Sunday, November 30, 2008

First Sunday of Advent and Commemoration of St. Andrew

One of the ways in which the ACCA manifests the Western Christianity in its DNA is by the fact that it celebrates Advent as a season which is only four weeks long as opposed to the six weeks which are the general norm for the Eastern Christian rites. However, like our more mainstream brothers and sisters of the West Syriac rite in the Indian Orthodox Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, and the Maronite Church, the focus of our Advent observance is upon the “Happy Announcements” which precede the birth in the flesh of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. As it happens this year, the First Sunday of Advent and St. Andrew’s day coincide. This is not entirely problematic, given that St. Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, is the “first called” of the Apostles (John 1:35-42) and it is he, Andrew, who introduces Peter, who eventually becomes the first, the leader, of the Apostles, to the Lord. We also note that Andrew first encounters Jesus through John the Baptizer, the forerunner, whose mission it was to announce the coming of the “Lamb of God,” the Messiah.

The main focus of today’s Gospel reading (Luke 1:5-25) for this First Sunday of Advent is the announcement made to Zechariah, the Baptizer’s father, that he, Zechariah, an elderly man married to an elderly woman, Elizabeth, was about to become a father for the first time. Now Zechariah was a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and it had fallen upon him to enter the Holy Place to offer incense, as was done twice daily. As Zechariah is burning incense before the Lord, an angel, who turns out to be Gabriel, appears to him. Gabriel tells Zechariah, that this child, this firstborn son, is to be called John. Gabriel continues:

“And you will have joy and gladness,
and many will rejoice at his birth;
for he will be great before the Lord,
and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink,
and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit,
even from his mother's womb.
And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli'jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Zechariah does not believe the angel and is made unable to speak until the child is born.

But then, of course, John IS born, Zechariah’s power of speech is restored, and he speaks prophetically of the newborn laying before him:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."

We find these events foretold in one of the Old Testament readings given for this Sunday, Malachi 3:1-4: “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.”

So John comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” to “prepare the way of the LORD.” Who is “the LORD”? None other than the eternal God, “the Holy One of Israel”. The Messiah is the Eternal God come in flesh and blood. He is “Emmanuel,” “God-with-us”. He is the “Word of the Lord” who comes to Jeremiah and all the prophets, who comes as “the Son of Adam” to the Apostles.

In the other Old Testament reading given for this Sunday, Jeremiah 1:4-9, the LORD calls the prophet Jeremiah, who, like John the Baptizer, is consecrated before his birth to see the living God and to announce what he has seen. Jeremiah, like all prophets, including John and his father, Zechariah, has “the word of God” placed in his mouth. This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words to the Apostles, “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:17)

Apostles, who are themselves prophets, are sent to speak in the power of God, to speak as they are given to do so. As St. Paul writes in the reading from Romans (10: 10-18) for St. Andrew, “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news” and, from Psalm 19: “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”. They, too, speak of what they have seen, heard, experienced, their encounter with God, God with a human face. Over these 2,000 years, their message has come down to us in the Church, and we have heard and responded. In responding, we too experience the living God.

Advent, the season of arrival, the time of announcement, is a hinge upon which, in the present, swings past and future. The Lord who comes to us today in Word and Mystery, in proclamation and celebration, is He who has come and is to come. He has come in creation, in the encounter with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; He has come in the giving of the law, in the calling of the prophets. He has come as Jesus the Messiah. The Kingdom is present because the King is present: “change your minds and believe the Good News!” If we do so, then we too will be empowered to speak, to tell what we have seen and heard, to announce what we have experienced; in so doing, we will know that the Spirit of our Father speaks through us.

(Scripture quotations are from the RSV)

Happy Nameday, Andreas Mar Cassian! Many years!

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