“From Strength to Strength: His Prophets Show the Way”
December 8, 2013: The Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11: 1 – 10/ Psalm 72: 1 – 8 / Romans 15: 4 – 13/Matthew 3: 1 - 12
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
This is the second Sunday of Advent. We shift into second gear in our preparations for the coming of the kingdom of our God, the fullness of it, as we fill our hearts against the busyness and the commercial frenzy of society. I don’t believe this is an accident and a coincidence that God would put in the Season of Advent up against the busyness all around us. It is a given that all the more you should focus on what is coming and not be distracted by what people do or think they do in preparation.
It is no accident that this time, traffic is bad, parties are here and there and there is shopping. It is just busy. In all this busyness, we are to focus on what we really should be preparing for: the coming of the kingdom of God.
What God is saying through the mouths of the prophets is the coming of the kingdom of God. John the Baptist, a very popular figure in the Season of Advent, said, “Repent.” “Prepare.” Why repent? It is because the kingdom of God is at hand. The establishment of the fullness of God is coming. Not that the kingdom of God is not here, but the fullness of it is coming. We are to prepare ourselves for that kingdom and for the return of our King.
In last week’s Daily Office, it was interesting that one reading from the gospel was the cleansing of the temple. What is that got to do with Advent? Cleansing of the temple is for Holy Week, but the cleansing represents preparation. Anytime God is coming; His vessel must be prepared. At a minimum, it should be pure. Why do you think God chose a virgin?
We are the temple of God and we are to be cleansed in order to be prepared for His coming. John the Baptist said, “One is coming mightier than I and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Fire is for purification purposes and the cleansing of us, the temple, the vessel of God, so that we may greet Him with joy at His coming.
We need to repent because the kingdom of God is coming. What is the coming of God? I referred to the gospel of Luke and saw the difference between the narratives of Luke and Matthew. John the Baptist confronted the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He told them, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” The kingdom of God is not about religion. The kingdom of God is about forgiveness and repentance and getting used to kingdom living.
The multitudes asked John the Baptist, “So the kingdom of God is at hand. What shall we do?” He said, “He who has two tunics, share one with him who doesn’t have.” The tax collectors also asked him, “What about us? What shall we do?” He said, “Collect no more than you need to.” Even the soldiers asked him, “What about us? What shall we do?” He said, “Don’t extort money from anyone and falsely accuse anyone. Be content with your wages.”
This is what the kingdom of God was all about that John the Baptist was preaching. What is the kingdom of God? What do we do to prepare for the kingdom of God? Deal kindly with your neighbor; with your brother. This is what the Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about. We do not prepare for the kingdom of God and its coming individually. We don't say, "I tithe. I don’t watch movies. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't put on make-up or wear jewelry. I let my beard grow.” This is not what the kingdom of God is all about.
St. Paul says that the kingdom of God is not eating, not drinking but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Righteousness: as you love God and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus is not coming back for us individually. He cleansed the temple, which is us corporately. I am not putting down individual piety or individual efforts toward holiness and righteousness. Let us not forget that God deals with us corporately. He will come for a bride and a bride is not one female person. The bride is all of us, the Church. We must prepare for His coming because we prepare as a bride. This bride within must have their relationships built up, edified, and fixed toward one another.
Jesus told a scribe who asked Him, “What must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?” Jesus said, “See the commandments for the kingdom of God. They are about our dealings with our neighbors –our brothers and sisters. In the kingdom of God, you do not covet your neighbor’s goods, your neighbor’s wife. You honor your father and your mother.” The scribe said, “Well said, Teacher.” Jesus said, “If you understand this, you are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The kingdom of God is not about observances of things and of rules and regulations. It is about our being like God, in that we love our neighbor as ourselves and we give them preference over us. This is not individualistic otherwise it will be Pharisaic. The Great Feast that we look forward in the Kingdom come will involve all of us. God will not give meal tickets for each of us and wait for our turn for Jesus to come to our mansions so that we will have a dinner with Him and He will go to the mansions one by one. No, we will have one feast for all because He deals with us as a Body.
In the gospel of Luke, the Pharisees and the Sadducees did not ask what they are to do. They said, “We have our own pietism. We have our own rules. That is enough.” They did not understand the kingdom of God. Romans 14 tell about righteousness, peace and joy. It talks about how that we must pursue things which make for peace and the edification of each other and the whole Body. Romans 15 simply continues the theme of Kingdom living. It says, “The strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength.” We carry each other. “Each is to please his neighbor for his neighbor’s good and for his edification and for the building up of our neighbor. Even Christ did not come to please Himself but to give His life for ransom for many.” Christ came to build us up and to give us life.
This is why Romans 15:4 says, “What was written before and happened before were given for our instruction.” The example of Christ is for our instruction so that by the encouragement of His example, we might have hope. “So that we might have one mind, walk in one accord, we would have one voice because we are one Body, one family.” The Hawaiian word “Ohana” is family and family means no one gets left behind.
Almost twenty-five years ago, I worked for McDonalds fastfood chain for three years. I worked all shifts. The hardest shift was called the “Closers.” We pull out everything; we cleaned everything which includes the grease accumulated. The standard was that everything, including the stainless equipments, has to be spotless. One time, I was assigned to that shift and one veteran crew called out to the manager after he finished. He said, “M’am, I am done.” There was this other guy who was not half-way finished. I remember what the manager said like it happened yesterday, “For those who are slow, you do not tell, you do not put to shame, but is helped.” As a rule, all of the closers punched out together. What would profit the faster crew member if he had to wait for the slower ones? If you want to punch out earlier, then help the slow ones. We all punch out together; we all finish together. The slow, the weak, you don’t put them down, you don’t tell them down, you don’t broadcast their weakness, but you help them. After all, the slowness of one will affect you too.
We meet Christ together as a bride, not as an individual. We all punch out together. Hebrew 11 talks about the heroes of faith. It says that all of them, having done heroic things in their lifetime, will not receive the promise of God because they have to wait for us. All of us, as a bride, will meet Christ on that day together. What is the message of the Parable of the Lost Sheep? Leave the ninety-nine and go for the other one. Everyone is important. The whole is not whole if one is lacking. Ninety-nine was not one hundred. Why go after the lost coin in the parable? It is important, a part of the whole. The whole is not whole with one lacking.
God is the Savior of all men. When the prophet said, "Prepare to meet Thy God,” he was not saying this individually, but as a people, corporately. Romans said that Jesus died for the Jew and the Gentiles alike. The Jews were not exclusively the chosen people. Gentiles are not to be left behind because mankind is God’s creation. He is not willing for anyone to perish but that all should come to repentance because He loves us all. He does not want anyone to be left behind.
Family means no one gets left behind. In the Kingdom, we are to do the will of the Father. No one perishes. Our participation in the life of the Church, in the life of our family affects our preparation to meet Him, our strength and our maturity.
In our Men’s Meeting, we had an activity. We were given three bags of plastic drinking straws and we were to build a house, a building or a church. Our group chose to build a church. The finished product looked like the work of Picasso, ugly, but it was very strong. Even if a wolf named Yolanda would huffed and puffed and would try to blow it down, it won’t. It was strong because the posts and the pillars were thick because we used several straws. Except for a few straws which the children played with, each straw given was used. Other groups had leftover straws. The building must include everyone for it to be strong. Those individual straws for one post were bound together. This what made it strong!
We will probably have our weaknesses, our flaws; people will criticize us but our strength comes from each one giving of himself. Each one is important. This is where we get our strength. I don’t care if it is a few, many, as long as it is one hundred percent. When you give your offering, we don't count or check how much you give. What does that represent? Ten percent of you or all of you? The widow who gave two mites gave more than anyone because it represented her all.
In the Church, it is all or nothing. I have shared several times before that our offerings will be brought up to the Altar and put side by side with Christ’s offering. Christ offered all of Himself – His life, His one-hundred percent. What we put in the Altar should not be any less than one hundred percent. We might say that it is just our tithe and offering; yes, but we must be willing to give all if God so asked for it because we acknowledge that we don’t own anything. God does.
We find strength in everyone giving of himself. Each one is important. The faster, the sooner we learn that, the sooner we hasten the coming of the Lord. The journey of Israel with Moses could have taken as short as two weeks. It took them forty years. They had to learn to walk together because this is what the kingdom of God is all about. Ephesians 4 talks about our preparation, our building up to a mature man in the stature of Christ. It says, “Until we ALL attain to the unity of faith to a mature man.” One, united mature man to the fullness of stature that belongs to Christ.
In a few months, we will be moving out of here. Our moving out of here is not about rentals and land ownership. It is about being in unity. God just uses this situation to see how we move out of here into the new place. Will we stick together? Will we be in unity? The goal is not finding a place, but how do we get together? The goal of God is not about Egypt to Canaan, but through the wilderness. They had to prove their faith in Him and their unity as God’s people.
Each one is to give himself to that. In the college where I graduated, on one wall of its basketball gym was written in big letters: “When the great scorer pens your name, he writes not whether you won or lost but how you played the game." How will we move out of here? We will make it to the place but maybe only one person took care of moving all these fixtures. This is not what God wants. God wants each one of us to be involved. He wants us to stay and stick together. He writes not whether you made it to the next place or not, but how you get there. Did you get there by asking one person who has a lot of money? God will provide but how will we move?
The Second Coming is to establish His kingdom in its fullness. When we do that and we demonstrate our unity which is what the kingdom of God is all about, and all the more we hasten the coming of His kingdom. We demonstrate our preparedness for it. It is matter of getting used to what the kingdom of God is. This is preparation. If we live the kingdom of God now, then, we are prepared for the establishment of its fullness when it does come in its fullness. It is already here but it will come in its fullness.
Read Isaiah 11 which is a picture what the kingdom of God is all about. Like a child playing with a cobra; wild and gentle and meek animals grazing together. This is the kingdom of God. It is not just talking animals, but about us getting rid of the animal in us living in peace together. This is how we prepare for the kingdom of God. He wants us to walk accordingly, to actualize, to realize, and to demonstrate His kingdom. When we do, we hasten its coming and we are prepared for it. We segway right into the fullness of God because we have been living this. This is the way it is in the kingdom of God.