, cold, exhaustion, and temptation. This is a key ingredient that makes the Christian faith so very different to any other faith, even though another religion may claim their god is aseitic NONE can claim that theirs have given that up. Secondly, unlike other kings requiring servants, Christ does not require servants, not even the angels are required. What a relief to know that we are not needed to complete God’s existence, the pressure of that would make any concept of free grace impossible and a rebuilt relationship could never exist. And the last condition of His Lordship is that unlike other kings being under condition of inheritance, line of kings, or other countries. His kingdom is “an eternal kingdom of God the Father.” The only kingdom in history or existence that is in fact eternal. Based on these three criteria Christ’s authority is self-justifying and separate from the physical and temporal connections to this world. Many early messianic Jews believed that once God had created the universe, worlds, and life He removed Himself since His presence could not exist in this world and hence to bridge the gap between man and Him He sent Christ which broke the aseity by being born and dying but once He was resurrected His aseity was reinstated. Even Christ’s resurrection was aseitic, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19).

The final portion of this sermon will be on the aseity of the Holy Spirit. One of the most confusing mysteries of Christendom is that God can exist as 3 beings independent of each other and yet the same and cannot be divided up for He is one God. The Holy Spirit is referenced many times in the Old Testament as not something separate from God but is God in different form, for example when God visits Abraham with the other two. The Holy Spirit is probably the easiest to frame in the concept of aseity. In philosophy and metaphysics energy is easily identified as the first constant in existence and a spirit by definition is energy so if God is viewed as energy, incorporeal, and His Spirit is His essence this proves that God was, is, and always will be; later we will be examining God’s attributes of incorporeality and transcendence so I apologise if I overlap. But what good is theology if there are no practical applications. How does a knowledge and understanding of Christ’s aseity help us to grow in Him?

1) God is everything, we are nothing, and we must always remember this it is a cornerstone of our faith and with that comes the freedom to be imperfect but work towards being perfect as Christ is perfect.

2) Focussing on God’s self-sufficiency means that He is the ONE being in the universe who will never fail us because He is not influenced by anything outside of Him.

3) God’s expectations of us will never change. In ancient Rome and Greece the gods often had their moods change based on a fleeting whim. What God has expected of us He will always expect of us and we do not need to worry about any curve balls.

4) We live in a failing world, one that will eventually die, a being that is an Absolute gives humanity hope that we do not have to be part of a genetic failing that will eventually be our undoing.

5) We can know that our God is the true God by this attribute because it is unique and has not been found yet to be repeated or recreated.

This sermon has made my head hurt, I am sure it has made yours hurt a little bit too. What we need to understand is that even though studying theology may be hard and digging deep into God’s Word may be exhausting we must do it because when we do not dig and strive to understand the deeper folds of God’s mind we cheapen our relationship with Him, do Him an injustice, and take away from the reverence and worship that we are privileged to be part of. Let’s pray.

The Attributes of God-Grace

This is a sermon series on the attributes, or characteristics of God. Today we begin with the most obvious one, grace. Wrath will not be included since there is a sermon with the theme om wrath; but anyways onto grace!  There was a conference several decades where they were debating the validity of other religions in comparrison with the Judeo-Christian religion.  C.S. Lewis, a recent convert and reformed athiest came into the conference late.  When the roar was overwhelming Lewis sat down on the roundtable and waitied for him to be noticed.  The attendees eventually noticed him and they asked him what made him convert to Christianity and why was it any different to the other religions.  Mr. Lewis replied very solemnly, “it’s grace, simple, beautiful grace.”

Sometimes in Christanity we simplify God’s facets yet His message, love, and forgiveness are complex simplicity.  Most Biblical scholars believe that the identifiable attributes of God are as follows: Aseity, Graciousness, Holiness, Immanence, Immutability, Impassibility, Impeccability, Incorporeality, Incomprehensibility, Infinity, Jealousy,  Love,  Mission,  Omnibenevolence, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience, Oneness, Providence, Righteousness, Simplicity, Sovereignty, Transcendence, Trinity, Veracity, and Wrath.

One of the main issues I had at the beginning was the watering down of Christian theology.  Christians now adays are so wound up with the emotional side of knowing God that often times we only take a superficial reading of His Word and an even more superficial reading of the writings from the early church fathers.  Truly only 5% of Christians in the west have an understanding of deep theological issues.  A recent study said that only 10% of western Christians were aware of what the council of Nicea was and how it influenced our faith.  Most Christians surveyed were well aware of what graciousness in terms of God the Father was but very few could name works or deep studies regarding the subject.  Those who did sang about how it gave them a deeper reverence, appreciation, and connection with their faith that many other religions boast.  So with that let us begin with an ecclesiastical discussion on Grace.

Grace is mentioned in te Holy Bible over 170 times.  It is first mentioned in the Old Testament with regards to God’s grace towards Noah.  In Genesis 6:5-8 the Bible clearly states that “5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”  Grace is traditionally defined as love which God grants us and wants us to have unconditionally in spite of what we have done.  It has slightly different meanings depending on the denomination you find yourself in.  When I was looking to enter into the Roman Catholic priesthood there was a large section on the entrance examination about grace being imbued into human beings through the Sacraments.  Early Lutherans believed somethine similar but also said the Word had a large part of it as well and the spreading of it.  Calvinists or Arminians firmly believed that grace was under the umbrella term of irresistable Grace which basically meant that only those pre-selected by God could answer the call to Grace  .Orthodox Christians or the Coptic believe that grace is very much one sided and is initiated and demonstrated by God through the rituals, as well as the Spirit.  Protestants acknowledge, appreciate, and see the value of theace.  se teachings but cling to the concept of solo gratia (grace alone) which was part of the 5 solas formalised by Martin Luther.  Today I will be looking at a middle ground as something that can apply to us as Christians and not as denominations.

Most Christian denominations agree that Grace is a necessary if not the most paramount component for salvation.  While most Christians will agree that the choice that Christ gives us is also a key difference between Christianity and other religions they also acknowledge that the concept of pre-destination is intertwined as well with that although they are unsure as to how.  In Deuteronomy 7:8 the grace of God towards the Children of Israel regarding their bondage in Egypt is emphasised as something that should always be remembered, valued, and honoured, not just a gift to discard.   It abounds in Numbers 6:24-26 with probably one of my most favourite benedictions in the entire Bible; “24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  These previous two verses are examples of how Grace in the Old Testament takes on different themes or motifs as opposed to the New Testament where it is primarily emboddied in Christ Jesus.  A large portion of Old Testament Grace references come from Psalms.  It is often called the most comforting and most read book of the Bible or at least the OT.

In Psalms Grace can fall under teaching of the Law and answering of prayers (Ps. 119, Ps. 27).  In Psalm 85 Grace appears as forgiveness for past sins, a prayer for a new start and freedom following the Babylonian exile.  In Roman Catholicism grace is defined in two categories, first sanctifying grace and actual grace.  The first being the gift from God that we can never do anything to deserve, the second is a reference to gifts for good works we do to please God.  St. Augustine said that grace was the result of Adam and Eve’s foolishness and pride and that the inherit sin from them did not totally destroy freedom of will but did greatly enfeable it.  Most people believe that Grace is clearly contrasted with the Law of Moses and that contrast comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is no doubt that grace is the predominant theme in the New Testament, demonstrated in Christ Jesus dying for us unconditionally.  Many Christians now say I live under grace and not under the law and they use it as an excuse to allow sin and even use it as a pass to willingly sin, but this could not be farther from the truth.  Grace is evidence of love, people believe that God in the Old Testament was unfeeling, distant, and unable to demonstrate grace but although the Biblical references to grace in the Old Testament are nto as plentiful they are qualitative and as referenced Isaiah grace in the Old Testament is pointing directly to Christ.  Grace gives us the freedom to live the Law of the Old Testament uninhibitedly, to follow Christ’s commandments without worrying of the punishment that comes not if but when we fail God.  But grace is not something we are meant to keep for ourselves, we are called to share that grace and show the love of Christ to others.  All of the theologians, church fathers, and desert mystics whom have discussed grace over the centuries have done it all for one reason, to deeper understand and appreciate what Christ has done and the gift God has given us, because it is so beyond the understanding of the human mind.  It is deep, complex, simple, and yet beautiful all rolled into one.  As Lewis said it is one sets the truth faith apart from other religions.  Through grace we do not have to go on pilgramages to far off distant lands, we can access salvation, it is the key personality characteristic that has put this entire plan into play.  Will we ever fully understand it?  I do not think so.  It is the same way with the Bible, I think God did not put everything in there, just what we needed to know.  Our disabled human brains can only comprehend so much, but when we are called to home I firmly believe we will fully understand the depths of God’s grace.  In our sermon next week we will be looking at aseity.