The Three Comings of Christ (Advent, 2011)

Have you ever noticed how, in the Christian Faith, so many things come in “three’s”? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Peter, James, and John.  Faith, hope, and love.

Another “Trinitarian triad” which is especially relevant at this point in our church year is found in the Memorial Acclamation of our Eucharistic Prayer:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

I’ve long reflected on our confession of this “triple event” in terms of Advent, a time when we prepare for the coming of Christ. (Note that, in Latin, the verb venire means “ to come,” and the prefix ad means “to” or “toward.”) It points, I think, to the reality of the three “comings” of Christ, all of which require our preparation. Christ came; Christ comes; Christ will come again.

First, Christ came. He came to our hurting and broken world 2000 years ago as baby boy, born to a young teenage girl in Palestine. He came to an afflicted people, in desperate need of something, someone, to put their hope in. This first coming, when the God-man walked upon the pages of historical time and space, is something catholic Christians actively re-member every year in Advent. We relive it, we reimagine it, we prepare for it. When it comes to this, the “first coming” of Christ, what is going on is that we are preparing for the remembrance of a past event (not unlike the annual preparation for one’s wedding anniversary).

But, second, Christ comes. Every Eucharist, every time the Word is read, in fact every moment of our lives, God in Christ approaches us in loving relationship. This is true on so many levels we scarcely have time or space to discuss it. In my Christian formation class this year during Ordinary Time we spent many weeks discussing and practicing a form of prayerful reading called lectio divina, and this is why: Christ is always present, and yet the challenge and need is for us to develop and cultivate an awareness of that presence. Hence, we pray. We meditate. We contemplate. We wait. We listen. “Be still,” the Psalms instruct, “and know that I am God.”

Finally, Christ will come again. This we confess at every Eucharist in the words of the Nicene Creed: “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” No man knows the hour, and few should claim to know the manner, but that he will return, we are absolutely certain. And though the details are hazy, we are told that he will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thes 5:2) Therefore, St. Paul admonishes, “let us not sleep, as others do, but keep awake, and be sober.” (1 Thes 5:5) Sounds like preparation to me.

All of this reminds me of a quotation from Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes: “We imagine the past, and we remember the future.” The past, the first coming of Christ, is an event which renews and redeems the world, simultaneously bringing Israel’s story (for us, the Old Testament) to its anticipated climax. It is no ordinary event. It is the “axis mundi,” the pivot of history. It is, at the same time, the climax of our story, yours and mine. When we read about God’s people in the Old Testament, we are reading about our community, our selves. This is an event we are imaginatively to re-inhabit.

The future, in turn, is something we “remember,” for we have already been told how it will end. Putting aside all of those dense, thick commentaries on the Book of Revelation for a moment, we do see in the last two chapters of our Story a renewed community, celebrating the ultimate victory of God and his Lamb. We know, in other words, “who wins” in the end, and we know that our destiny is sure: to rest in and to enjoy our Three Person God forever with all his Saints.

We imagine the past; we remember the future. In so doing we are enabled more and more to live fully into the present moment, in which Christ comes to us continually and without reservation.

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Christian Nation? The Founders on Religion

I highly recommend James Hutson’s book of quotations, The Founders on Religion.

Reading it I realized (or rather, was reminded) that, of the six most influential founders of the US (John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington), two were Unitarians (Adams and Jefferson), and one was a deist (James Madison), one was an all-out nonbeliever / non churchgoer (Franklin).

That leaves only two of the six as remotely resembling the historic Christian faith. (Note: of these six, four were Episcopalian!)

Is it any wonder that the landscape of American Christianity (to say nothing of the Episcopal Church!) today is so muddled? The more things change….

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All Saints & The Greatest Pleasure on Earth

My wife (quite the Inklings scholar) reminds me that, while Tolkien wanted the circle of friendship between him, Lewis, and few others to remain small, Lewis wanted it to be large and expansive. It is tempting to want to read Anglican and Roman approaches to church into these postures.

Happy All Saints (the better to celebrate, I offer the following quotation)!

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles [Williams] is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a [specific kind of] joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true friendship is the least jealous of the loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend…. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in his own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. (The Four Loves)

Perhaps this is why Lewis, in another All Saints quotation, asks “Is any pleasure on earth so great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” (Letters of CS Lewis)

Perhaps, too, this is why ++Rowan Williams says that “It takes the whole Church to know the whole truth.”

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Becoming Like Jesus (Renovare & Spiritual Formation)

Note: this article is also on the Epiphany Tyler website.

Do you desire to be more holy? Do you have a longing to be more like Jesus?

My wife Bouquet is from a land locked country (Laos). I myself grew up in the Texas Panhandle, a region about as remote from the life of sea and sailing as I can possibly imagine. Therefore neither my wife nor I have much experience at all in sailing (although the idea of sailing quite intrigues me!).

When Canon John Newton (our Diocesan Canon for Lifelong Spiritual Formation) was at our parish a few weeks ago, he used an excellent analogy to describe the life of the Christian. He likened our spiritual life to sailing on the open sea. No matter how hard the captain of a vessel wishes that the wind would blow, there is absolutely nothing he can do to make it blow. So what does he do? The only thing he can do is to put of the sails, and create the right conditions for wind-propelled motion.

In the same way, Canon Newton reminded us, in our spiritual lives, we cannot force the Holy Spirit to do his work of transformation in our lives, changing us into the likeness of Christ. Rather all we can do is to “put up our sails” and let the Spirit blow. After all, it is the nature of the open sea for the wind to be blowing. It happens naturally, organically.

Now, of all the amazing speakers I heard at our diocesan clergy conference last week, none was more thought provoking, none more deeply encouraging, than Christopher Webb. Chris, the President of Renovare, spoke to us of the “means of grace.” After, all, in our office of Morning Prayer, we read “We bless thee for … the redemption of the world … the means of grace, and the hope of glory.”

What are these “means of grace?” Much like the action of “putting up our sails,” when we practice the means of grace (prayer, bible study, fellowship, worship, and various other disciplines) the wind of God, the breath of God, begins to move in our lives.

Webb clarified: “The means of grace are not disciplines that make us into more holy people. They are disciplines or practices that make our lives as open possible to the grace of God, so that we can stop trying to make ourselves into more holy people, and let God do it instead.”

Such is the deep, rich, practical theology behind spiritual formation. Would you like more of this? I have two invitations for you.

    1. Consider joining a Christ Church neighborhood group in the Spring. In those groups we will be going though the book of one of Chris Webb’s colleagues at Renovare: The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. These books are packed with wisdom and practical steps to make us more like Jesus. When read in community … sit back, and feel the Spirit blow.
    2. Consider attending (and bringing a friend or two!) my Christian Formation class on Sunday, November 13. The title of this event is  “Christian Spiritual Formation: Becoming Apprentices of Jesus – A Conversation with Fr. Matt and Lyle SmithGraybeal, the coordinator of Renovare, on small groups and the theology behindThe Good & Beautiful book series by James Bryan Smith.”

 

“Becoming Apprentices of Jesus.” This is what we are about at Christ Church, under the leadership of our Bishop and our Rector.

Our Sunday morning classes, our emerging small group ministry, our worship, our prayer, our fellowship … transformative means of grace which allow the Spirit “naturally” to blow through our lives!

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