The Advent Call to Persevere
At St. Stephens', St. Stephen
The Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2013
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans presents the most complete theological writing that we have from that apostle. This book of the Bible really does represent a remarkable, inspired work by a quite remarkable man. Indeed, we find throughout the Letter to the Romans words of comfort and inspiration, directed to people of his day – but appropriate for us in our day as well. In addition, these words offer their messages to us throughout our lives. For instance, at baptism we may read the familiar passage that associates Jesus’ baptism with our ultimate hope. The passage – from the Letter to the Romans – culminates this way: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (6:5). Then, at the burial of the dead, we hear familiar words of comfort, again from Romans. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, no things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39). Other than the Gospels themselves – including the story of Jesus’ life – the Letter to the Romans probably is the most significant book in the Bible for our everyday lives ... from birth to death.
In various letters, including Romans, St. Paul attempts to encourage his Christian readers to persevere – to “keep on keeping on”, in words of today. But that advice is not always easy to follow, as we know. Daily living seems to get in the way of Christian intention. With that reality in mind, St. Paul writes, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” (15:4-5). St. Paul encourages his readers – and us – to exercise steadfastness in the practice of our faith, so that we may claim the sense and reality of ultimate hope.
Thus, today I want us to consider the Christian theme of perseverance ... or, to use language from St. Paul, I want to encourage us to exercise steadfastness in our faith. Further, my hope is to relate this theme of perseverance to the current season of the church year and, also, to the current circumstances within the Episcopal Church.
The present season of the church year, of course, is Advent. This is a time in which we wait, we anticipate, and we hope. The object of our waiting and hoping is not primarily Christmas. Now, that may surprise some of you, for the current message from our society about preparation surely points to Christmas Day. However, the message of our faith is that Jesus Christ has come as a baby already. What we anticipate in Advent is his return, as King.
Therefore, in our collect today we recalled the prophets who preached repentance and who prepared “the way for our salvation” (BCP, p 211). Then we prayed for grace in our preparations so “that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer” (BCP, p 211). You see, to be our Redeemer, Jesus necessarily has already died on the cross for our sins. And so, in Advent, we anticipate his return, his second coming, as the One who is crucified and resurrected, as our King.
As we wait and anticipate, in hope, for Jesus’ return, St. Paul encourages us to persevere. Waiting and hoping are not always easy things to do. Keeping the faith in our lives, over time, presents challenges, for sure. Thus, St. Paul’s word of encouragement to be steadfast, to persevere, continues to be timely in Advent, in our day.
The call to persevere also is appropriate for us in The Episcopal Church, in South Carolina. Significant trauma has taken place within our denomination here. Leadership has departed; harsh claims have been made against fellow Christians; divisions have been hardened; hostility has been promoted. The mission of Jesus Christ has been compromised.
Yet, it seems that St. Paul may have dealt with similar circumstances, as is evident in his Letter to the Romans. Indeed, conflicts and disagreements within the church were common in that day as well. At the opening of one of the passages we read earlier, St. Paul encourages his readers, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31). Then later, he affirms, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (11:1). He continues with this explanation: “So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel” (11:25). Later, St. Paul specifically addresses relationships among Christians this way: “Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister: Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God” (14:10). “Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (14:13).
Thus, we arrive at the point of today’s reading. “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5:-6).
The call issued by St. Paul is to persevere, until the goal of unity will be accomplished by God. He encourages steadfastness among Christians. Giving up the faith is not an option for St. Paul, even if fellow believers seem unfaithful themselves.
Now, I hope you see why these words seem so appropriate, in the context of our day. It seems to me that we have here good advice as we live out our faith today. In a time that the mission of Christ has been compromised, due to disagreements among Christians, St. Paul reminds us that this is precisely the time to pray for greater perseverance. The practice of steadfastness in our faith is a special responsibility for us in our day, as we hope and pray for the unity that will fulfill God’s will for God’s creation.
In summary, then, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome words which are appropriate and valuable to us here today. He encourages perseverance in Christian living, especially in times of disagreement and conflict. May we seek the gift of perseverance in our faith – this Advent and all year, this day and for all time, until Christ comes again as King. Amen..
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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