TRINITY XXIV – THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE ADVENT
Introit: (Jer. 29) Thus saith the Lord: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: ye shall call upon me, and I will hearken unto you: and will bring again your captivity from all places. Ps. (85) Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
Collect: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people: that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
OT Lesson: In those days: Jeremiah the Prophet spake, saying: Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land. (Jeremiah 23.5-8)
Gradual: (Ps 50) He shall call to the heavens from above: and to the earth, that he may judge his people. V. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness, for God is judge himself.
Epistle: Brethren: We do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of the will of God in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1.9-14)
Alleluia. The ransomed of the Lord shall return to Sion with everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and weeping shall flee away. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (St Matthew 24.15-35)
“…walk worthy of the Lord, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
One of the themes stressed over and over in the New Testament is that the Kingdom of God is otherworldly. Jesus tells Pilate (John 18.36): “My kingdom is not of this world.” And every time He made this point, He confused the Jews—even his disciples. In a way, this was understandable, since for most of the previous seven hundred years, the Jews had lived under the yoke of the world’s great empires: the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greek, and the Romans. The Jews were expecting a Messiah who would lead a victorious army against their oppressors, and usher in a rebirth of the Davidic kingdom. Thus they could not understand nor accept Christ’s statements about a spiritual kingdom. But as Christians, we do understand that His Kingdom is not of this world, that while we continue to live in this world, our real citizenship is in heaven—that we live, as it were, with one foot in each kingdom. But the problem for us is that we too often forget about the reality of God’s Kingdom. We get so caught up in the things of this world, our immediate cares and worries, that we hardly give a thought to the next. All our time, not to mention our physical and spiritual resources, are spent on temporal and material things. We lose our eternal perspective, living as if there is nothing more to life than the here and now. The Church’s calendar is meant to remind us that, while God’s Kingdom may be spiritual, it is no less a present reality, and that reality should make a difference in how we live our lives each and every day. Yes, we are in the world, but we are not of the world; we are citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Today is the Sunday Next Before Advent. In the Revised Calendar it is usually observed as the Feast of Christ the King. Both these observances remind us that as we move into Advent and begin a new Church Year, we enter a season specifically intended to point us to the reality that Christ is our King and Judge, and that we are citizens of His Kingdom. This last Sunday of the year is particularly significant as it brings us full circle—the First and Second Advents intersect and intertwine in a most vivid way. The lessons of Trinity-tide teach us about growth in holiness, and how to live as citizens of God’s Kingdom. As we move into Advent the lessons will be reminding us that God will not leave us as aliens in a strange land forever. Jesus came to redeem us, and He will come again to judge the world and receive us to Himself. Today’s lessons turn us from life here and now, and point us toward eternity: Jeremiah points us to the First Advent and the Gospel points to the Second, while the Epistle speaks of the in-between.
When Jeremiah wrote the words of his prophecy, the world was grim for God’s people. For centuries they had repeatedly rejected him as their God, paying him lip service, going through the motions of religion, but in reality worshipping the false gods of their pagan neighbours, even setting up altars to them alongside God’s altar. Through the prophets, God kept calling the people back to Himself, but apart from a small faithful remnant, the people continually refused. Already, some 130 years before, the ten northern tribes of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians, were exiled, and interbred with them (becoming the Samaritans). Soon Judah too would be conquered, Jerusalem laid waste and the temple totally destroyed, and the Jews carried into exile in Babylon. At the time Jeremiah was writing, the Babylonians were at the door. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor, had already looted the king’s treasury and stripped the temple bare, and had set up a puppet king in Jerusalem named Zedekiah. Yet in the midst of all this devastation, Jeremiah writes a message of hope: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called: the Lord our Righteousness.”
At a time when the rightful heir to David’s throne was a prisoner to a foreign land, when the temple had been stripped bare and the worship of God had ceased, Jeremiah prophesies that God will not leave His people desolate forever. A day was coming in which a true heir of David would again rule over all God’s chosen people (Judah and Israel reunited), and in his wise reign he would bring justice and righteousness. And then to draw a complete contrast with the present state of the kingdom, he says that this coming King will be calledיְהוָֹה צִדְקֵנוּ —“IHVH-Zid’keynu—the Lord [is] our righteousness.” The significance of this will not appear to us immediately if we do not speak Hebrew. Remember that the king at that time was Zedekiah. The name “Zedekiah” means “the righteousness of the Lord,” or “the Lord is my righteousness.” Zedekiah had made a mockery of that name. He was weak and did nothing but evil, just as so many Hebrew kings before him, but, says Jeremiah, that will change one day. The people had no righteousness of their own, they stood under the Lord’s just condemnation and punishment, but the Lord would one day send them a king who would be the righteousness which the people did not and could not have on their own. This Branch—this King of the line of David—would come and save them. He would be their righteousness. And in a time when, because of their sins, God had removed not only His presence, but even the temple—the visible sign of His presence—this righteous king would restore the presence of God, and completely transform the identity of His people: “the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, ‘As the Lord liveth, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord liveth, who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” The national identity of the Jews was tied to the Exodus—when God had rescued the people from slavery in Egypt and led them into the Promised Land. That is what they looked back to when they thought of themselves as God’s people. Jeremiah says that this future righteous King will completely change that perspective. His subjects will draw their identity from how they were brought back into His righteous kingdom from all the nations.
In the Gospel, Jesus paints a similar scene. “When ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place … then let them which be in Judæa flee into the mountains … for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” However, we are not to focus on these things. Our Lord is far more concerned with our spiritual life. He tells us what to expect so that we will be prepared, but He reminds us that our comfort and refuge will be found wherever His Body is present.
Speaking in apocalyptic terms, Daniel had written, “After the sixty-two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be desolations of war. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week, but in the midst of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out upon the desolator.” (Dan. 9.26-27) In other words, the Messiah will be put to death, and those who hate Him will appear victorious, eventually outlawing the true worship of God. Yet though they may seem victorious, they will be destroyed in the end. Jerusalem and the Temple were no strangers to destruction. The Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in Jeremiah’s day. Antiochus Epiphanes erected a statue of Zeus and sacrificed swine inside the Temple. The emperor Caligula would soon install a statue of himself upon the altar, and finally, in 70 A.D., the Romans would level Jerusalem, leaving not one stone atop another.
But Jesus ends this section of His prophecy by saying, “Wherever the corpse is, there the eagles will gather.” The Church has always understood this as referring to the Faithful being gathered around Christ. Wherever Christ Crucified is proclaimed plainly and faithfully, there the people of God will gather. We all were captive to sin, living as exiles from God, subject to nothing but death and destruction. Yet God sent His own Son to be born of the line of David and to become one of us, to live a life of perfect obedience to God’s Law, to die the death that each of us should die, so that, as we submit to His kingship, He will be our righteousness—righteousness that we can never have on our own. In fact, He has established us as His temple. No matter how difficult our lives become, God is faithful. He delivers those who have faith in Him, and has opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers, giving us the faith to pray the Church’s greatest prayer, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to keep us in the Faith, so that as the world points to its false christs, we can look to the true Christ, His crucified and risen Body, exactly where He has promised to be until the end of the age.
The Righteous Branch has come into the world. He has become our righteousness—righteousness we can never have of ourselves. But the First Advent always points us to the Second. Jeremiah and the prophets foretold the first coming of the King to establish His kingdom, bringing righteousness, gathering His elect from the nations, and making them a temple for Himself. But the King Himself prophesied that He would come again. The kingdom life we now live is but a foreshadowing of the life we will have when His Kingdom is fully consummated at His return. In the meantime, we have work to do for the advancement of His Kingdom. As we come to the end of another year and draw ever closer to His Second Advent, let us consider again our call to ministry and service.
The Collect reminds us that our King calls us to “bring forth plenteously the fruit of good works,” and that those who seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, abounding in those good works His gifts make possible, to them He will give abundant rewards. Because of our sinful human nature, we have a natural inertia. We need God’s grace to “stir up our wills,” and we need the power of His Spirit to get us moving in the right direction.
“Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.”
Collect: Purify our hearts, we beseech thee, O Lord, by thy gracious visitation; that thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, when he cometh with all his Saints, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
And may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.