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The Third Sunday in Advent

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

Crousetown and West Dublin  December 16, 2007

1 Corinthians 4:1-5     St. Matthew 11:2-10


LET a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ,

and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover,

it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.


This Advent, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus all those years ago, we are reminded in our readings of Christ’s coming at the end of time to be our judge.  And as we gather this morning to hear His word and receive His sacrament we know His present coming to our hearts and that it brings with it a cleansing, purifying judgement full of mercy.


In Advent 1 we looked at Christ’s coming to judge our loves – He is redirecting them, perfecting them.


In Advent 2 we looked at Christ’s coming to judge our hopes.  There is a transformation that is happening in us – our hopes are being purified, transformed from natural worldly hopes to supernatural spiritual hopes.


This morning we look at Christ’s coming to judge our faithfulness.



What does it mean to be a person of faith?


St. Paul says that, as believers in Christ, we are “ministers…and stewards of the mysteries of God.”   We possess something.  God has given us the gift of faith, by our baptism, and through the nurturing of that faith by others, mentors throughout our lives.


To have faith in God doesn’t mean that we know everything about God – how could we?  We do have some knowledge, but there is far more that we don’t know.


Thomas Aquinas describes faith as something like this:  For the believer, there is a curious coexistence of certainty and uncertainty – an element of perfection and an element of imperfection.  There is perfection in the firmness of our assent – we choose to believe – and imperfection in the fact that we can’t see fully.


St. Paul says elsewhere that Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the argument of things unseen.


So we have both an unshaken assent to what we believe “the substance of things hoped for” and also a lingering mental unrest “the argument of things unseen” – there is a mental reaching out for something not yet finally found.  In fact, the assent of faith, actually starts this very mental unrest.  [Joseph Pieper, Faith]


So we are not to think that because we don’t understand everything, that because we have so many questions still, that this must be a sign of unbelief – actually it is a sign of faith.  If we chose not to believe, there would be no more questions.



Why do we have this gift of faith?


First, God gives us faith to lead us back to Him.  As we are now, our souls are not able to see God.   But God gives us some glimpse that we might seek Him out and be made ready to see Him more fully.


Second, God gives us this faith to help us to lead others back to God – to be prophets of the most high, to be witnesses.  Think of how much our faith has been nurtured by the witness of others, who have led us back to the eye witnesses to Jesus – the apostolic witness, who in turn have led us to the testimony of Jesus Himself whose vision of the Father is perfect.


So it will not do, to say, I’ll leave it to the priests, or to others – the contemplatives or the theologians – to have faith, to think about God.  I’ll believe blindly and go about my business.


True faith, begins a mental unrest, a mental reaching out, that is to lead us to greater and greater seeing of the things that are unseen, the mysteries of God and that makes us able to help lead others to Jesus. 


Our faith in Him leads to understanding.  This doesn’t mean we need be anxious that we must have a certain amount of understanding before we are saved.  By faith we are saved, and this is the gift of God – it is to have turned our hearts towards Him, and then to rest in the certainty of His love while being filled with many questions that will be answered if we ask. 


We are “ministers… and stewards of the mysteries of God.”



“Moreover, it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”


St. Paul warns us not to be interested in pronouncing final judgement about the faithfulness of individuals – he doesn’t even judge himself.  But he is interested that we be found faithful.


It is God who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God.



If we would be a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, we would use this gift for the purposes it has been given:


We would be reaching out with our minds, with our questions, with our uncertainties to know God more.


And we would be witnesses to others of our faith – not necessarily with words – but by our very pursuit, and our growing vision of God, and by our witness to what is most important to us, in good times and in times of adversity when our faith is especially tried and purified.


St. John the Baptist, in today’s Gospel, is the example to us of being a faithful minister of Christ and steward of the divine mysteries.


St. John’s faith led him into the wilderness that he might know his true calling – that whole hearted assent we can imagine was combined with much mental agitation as he sought undistracted in the desert to know the God whom he loved. 


By the time he began to be a witness to his faith, it was clear by his message, that the motivation of his heart was not to gain bodily comfort, he didn’t want to be distracted from His first love by carnal comfort.  And it is clear that his preaching was not motivated by a desire for worldly power – he did not end up in the king’s house, but in the king’s prison.  And he was not, Jesus says, a reed shaken in the wind, but one who through the trials of his faith, had become like a rock.  And this was not by some kind of mental gymnastics, or hardened human prejudice, but because of a steadfast turning in faith towards the One whom he had sought to know all His life.  John had become like the unmoved Mover of all things – while the world swirled around him, he was steadfast.


When John was in his darkest hour, in prison, awaiting execution, we know who he was thinking of, and he directed his followers to leave him and go to Jesus.


We are to be like John the Baptist – by faith knowing God more and more and through our faith witnessing to others.


In Morning Prayer, the Benedictus is prayed.  It is the song that John’s father Zechariah said when John was born.  It is to remind each of us every day that we are to be like John:


AND thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest: / for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people / for the remission of their sins;

Through the tender mercy of our God; / whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;

To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, / and to guide our feet into the way of peace.


Think about it.  Desire it.  Be a prophet of the Highest, a faithful steward of the divine mysteries.


O LORD Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare the way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.



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