Category Archives: Advent

Saint Thomas, Apostle

jesusthomasdoubt1The Righteous Will Live by Faith

Saint Thomas the Apostle is remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” This may be a little unfair to him. To be sure, he was a skeptic concerning the resurrection of Jesus. We have this account in the Gospel of John:

Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”   (John 20:24-25)

No one had ever been raised from the dead before. Thomas was confused about the mission of Jesus. On the other hand, Thomas was a faithful disciple. He was willing to sacrifice for what he believed was the cause of Christ. As Jesus was speaking about going to Jerusalem, which proved to be his last trip there, Thomas was aware of the danger involved:

Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”   (John 11:16)

Following Jesus is not easy. Many churches preach a Gospel that is without cost on the part of believers. Jesus was sacrificed on the cross, but there is little talk about the cross which we must take up daily. Jesus said:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”   (Luke 9:23)

We must be prepared to make sacrifices if we are to live out the faith in our day. This is especially true in our nation today. Are we willing to go the distance?

Thomas was willing to go the distance. From today’s reading from Hebrews:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.For,

“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”

And,

“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”   (Hebrews 10:35-38)

During times of test and trials, are we willing to stand our ground for the Lord? Do we have a vision that God has given us to embrace? If we do not have a vision then we must ask God for one. It is in difficult times that our vision is most clarified, provided that we seek God and His Word, and provided that we are willing to wait on His response.

From today’s Old Testament reading, Habakkuk waited on God’s to his complaint:

I will stand at my watchpost and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets , so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:1-4)

Living by faith is trusting in God without seeing around the next corner. Jesus has gone ahead of us and He is leading us. Are we willing to follow? Thomas was willing. When he realized that Jesus had risen from the dead he said: “My Lord and my God!”

According to Eusebius’ record, Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. Saint Thomas was allegedly martyred at St.Thomas Mount, in Chennai, in 72 A.D July 3rd, and his body was interred in Mylapore. It was said that his ministry led to numerous conversions to Christ. He had been transformed from a doubter to an apostle of great faith and works in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The challenge is to live by faith, regardless of the circumstances. When we do, God can enable our ministry to the fullest.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Last Sunday we mentioned the Holy Way, In this, the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we will delve more into what is meant by the Holy Way. We could not have a better illustration of what it doesn’t mean than King Ahaz of Judah. Reading from Isaiah:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”   (Isaiah 7:10-16)

Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judah. Immediately upon his accession, he had to meet a coalition formed by northern Israel, under Pekah, and Damascus (Syria), under Rezin. These two kings are the ones that Isaiah said Ahaz was in dread. They wished to compel him to join them in opposing the Assyrians, who were arming a force against the Northern Kingdom.

Speaking through Isaiah, God told had Ahaz that the two kings were plotting against him, but that said he would protect Ahaz if he stood strong in faith. God knew that Ahaz’s faith was weak, so he offered him a sign. Ahaz waved him off.

Why did Ahaz do that? I don’t really know, but I do know why I have done that in the past. I wanted to do something on my own. I wanted to get credit for solving the problem. I wanted to keep things under my control because I was not sure God would do what I wanted. How about you?

Through Assyria’s intervention, and as a result of its invasion and subjection of the kingdom of Damascus and the Kingdom of Israel, Ahaz was relieved of his troublesome neighbors; but he felt beholden to Assyria. He brought into the temple of Jerusalem the worship of the foreign god Moloch. This so called “god” of Assyria required the sacrifice of Ahaz’s son by fire. Fortunately, God protected his son.

Though Ahaz refused him, God did give Ahaz a sign. His sign moved well beyond Ahaz. The Gospel of Matthew lists Ahaz of Judah in the genealogy of Jesus. The sign of the virgin’s birth was revealed to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Reading from today’s Gospel:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:18-23)

Joseph, unlike Ahaz, responded to God’s message with great faith:

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.   (Matthew 1:24-26)

God was going to do something that had never been done before and that no human being could ever do. All he asked Joseph to do was simply believe and accept the prophecy.

This is how God works. He will call us to do things that we cannot do, but we must believe that he can. Often times, to help our belief, he will give us a sign. This happened to the Apostle Paul in a rather drastic way. As you remember, Paul was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christian believers. Jesus struck him down with blindness while Paul was enroute. In this case, the sign of blindness left Paul little room to ignore. He was captured for ministry to the Gentiles. Paul had to accept a total revamping of his theology and undergo years of training.

Is God calling us for ministry? This is what Paul wrote to the Church at Rome:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,   (Romans 1:1-6)

Paul is writing about the power according to the spirit of holiness. This is the Holy Way of the New Covenant. God offers the New Covenant relationship with everyone who will believe in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He asks us to believe and Jesus asks us to join him along the path of the Holy Way. Jesus is on that path. He is that path. The path leads to righteousness, peace, and joy. We simply have to embrace what he has destined for us.

We are asked to go on an exciting journey to which nothing in this world can compare. We are not being asked to gain credit for salvation. Salvation is a gift. The Holy Way is an extension of salvation. It is the promise of salvation. It is the path of salvation. Yes, it is a test for some of us. Do we love the things of this world more than the gifts of God?

Do we want to control our own destiny? Apparently, Ahaz did. His plans lead him away from God. He set up idols and images of foreign gods and committed abominations by worshipping these gods (2 Chron. 28:2-3). He even worshipped the god Molech by offering his children. In Leviticus 20:1-5, God pronounced the death sentence against all who worshipped this god.

Ahaz died at the age of 36 and was succeeded by his son, Hezekiah. Because of his wickedness he was “not brought into the sepulchre of the kings” (2 Chronicles 28:27)

God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are greater than our thoughts. The path he gives us is an everlasting path, one that leads to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. The Season of Advent reminds us that our hearts are being prepared for the coming of the Christ Child. We are also being prepared for the second coming of Jesus, when God moves his heaven to earth. We do not want to miss that.

If our faith is weak, then God will give us a sign. Are we willing to ask him for one?

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Second Sunday of Advent

The Root of Jesse

Judah was in darkness. They had not heard from a prophet of God for four hundred years. They were no longer in control of their own government, having been conquered by Rome. Although Rome allowed them to have some freedom in practicing Judaism, they were heavily taxed by Rome. The Jewish people had little hope for the future.

The question is: Was there any hope for things to get better? Without hope, despair can take over. This is especially true for those who feel cutoff from God. The devout Jews knew that they were cutoff from God, because Judah had not kept the Mosaic Convent. They had not properly observed the Commandments of God, Although the Jewish religious leaders went through the motions to demonstrate that Judaism was still surviving, the devout Jews knew it was essentially dead.

Suddenly, things changed for Judah. Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet wrote:

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?   (Malachi 3:1-2)

This prophecy referred tp John the Baptist. He would be the messenger of the New Covenant. His ministry was to prepare the people for the coming of their Messiah. But, as foretold in Malachi, not everyone was able to “endure the day of his coming.”

Reading from Today’s Gospel:

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”   (Matthew 3:1-3)

John preached a baptism of repentance. His ministry was to prepare the people to receive their Messiah. Reading from today’s Gospel:

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.   (Matthew 3:4-10)

Many of the religious leaders were not able to receive John’s message. They thought of themselves as children of Abraham by birth. How many of us today see our Christianity as a birthright?

In today’s prophecy from Isaiah, we read about a tree that was cut down, but still was able to produce fruit. This tree was Judah. They had rebelled against God and he had struck them down. Nonetheless, God, in his mercy, would  restore it. It would require the birth of the Messiah and the establishment of new covenant. Reading from Isaiah:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.   (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Only the Messiah would give the people hope. Devout Jews longed for their Messiah. They looked for a signal from God. The sign was the root of Jesse

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.   (Isaiah 11:10)

Jesus is the root of Jesse. He was born in the ancestry of King David, Jesse being his father.

Today, many of us may need a sign from God. Do we need a “root of Jesse?” Perhaps we may feel abandoned by God. Many of us may feel this way about our nation, or even our church.

The stump figuratively represents this feeling. But out of the stump grows a small root. It may not be noticed at first. But God is not trough with us. He is not trough with our nation.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the gentiles;
in him the gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.   (Romans 15:12-13)

Now is not the time to lose hope. Is our focus on circumstances or on Jesus. The circumstances may be difficult, but Jesus is greater than them. Jesus said:

In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

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First Sunday of Advent

The Armor of Light

We begin The Season of Advent As the days grow shorter and the nights seem to get darker, i almost seems like a contest. Who will win? Darkness or light. That was an ancient worry. In many pre-Christian cultures, December was considered the most dreaded time of year, when the lack of heat and light spelled danger. The cold was stark and the darkness seemed like it would last forever.

But light will have its way. It has from the very beginning.

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.   (Genesis 1:3)

There will always be light, because darkness is merely an absence of light. Light is the building block of all things. We are being of light and are made in the image of God, who is light. From the First Epistle of John:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.   (1 John 1:5)

There is no darkness in God. The spiritual darkness we see in the world is not from God. Jesus came to bring light:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.   (John 1:1-5)

Not everyone wanted the light of Christ, however. His light either brought new abundant like, or it brought judgment against the darkness. Reading from the third chapter of John:

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.   (John 3:19-29)

We are living in an age where spiritual darkness is on the increase. We see it all around us. But much of it is being exposed and people are attempting to hide in propaganda and untruths. What they do not realize is that judgment is coming. The judgment will be catastrophic, as in the time of Noah. From today’s Gospel:

Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.   (Matthew 24:36-39)

How do we prepare for such a time? The Apostle Paul wrote:

You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.   (Romans 13:11-14)

We need to put on the armor of light. We need to put on Jesus. As his disciples, need to walk the path he has laid out for us. Isaiah wrote:

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!   (Isaiah 2:5)

When we do we walk in the blessings of God. The light of Christ will shine in us and through us. People will begin to see this. Jesus said:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We are living in a time of judgment. We are also living in a time of God’s glory. What we choose will mot only impact us, it will impact the whole world.

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