Category Archives: Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Obedience of the Faith

The Apostle Paul was never able to visit the Church of Rome, though that was his strong desire. Nevertheless, he wrote an epistle to this Church which is perhaps the greatest example of systematic theology ever written. In today’s epistle reading we find Paul introducing himself to the Church of 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 states his purpose very clearly. Paul wants to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” This may be an unusual way to express faith for many people. Obedience – how important is obedience to our faith?

Let us look at the example of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

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)

A child had never been conceived by the Holy Spirit without any involvement of a husband. Joseph could not have fully understood what this meant. It was certainly not in his plans for marriage. Yet, Joseph took Mary to be his wife because he was obedient to the commands of God.

We have another example of obedience in today’s Old Testament reading:

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.   (Isaiah 7:10-14)

King Ahaz was requested to do a very simple thing. All he had to do was to ask for a sign from God. Ahaz was disobedient. He refused to do so. Why was he so unwilling? Perhaps he was too busy with his own plans to take the time to listen to the plan of God. Of course, He hid whatever reason he had to refuse to do what God asked in a lame attempt to sound pious.

God had a plan for Israel. Ahaz could have been a part of that plan. God asked Ahaz to participate in a plan that would restore all of humankind to a lasting relationship with God. What a great honor that would have been for Ahaz, or anyone.

Ahaz refused God, but that did not stop God’s plan. His vision is far greater than anyone else’s vision. No human being can stop God from carrying out his plan. He will move on and work with those who are obedient to his word. The blessings that God bestows on those who are obedient will be lost by those who refuse God.

The Apostle Paul warned against disobedience:

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.   (Romans 2:5-10)

Ahaz, the disobedient one,  had a disastrous reign and died at an early age. His son, Hezekiah, whom Ahaz attempted to sacrifice to the demon god Moloch, succeeded him. Fortunately Hezekiah was spared. He commissioned the priests and Levites to open and repair the doors of the Temple and to remove the defilements of the sanctuary, a task which took 16 days.

Joseph, on the other hand, was obedient. He was given the honor of being the earthly father of Jesus. What greater honor could he have been given.

God has a plan for each of us. That plan is part of a greater plan that God has. If we obey him we will not only be blessed, but we will have the honor a blessing many others.

We read in the Book of Hebrews:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Jesus obeyed the Father, endured the cross, and bestowed upon us the greatest blessing of all. How can we refuse the one who made such a great sacrifice on our behalf? Are we to nullify the power of the Gospel through our disobedience? No, our primary act of obedience is the believe in the resurrection and proclaim this message to others. In this way we bless so many others, but we also bless ourselves.

From Revelation:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven. It said,

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.
    The authority of his Messiah has come.
Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters,
    has been thrown down.
    He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.
They had victory over him
    by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.
They had victory over him
    by speaking the truth about Jesus to others.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

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Saint Thomas, Apostle

jesusthomasdoubt1The Righteous Will Live by Faith

Saint Thomas the Apostle is remembered as “Doubting Thomas.” That may be a little unfair. To be sure, he was a skeptic concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

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)

On the other hand, Thomas was faithful as a 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 grace that has little cost to it except for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 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.

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 will to stand our ground for the Lord? We will if 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 the 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:

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!”

Do we believe that Jesus has risen from the dead? Is Jesus our Lord and our God? The Apostle Paul wrote the Church in Rome:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.   (Romans 10:9-10)

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 doubt to great faith and works of the Gospel. The challenge is to live by faith regardless of the circumstances.

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Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Believing in His Promises

On of the greatest expressions of faith, if not the greatest, was made by Mary the mother of Jesus. On her visit to her cousin Elizabeth she proclaimed:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.   (Luke 1:46-55)

Mary believed in the promises that God made to his people Israel. Israel had not heard a prophetic word from God for over four hundred years. They nation of Israel was under foreign occupation, yet Mary still believed in God’s promises. She believed so strongly in them that she was willing to surrender all of herself to God’s providence.

Because he was now in prison and ostracized from the significant events that were occurring, John the Baptist began to have doubts about the one he had proclaimed as the Messiah. From today’s Gospel reading:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”   (Matthew 11:2-6)

Notice how Jesus answered John. He did not do so directly. Rather, he proclaimed that the promises of God were being fulfilled. Jesus, by his very works, was fulfilling the prophecy of old concerning himself. From the Prophet:

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.   (Isaiah 35:5-6)

Do we believe in the promises of God? Circumstances around us can cause us to doubt them if we are not careful. Often times, the timing of the fulfillment of God’s promises is problematic. God’s timing may not be our timing. Yet, his timing is perfect. From the Book of James we read:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.   (James 5:7-10)

Mary was patient. Mary was trusting. She was willing to wait upon the Lord, even though what God promised to do through her was beyond anything imaginable. How willing are we to believe in God’s promises today? In some ways, it may appear that the promises of God are losing ground. That is all the more reason for us to put our entire trust in him. We cannot take matters into our own hands. Only God can bring about his glorious word.

Let us remember that we are not alone on our Christian journey. We have our brothers and sisters in the faith to offer us encouragement:

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11)

We also have a traveling companion who is our greatest encouragement. He is Jesus. He has established a road map for us. Isaiah prophesied:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.   (Isaiah 35:1-10)

Many are unwilling to travel this highway. But this is the only highway that leads to he absolute fulfillment of the promises of God. Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”   (John 14:6)

Those who hold on to the promises of God shall not be disappointed:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:6-10)

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