The Word Became Flesh

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
December 25, 2011 Christmas Day

Isaiah 52:7-10, Psalm 98, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14

From the Prophet Isaiah:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation.

From the Letter to the Hebrews:
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

And from the Gospel of St. John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Amen. †

When King Solomon dedicated his temple, he asked the question: will God indeed dwell on the earth? God’s glory had dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34), and in the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11); but that glory had departed from disobedient Israel (Ezek. 9:3).

Then a marvelous thing happened: the glory of God came to His people again, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to us as a humble infant, a baby boy; born to Mary in the little town of Bethlehem. The writers of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) have given us “snapshots” of our Lord’s life on earth, for no complete biography could ever be written (John 21:25). Matthew wrote with his fellow Jews in mind and emphasized that Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Mark wrote for the busy Romans. Whereas Matthew emphasized the King, Mark presented the Servant, ministering to needy people. Luke wrote his Gospel for the Greeks and introduced them to the sympathetic Son of man.

But it was given to John, the beloved disciple, to write a book for both Jews and Gentiles, presenting Jesus as the Son of God. We know that John had Gentiles in mind as well as Jews, because he often “interpreted” Jewish words or customs for his readers (John 1:38). His emphasis to the Jews was that Jesus not only fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, but He also fulfilled the types. Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) and the Ladder from heaven to earth (John 1:51). He is the New Temple (John 2:19-21), and He gives a new birth (John 3:4ff). He is the serpent lifted up (John 3:14) and the Bread of God that came down from heaven (John 6:35ff).

Whereas the first three Gospels major on describing events in the life of Christ, John emphasized the meaning of these events. But there is one major theme that runs throughout John’s Gospel: Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and if you commit yourself to Him, He will give you eternal life (John 20:31).

My sermon title this morning is “The Word became Flesh.” Much of our words reveal to others our hearts and minds, so Jesus Christ is God’s “Word” to reveal His heart and mind to us. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). A word is composed of letters, and Jesus Christ is “Alpha and Omega” (Rev. 1:11), the first and last of the Greek alphabet.

Our Epistle reading this morning states: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus Christ is God’s last Word to mankind, for He is the climax of divine revelation.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, for He existed in the beginning, not because He had a beginning as a creature, but because he is eternal. He is God and he was with God. Christ is the “author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9). Through His death, He “obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12) and He shares with believers “the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). His throne is forever (Heb. 1:8) and He is a priest forever (Heb. 5:6). “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Jesus Christ is the creative Word, for God created the worlds through His word: “And God said, ‘Let there be …’” “For He spoke and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9). God created all things through Jesus Christ (Col. 1:16), which means that Jesus is not a created being. He is eternal God.

The verb was made is perfect tense in the Greek, which means a “completed act.” Creation is finished. It is not a process still going on, even though God is certainly at work in His creation (John 5:17). Creation is not a process; it is a finished product.

Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word, for He was not a phantom or a spirit when He ministered on earth, nor was His body a mere illusion. John and the other disciples each had a personal experience that convinced them of the reality of the body of Jesus (1 John 1:1-2). Even though John’s emphasis is the deity of Christ, he makes it clear that the Son of God came in the flesh and was subject to the sinless infirmities of human nature.
In John’s Gospel, he pointed out the humanity of Jesus when he said Jesus was weary (John 4:6) and thirsty (John 4:7). Jesus groaned within (John 11:33) and openly wept. On the cross, He thirsted, died and bled (John 19:28-34). After His resurrection, He proved to Thomas and the other disciples that He still had a real body (John 20:24-29), howbeit, a glorified body.

How was the “Word made flesh”? By the miracle of the Virgin birth (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). He took on Himself sinless human nature and identified with us in every aspect of life from birth to death. “The Word” was not an abstract concept of philosophy, but a real Person who could be seen, touched, and heard. Christianity is Christ, and Christ is God.

The revelation of God’s glory is an important theme in the John’s Gospel. Jesus revealed God’s glory in His person, His works, and His words. John recorded seven wonderful signs (miracles) that openly declared the glory of God (John 2:11). The glory of the Old Covenant of Law was a fading glory, but the glory of the New Covenant in Christ is an increasing glory. The Law could reveal sin, but it could never remove sin. Jesus Christ came with fullness of grace and truth, and this fullness is available to all who will trust Him (John 1:16).

God’s Word comes to life when you read it with His Holy Spirit. Life is the key theme in John’s Gospel. What are the essentials for human life? There are at least four: light, air, water and food. Jesus is all of these! He is the Light of the World (John 8:12). He is the “Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2). By His Holy Spirit, He gives us the “breath of life” (John 3:8; 20:22), as well as the Water of life (John 4:10, 13-14). Finally, Jesus is the Living Bread of Life that came down from heaven (John 6:35ff). He not only has life and gives life, but He is life (John 14:6).

Light and darkness are recurring themes in John’s Gospel. God is light (1 John 1:5) while Satan is “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). People love either the light or the darkness, and this love controls their actions (John 3:16-19). Those who believe on Christ are the “sons of light” (John 12:35-36). Just as the first Creation began with “Let there be light!” so the New Creation begins with the entrance of light into the heart of the believer (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The coming of Jesus Christ into the world was the dawning of a new day for sinful man (Luke 1:78-79).

Whenever Jesus taught a spiritual truth, His listeners interpreted it in a material or physical way. The light was unable to penetrate the darkness in their minds. This was true when He spoke about the temple of His body (John 2: 19-21), the new birth (John 3:4), the living water (John 4:11), eating His flesh (John 6:51ff), spiritual freedom (John 8:30-36), death as sleep (John 11:11-13), and many other spiritual truths. Satan strives to keep people in the darkness, because darkness means death and hell, while light means life and heaven.

This fact helps explain the ministry of John the Baptist (John 1:6-8). John was sent as a witness to Jesus Christ, to tell people that the Light had come into the world. The nation of Israel, in spite of all its spiritual advantages, was blind to their own Messiah! John the Baptist was one of many people who bore witness to Jesus, “This is the Son of God!”

Why did the nation of Israel reject Jesus Christ? It was because they “knew Him not.” They had Moses and the Law, the temple and the sacrifices; but they did not comprehend that these “lights” pointed to the true Light who was the fulfillment, the completion, of the Old Testament religion.

They saw His works and heard His words. They observed His perfect life. He gave them every opportunity to grasp the truth, believe, and be saved. Jesus is the way, but they would not walk with Him (John 6:66-71). He is the truth, but they would not believe Him (John 12:37ff). He is the life, and they crucified Him!

But sinners today need not commit those same mistakes. The Gospel of John gives us the marvelous promise of God that anyone who receives Christ will be born again and enters the family of God!

The Light is still shining! If we study His Word, feed on His word, He will come alive in us and dwell in us; and salvation and eternal life will be ours.

Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God. As we celebrate the birth of your Son Jesus, may we look forward to and with anticipation to His return. Help us not to get lost in the hustle and bustle of this world. We thank you for your gift freely given. We love you with all our heart, mind, and soul. May your light shine through us and give us the courage to be a witness to a darkened world. Help us to be true to you and to your word. As we feed on your Word, may your Word dwell within us. This we ask in the name of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.


Tonight, Changes Everything

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Christmas Eve, 2011 – The Sacrament of Holy Communion

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:

Behold, your salvation comes….

From St. Paul’s Letter to Titus:

The apostle wrote, when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us…in virtue of his mercy…that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

And From the Gospel According to St. Luke:

The angel appeared to the shepherds and said, Be not afraid, I bring you good news of a great joy…for to you is born this day in the city of David a saviour …who is Christ the Lord.

Let us pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

Sometimes the most important things in life are the little things that that we so often overlook but that really do make all the difference. Among all of the beautiful words that proclaim the astounding account of God’s saving work in history – that saving work beginning with the account of the conception and birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, every word carries great import – but many words – little words -little words that make a big difference – get overlooked.

For instance, at every celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion when we recite the Nicene Creed – the perfect declaration of the essential truths of our Christian faith and religion – every word, even the prepositions, are vitally important. One collection of little words get special emphasis every time we speak them. They are the words regarding the Incarnation. We say, with special emphasis and slowly, and was made man.

Why the special emphasis? Because in Christianity, God miraculously becomes man. That’s the essence of our faith. It’s the event in human history that changes everything.

Let’s look at another example. The most important part of the message that the angel proclaims to the shepherds is that the Savior is born. Of seemingly lesser importance are the time and place of His birth – the time, this day and the place, in the city of David, which we know to be Bethlehem.

But the time and place carry tremendous importance even though they may not seem to be all that critical. With the identification of the time, we know that the eternal God for whom time has no consequence except in the realm of His creation in which it operates – that is, in our realm – the time means that our Eternal God has entered into the process which carries us away to our natural end – natural death by virtue of the natural order of the natural law established in this natural world by the same super-natural God. The time of our savior’s birth thus breaks the power of time with its gloomy progression releasing us from the otherwise inevitable consequences of passing time.

And the place means that God, who has no limits of either time or place, chose to take on human flesh in a very specific place a tiny village in the near east. Other than the fact that the greatest King of the Hebrew people had been born in that village some 1,000 years prior to the birth of Jesus, Bethlehem remained completely unremarkable. The tiny little town was of no consequence in the world, pretty much overlooked in the total scheme of things – overlooked at least until the specific time of the Savior’s birth. And then that little village became holy so as to make every other village, town and city holy – to the extent that God would be received, honored, glorified and worshiped in that place and in those places.

That’s why this particular place is so very important – God became man there. His Word became flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth – in the little town of Bethlehem. Hence, the natural order of the natural world had been – and continues to be – redeemed. Time and place get redeemed and Death starts walking backwards. Eternal life – triumphs. For the tiny little baby boy, born in that tiny little village would grow up to become the man who would hang on a cross to defeat the powers of sin and death and – yes – save the world.

Everything changes with the incarnation of God. For those who believe, time no longer has the last word. And neither does place. For, at that time and in that very special place, all places become a place or the place in which salvation may be received. Instead of just one holy city, all cities can become holy – even the city in which you and I live. And we can become holy at any time as we live in any place. And so can anyone else – for God was born as a baby boy at a specific time and in a particular place.

Yes, everything changes. God is no longer an impersonal and unknowable power or force in or beyond the universe – He has become personally knowable right here and right now. He no longer lives beyond our touch but touches our hearts, minds bodies and souls. We can embrace Him by faith and rest in the divine embrace even as Mary embraced her little baby. God is no longer just the source of and the power of the Law but reveals Himself to be the source of and the power of eternal salvation given to us by His grace because His loving kindness. Just as we can so easily love a little baby, so He loves us as His redeemed children.

Everything changes. The angel said to the shepherds, Fear not… Hence we need no longer fear that our lives are meaningless as the existentialists claim or merely natural as the pagans believe, or under the divine wrath as Islam teaches or condemned to suffering as the evil one would want us to believe – but rather just the opposite – we are children of God – essentially meaningful, supernaturally valuable, eternally redeemed and graciously saved by, in and through God’s self sacrificing and most holy love.

He came to us to take us unto Himself. So we come to Him. We come to His sacred table, where we can take Him into ourselves that He may dwell in us as we dwell in Him. He said, this is my body. In this bread of life, we eat of the Word made flesh to dwell among us and taste our salvation. And He said, drink this cup of the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for many for the remission of sins – so we drink of our redemption.

As the shepherds went to see the newborn Christ, so we become new born – born again – in this Sacrament of His Body and Blood. They went to Him 2,000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. He comes to us right here and right now.

And tonight, as we celebrate that most holy night of
2, 000 years ago – tonight, because of that night, everything changes. God became man – the Word became flesh – to redeem time and place and save us because He loves us. Simple as that.

With this in mind, let us pray.

Heavenly Father, bless us with hearts, minds, bodies and souls receptive of your great gift of salvation. As we embrace the Child of Bethlehem, so embrace us with your gracious loving kindness. At this time and in this place, as we receive this Sacrament of Eternal Life, so enliven us that we may serve and please you to the honor and glory of your Son, Jesus Christ –
the Child of Bethlehem
and the only Lord and Savior
of all mankind,

True Temple – True Ark – True God

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Advent IV – Christmas Sunday – 18 December 2011

II Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27, Luke 1:26-38

From the 2nd Book of the Prophet, Samuel:
King David said to the Prophet, Nathan, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar but the ark of God dwells in a tent. And God says to the King, through Nathan, Would you build me a house to dwell in?

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
In closing this most eloquent epistle, the apostle wrote, Jesus Christ…the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed….

And from the Gospel According to St. Luke:
After the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she will miraculously conceive the Son of God in her virginity, she responded saying, Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

The 4th Sunday in Advent had often been called Mary Sunday in that historically the scripture lessons designated for this day concern themselves with the Mother of our Lord. Although Protestants have, I believe, properly criticized the Roman Church for an overemphasis on the Virgin Mary, we most certainly have taken the opposite and extreme position. Protestants have not thrown out the baby with the bath water but have virtually thrown out the mother with the baby’s bath water. We did however; keep the baby to our credit. But His mother is important as well.

We should pay more attention to the one person in all of human history to whom God had paid the most particular and special attention. He chose this very young woman, identified in Scripture as a virgin full of grace, to become the mother of His child.

Being so uniquely close to God, many believers see her as one to whom they can and / or should pray. Again, for many Protestants, this is problematic since we proclaim direct access to God the Father through God the Son. No other intermediary is either necessary or desirable.

Yet most Christians around the world, being either Roman Catholic or some type of Orthodox, do pray to her – or through her. In the prayer called The Hail Mary, based on Gabriel’s annunciation to her that she would conceive the Son of God, the devoted speak of Mary as the Mother of God – a bit misleading since God has no mother, but nonetheless the incarnation of God does have a mother. She is thus the Mother of the Incarnate God. And as such deserves, again as Scripture states, special love and veneration. We should call her blessed.

For many of us such veneration does not mean prayer but does mean love. And that’s a good thing. If more of us saw her as the example of faithfulness, goodness and grace that she is, I think we would have avoided the distortions of the current secularist and often atheist movement – hugely destructive. Mary serves as the supreme example for the human response to God’s saving power. She not only shows us what it means to be a woman, she also exemplifies what it means to be both human and faithful.

When she conceives Jesus, she becomes the ark of the New Covenant. But we’re a bit ahead of ourselves. We need some background on the ark of the Old Covenant.

The ark of the Covenant became well known in the popular culture with the release in 1981 of the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark – a great film starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, the handsome archeologist commissioned to find the lost ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s Nazi investigators find it. They’re searching for it since it was believed to hold astounding miraculous powers. (So the story for the movie goes. We have no hard evidence that the Nazis had ever seriously searched for the lost ark.)

In the Bible, the ark did in fact hold astounding powers. When King David attempted to bring the ark into the city of Jerusalem for the first time, the ark began to slip. A man named Uzza caught it to set it upright. Upon his touch, though, he dropped dead. Because of its astounding power, only certain of the priests could come near to it and only the high priest could actually touch it. One had to be especially holy to do so.

David loved God and venerated the ark. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses engraved with the Ten Commandments, a golden bowl of manna collected during the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrew people after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and before they settled in the Promised Land -and also contained Aaron’s rod – the rod that belonged to Moses’ brother, Aaron the priest, which miraculously budded with almond flowers and bore ripe almonds.

The ark thus held three miraculous objects – the Ten Commandments miraculously revealed to Moses and engraved in stone, the miraculous food that God supplied to His chosen people in the wilderness and Aaron’s miraculously budding rod. That rod, as in thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me – one of the shepherd’s instruments for guiding and herding his sheep – Aaron’s rod indicated his authority over all the other leaders of the Hebrew tribes to serve as the high priest. All the tribal leaders had rods – only Aaron’s budded indicating the miraculous power of life inherent in his priestly authority.

That symbolism carried on through the centuries. Today, bishops use a shepherd’s rod and or staff as a sign of their priestly authority.

The Old Covenant between God and man had been the Covenant of the Law – divinely revealed and given as part of God’s promise to make of His people a great nation possessing a rich and fertile land abundant with life in every form. Biblical history testifies that God kept His part of the covenant but the people did not. The punishment for breaking the covenant would be death. But that’s not what God did.

Just the opposite. For although the people – and that means all the people who believe in and lay claim to the One True God – or better expressed, the people to whom God lays claim as His own – all of us deserved and deserve the punishment to the extent that we broke the law of life.

But as I just indicated, God does the opposite. For instead of the death penalty, He gives us the eternal life reward- totally undeserved but perfectly given because God loves us as He loved Mary. Like the mother of the incarnation, God loves all of us – so much so that He takes our place on the gallows of judgment and dies for us – that in His death He pays the price for our sins and we can live forever in the perfection of that same divine self-sacrificing love.

This is the great mystery of which St. Paul so eloquently speaks. It the mystery of salvation and of a quality of holy love that cannot be explained but can only be received. Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who is also Mary’s son, is the living revelation of the mystery of the ages kept secret until His crucifixion and resurrection – the revelation for which He was born to Mary and given to us.

Hence, as Mary consents to miraculously conceive the Son of God, she becomes the ark of the New Covenant as she carries that child. And as we receive the saving power of Jesus Christ within our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, so we too become a true ark of the New Covenant of our salvation. Alive in us, we become alive in Him – forever. That’s the mystery – that’s the miracle.

God commissioned King David’s son, Solomon, to build Him a house – the glorious Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem. In
that magnificent building, the ark of the Covenant was house in the most holy place called the Holy of Holies.

But on 586 B.C., the Babylonians conquered the people, ravaged the Temple and off carried the ark to Babylon never to be seen again; hence, so many searches for the lost ark over the centuries.

But we need not search for the lost ark. We, and all who believe, become a living ark of the New Covenant. And the Temple has become, not a building in Jerusalem, but the resurrected Christ who dwells in us. St. Paul speaks of the true believer’s body as a temple of the Lord. And it is – and so we are. We are the true ark and the true temple in Jesus Christ.

God has established this. The only role we play is that we, like Mary, must give our consent. She said, Be it unto me according to thy word. And we must say the same.

With our consent, we come alive in Him as He comes alive in us. And in this New Covenant of God’s self-sacrificing love, we live forever. Simple as that.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, grant to us the grace to give our full faith. Remove any conditions that we place on our love and devotion to you. Make of us living arks and true temples that we may so worship and serve you that we can honor and glorify your Holy Name both now and forever. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,

born of Mary,

in whom we can live forever.

Sent to Bear Witness

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Advent III – 11 December 2011

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robes of righteousness

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
The apostle wrote, Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances…Do not quench the Spirit, do not despise prophesying, but test everything, hold fast to what is good, abstain from every evil.

From the Gospel According to St. John:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

The hymn immediately following the sermon was written to tell the story of the greatest of all of the Old Testament prophets – St. John the Baptist. And a quick comment on the hymn before we get into the substance of this morning’s message. You will notice that a word in the second line of each stanza is underlined. That indicates that the word gets an extra beat. You will catch on after the first try, I’m sure.

Back to John. I said that he was the greatest of all the Old Testament prophets – and that he was. In his lifetime – unlike all the other prophets – the Messianic prophecies had been fulfilled. The old testament between God and His people had been fulfilled. A new testament had been established.

In his day he was know as John the baptizer. He had a reputation. For some, his reputation could not have been more glorious, honorable or holy. Many believed him to be the Messiah sent by God to liberate His chosen people from the Roman oppressors. Although he was not the Messiah, many believed him to be the Messiah – or at least hoped that he would take up that mantle. Hence, he enjoyed a good reputation among those who had placed their hope in him to save them.

But for others – especially for the Romans and their sympathizers, John was seen as trouble maker, a rabble rouser and potential revolutionary; a dangerous threat to the peace and stability of this Roman province – a religious fanatic who boldly proclaimed God’s judgment on the corrupt and perverse King Herod as he also called everyone to repentance.

As he baptized in the wilderness for the forgiveness of sins, he boldly passed judgment on the most egregious offenders. Nothing warm and fuzzy about John the baptizer. Just the opposite. Political correctness had no place in this holy man’s life – neither did mincing words or sugar-coating anything. He served as a prophet – not as a diplomat. He called for repentance, not for compromise or accommodation. He called a sin a sin and pronounced judgment on those who did not repent.

He kept himself out of the general temptations of what you and I would call normal life. He did not marry, had no intimate personal involvements, owned no property (other than his parents home in or near Jerusalem), lived in the wilderness, ate very little and wore rough camel’s hair clothing. He avoided corruption to the best of his ability. He had no vested interest for personal gain from any political involvement. Yet he was profoundly involved in politics – not as a politician but as a judge

John the baptizer judged King Herod for divorcing his wife, Phasaelis (an Arab princess) to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias, who was also his niece.

Now, John’s judgment fell hardest on Herodias. Under Jewish law, a woman could not petition for divorce. Under Roman law, she could. So she did. She chose her Roman identity over her Jewish religion and heritage – for her, a questionable religion and heritage but one on which the entire family laid claim so as to rule over the Jews. Herodias made the terrible mistake of setting Roman law over Jewish law and giving the priority to Rome. Not a good thing in the eyes of God’s prophet, John. Not a good thing in the eyes of the faithful Jews of that generation.

At that time in history, the Jewish population suffered under Roman oppression. Excessive taxation and the general corruption of the government thwarted their lives.

The faithful hungered and thirsted for the righteousness promised by their prophets – men like Isaiah. His words that one day God’s chosen people would be clothed in righteousness and wear the garment of salvation – that they would exult in their God and rejoice in His presence – that’s what the faithful wanted more than anything else in the world. They wanted the Messiah to come and bless them with salvation. Hence, someone like Herodias profoundly offended them.

And the issue of her marrying her uncle – should I say another uncle – her first husband was her uncle as well – added incest to the already toxic arrangement. Among the faithful, none of the Herods could be respected.

Herodias despised John. Her husband, Herod Antipas, on the other hand, feared John. John was the single most powerful man in ancient Palestine – other than Herod. The people believed that, as I indicated before, he might be the Messiah who would liberate them from the Romans. He might lead a violent revolution.

After the king has arrested John, Herod would visit John in prison. Perhaps he enjoyed the conversation. Perhaps there was something in the man that told him that this strange man, John, just might be a true prophet. Perhaps the corrupt king was searching for authentic righteousness. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he just wanted to know his enemy so to be better defended against him. Herod, like his father, was paranoid regarding his power.

John held impressive and authentic Jewish credentials. He was not part Jewish and part pagan as were the Herods. He came from a priestly family, his father being Zechariah who served as a priest at the altar of incense in the Jerusalem Temple.

People remembered his father and his mother, Elizabeth, as well. An elderly couple known for their righteousness had never had children. Yet they conceived in their old age – a miraculous conception like that of their ancestral father Abraham and his wife Sarah.

People also remembered that when the Archangel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would soon be a father, he couldn’t believe it. So he was struck dumb for his disbelief. He did not speak until after his son, John, was born. So John, like the prophet, Isaiah, had been born into a priestly family with all the credentials of a heritage of righteousness. The circumstances of his conception and birth showed that the hand of God was upon him.

But for all that John was and for all that he did, he had one primary vocation. His true vocation was to bear witness to the light that was coming into the world – the light of true enlightenment – very light of very light – true light of true light – the light of God Himself – the Divine Word made flesh to dwell among us full of grace and truth as well as full of light. John’s primary purpose – divinely established and divinely ordained – was to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the light of the world. And John did just that.

He began to fulfill his vocation even before he had been born. When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, pregnant with John, Elizabeth’s baby leaped in her womb bearing witness to Mary’s unborn child as the incarnation of God.

And, of course, as adults, Jesus went to John for baptism. And John said, You should be baptizing me – not I baptizing you. But Jesus received John’s baptism to sanctify baptism by water and by the Holy Spirit. John again bore witness to Jesus. The people asked him, Are you the Christ? John answered No – But the Messiah will come after me and the thong of his sandal I am unworthy to untie. And John also proclaimed, Behold the Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world!

Well, John continued his ministry without compromising his judgment. Herod had him arrested and in a state of drunkenness and lust, the king consented to his wife’s wish – expressed through her daughter, Salome – to have John beheaded. And John was thus martyred – as so many other righteous prophets had been martyred before him.

For us who live two thousand years later, we look to John for inspiration. We have a similar calling – to bear witness to Jesus Christ. For us, we do so after our lord’s crucifixion and resurrection – after the full revelation of God’s power manifested in and through His Son, the Savior of the whole world.

But for us to be believed, we need to follow the admonition St. Paul gave to the Thessalonians – to hold fast to what is good – to abstain from every evil – to live in the Spirit and not to despise prophecy but to honor true prophecy having tested it for truth – very important – and to rejoice in the Lord always.

St. Paul instructed us to test everything. And that means to evaluate every claim to truth being made today – by any philosopher, religionist or especially by any politician – to test the truth of their claim against the Biblical standard – and most importantly by the standard set in the conception, birth, life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the only Savior of the whole world to whom St. John, the greatest of all prophets, bore witness.

Our job is to bear witness just as he did. It may or may not make us popular. It requires us to avoid, to the best of our ability, all evil. It calls us to constant repentance for all of us are sinners and the opposition will be quick to point that out our short comings using it against us and against our testimony. It requires us to pray constantly.

And if we are faithful, we will not play the current political games but will test everything for truth accepting nothing at face value. That’s what St. Paul means when he says, Do not quench the Spirit – the Spirit being the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit being the Spirit of Truth as Jesus gave that Spirit to us – the Holy Spirit of the living Truth.

Hence, every Christian has a common vocation – to bear witness to Jesus Christ as the only savior of the whole world. In and through His sacrifice on the cross we find our salvation. In Him lives our righteousness. Baptized by water and the Holy Spirit, we can live lives that, in all humility, show those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life.

That’s our job. And like John, unworthy to even untie His sandal, we nonetheless do the best we can to manifest the saving power of our Lord.

With this in mind, let us pray.

Heavenly Father, bless us with the courage necessary to fulfill our calling to bear a faithful witness to you – that in all that we say, in all that we do and in all that we are, we may honor and glorify your Holy Name as we seek a deeper faith and a higher righteousness.

Keep us in the Spirit of Truth that we may test everything and serve as your faithful disciples. We ask this in the name of
and for the sake of your Son,
our Savior,
Jesus Christ the Lord,

Sacramental Preparation

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak

Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

The Sacrament of Holy Communion – Advent II – 4 December 2011

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-15; II Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

From the Book of the Prophet, Isaiah:
“Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd….

From St. Peter’s 2nd Letter:
The apostle wrote, But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise…[and so] we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

From the Gospel According to St. Mark:
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…and he preached, saying, After me comes he who is mightier than I…he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. E

I often check out websites for other churches. And before I go any further, let me digress with a shameless plug for our website – it’s excellent! Check it out for yourselves and recommend it to your friends. It’s well worth the time. But back to my website cruising. I especially enjoy those on which the Pastor publishes his sermons.

I came across one this week in which the preacher expressed my seasonal feelings and frustrations hitting the proverbial nail on the head. It was about the seasons of Advent and Christmas. He properly made the clear distinction between the two; Advent being a season of preparation for the Second Coming of Christ followed by preparation for the holy celebration of His first coming. And that first coming is, of course, Christmas – a separate and distinct season.

The first two Sundays in Advent anticipate the Second Coming – that is, our Lord’s return at the end of time to judge the world in the perfection of His righteousness and then to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – with the creation of a new heaven and new earth. Behold, I make all things new.

The last two Sunday refer more specifically to His first coming as the Child of Bethlehem – Mary’s son – the Son of God – God the Father in human flesh as God the Son – born just like anyone else as a tiny little baby: born some 2,000 years ago. We need to celebrate that great occasion properly called the Nativity of our Lord or simply the Incarnation. Incarnation means in the flesh. And to celebrate it properly means exuberant worship first and party-time second.

As I have said for so many years – and as other preachers say as well – we have diminished or even extinguished the holiness of these seasons. The holy days have become mere holidays as if there had never been anything holy about those days. With diminished holiness, we have diminished souls. And some have extinguished souls.

Truly, the secularization of anything results in a diminished soul or the actual loss of one’s soul. After all, What does it profit a man if he gains the world but looses his soul? We can loose our souls.

In our culture, the secular powers have turned the season of preparation into the season itself. Advent – the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas – is not Advent any more – it’s a jump-start on Christmas. And Christmas Eve and Christmas Day – which begin the twelve days of the Christmas Season – pretty much end the celebration that they’re supposed to begin. Many people set up their trees at Thanksgiving and take them down the day after Christmas. They’re entirely missing the point.

The secularized Christmas can be all about Santa Claus forgetting that he’s really Saint Nicholas, a devout, self-sacrificing Christian bishop who helped poor children. Furthermore – and much more importantly, Christmas may or may not take note of the baby boy born 2,000 years ago to save the world – Born that man no more may die. Born to give them second birth.

Churches have compromised as well. Many are decorated for Christmas even now. Congregations are singing Christmas carols and the great, magnificent and powerful Advent hymns never find expression. Those hymns proclaim the power of God in His righteousness.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. People do not really want a powerful and righteous God. They want an indulgent god over whom they have power. Something to think about.

Those great Advent hymns call all of us to repentance. They tell us of the good news to come for the true believers – but do not sugar coat the bad news for those who reject God’s self sacrificing gift of Himself for salvation. The processional hymn for last Sunday, Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending, makes it clear regarding those who hate Him. The words are Deeply wailing, deeply wailing shall the true Messiah see. In fact, many churches have no idea that this or any other Advent hymn exists. And they want to believe that everybody automatically goes to heaven when they die. Not so. False gospel.

Now, one might well ask, Does it make any difference? And I say, Absolutely! It makes all the difference in the world – and all the difference in the world yet to come. Remember, eternity is just that – eternal. This world has an end. The next world does not.

Although some say that the liturgical calendar is a man made way to organize the worship and educational missions of the church around the major events in the life of our Lord, I maintain that it came about – and has been refined – by the working of the Holy Spirit – hence, divinely inspired and established. Christ baptized His church with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit has been working in, on and through His church from the beginning. The liturgical seasons represent one part of that great, ongoing work.

Thus we can say that the liturgical calendar has been given to us not as a law to be kept as a means for salvation but as a discipline of faith that allows us to not only grow in faith but also to serve as a corrective to the influence of the unredeemed forces of this world. It serves to increase our souls as the world seeks to diminish them – elevation versus degradation – the holy standing over and against the profane.

Furthermore, it prevents us from creating our own religions made up of just the happy things with none of the hard parts – all resurrection with no crucifixion. Many people forget that the resurrection cannot happen without the crucifixion and – without the crucifixion, there’s no salvation.

The battle for your soul and for mine was fought – and won – on the cross. Broken body – shed blood – victory. And after that, resurrected body. But always broken first.

Yet before the broken body, the holy birth. Christmas for the sake of Good Friday. Good Friday for the sake of Easter Sunday. And both for the sake of the salvation of our souls – and the resurrection of our bodies.

If people properly observed Advent, none of us would have been standing in line at any of the major stores across the nation at midnight ready to race in and grab whatever special deal is offered on the latest thing for Christmas. You see, that comes from the unredeemed world.

A sober and even somber emphasis on the return of Christ is for the redeemed who seek to live out their redemption; the redeemed being those who have received God’s special Christmas deal – the greatest bargain – the gift of redemption at no cost to us but at such a great cost to Him.

The redeemed can say with the prophet Isaiah, and I paraphrase, Behold our God! He comes with might and with his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd – but for those who delight in evil, he will break them like a clay pot.

Recompense – a strange word – not part of our normal conversation. It literally means making amends for harm, injury or injustice; and also, rewards or punishments according to one’s actions. You see, He came and will come again for recompense. A correct Advent observance makes that perfectly clear so that we can have a clear path to redemption. Advent properly kept makes straight in the deserts of our lives a highway for our God. That highway goes directly to the true Christmas.

Recompense and repentance. John the baptizer baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He used water that outwardly cleansed the body in an effort to inwardly cleanse the soul. Repentance and recompense. They really do go together.

And finally, another aspect to this season that we must not overlook – the aspect of our impatience – a largely unconscious impatience for most of us but intense however unconscious. We’re impatient for an end to corruption, tyranny, injustice, hatred, terror, anxiety, fear, sickness, death and cruelty. We’re impatient for the full realization of the power of the most holy love. We’re impatient to see the face of God in the face of our Saviour. We’re impatient for the perfection of goodness and the righteousness of His promise fulfilled.

St. Peter spoke to an inpatient early church that expected the immanent return of Christ instructing them to be patient. He told them – and we need to remember his worlds – that for God a thousand years is like as day. Here the apostle echoes the psalmist who sings, a thousand years in thy sight are as yesterday when it has past or as a watch in the night. His job was to save the world. Our job is to wait patiently for Him to complete His job.

But we don’t just sit around and wait. No way. We make a way for the Lord – a way for further growth in faithfulness in our own lives and a way for Him to be proclaimed in the world to those who reject Him or know little of nothing about Him. John cried in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” And we need to proclaim the same message in the wilderness of the present secular, profane and unholy generation.

And in the meantime, we properly prepare by receiving the Lord into our bodies as we receive Him into our souls. A sacramental preparation. He gives us this great sacrament of His broken body and His shed blood.

This sacrament of salvation is our holding action as we wait for His return. We partake until He comes again. We feed on Him so that this world will not feed on us. We ingest His death so that we won’t die. And He will raise us up on the last day.

So come to this sacred table – prepare ye the way of the Lord in and through this sacrament. Take and eat … in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, as we receive this sacrament of our salvation, grant that we may always hunger and thirst for your righteousness. Prepare in us a highway for you and, by the power of your Holy Spirit, grant recompense and renewal as you have reconciled us through redemption – given on the cross of your Son,
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ the Lord -
who will come again.
Amen. E

The Return

Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 27, 2011 Advent I

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

From the Prophet Isaiah:
Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; we are all the work of thy hand. Be not exceedingly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, consider, we are all thy people.

From the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Amen. †

I hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Thanksgiving. Good food and good fellowship with family and friends. I trust that everyone thanked God for the delicious food and the many blessings He has bestowed upon us.

When things are going well for us, we may think that we don’t need God or we take Him for granted. We think we can handle things on our own without asking God for help or guidance or even thanking Him for the many blessings He has given us (such as, His Son, Jesus Christ). The question we all need to ask is: What priority is God in our lives? Is attending church and worshiping God a priority? Since you are here, it is.

Now what happens when there is a problem in your life. Let’s say you have to deal with the loss of a loved one; perhaps there is a problem in your family; trouble at work, maybe you lost your job; perhaps you are concerned about what’s going on in our country or around the world. Given any one of these situations, one might turn to God for help, guidance or understanding.
We assume that God will always be there for us. But should He listen to us if He is not a priority in our lives; when we don’t attend church regularly; when we don’t give of ourselves generously (which includes our time and our income). Why should God care about us if we don’t care about Him? God is with us through the good times and the bad times and He expects us to be with Him also.

When you read the Old Testament, you read about the history of God’s chosen people, the Jews. The Old Testament is the history of humanity: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The Jews certainly had their ups and downs with God. When they turned to God and repented of their sins, He forgave them and blessed them; they were victorious in battles and they prospered. However, after awhile when things were going well, they thought they could manage on their own without God. They turned to idols and other gods.

We read in Psalm 115:4-5: Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make idols will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.

In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah was preaching to a “blind and deaf” Israel (like the Idols they worshiped). It is God’s people, who are blind to his ways and deaf to his word. They worship what they have made, rather than the creator – this is at the heart of idolatry. When the Jews turned from God, He would punish them and allow bad things to happen.

The prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz, proclaimed his message to Judah and Jerusalem between 742 and 687 B.C., that critical period in which the Northern Kingdom was annexed to the Assyrian empire and which Judah, the Southern Kingdom lived uneasily in its shadow as a tributary. Nothing is known about the early life of the prophet, although it has been conjectured from certain aspects of his message that he may have been a priest.

Isaiah lived at a time when God’s temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, Gods’ glorious land had been ravaged, and His people were in exile in Babylon. Isaiah cries out to God to “come down” and reveal his awesome power to the nations. The other nations trust in dead idols, so let them see what the living God of Israel can do!

Why was God not working wonders? Because the Jews had sinned and must confess their sins and turn from them. God has planned for his people wonderful things beyond their imagination, but their sins prevent Him from sharing His blessings. Is there hope? YES, because god is a forgiving Father and a patient Potter. He can cleanse us and make us anew if we will let Him have His way.

The problem of sin was not restricted to the Jews, in fact it continues to this day. The problem is that we don’t always let God have His way; that we don’t always repent of our sins.
Perhaps as Christians, we have a false sense of security with the saving grace of Jesus Christ; that we can do whatever we want and He’ll forgive us. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

Our Epistle reading this morning has Paul writing to the church in Corinth. Corinth was a defiled church. Some of its members were guilty of sexual immorality; others got drunk; still others were using the grace of God to excuse worldly living. It was also a divided church, with at least four different groups competing for leadership (1 Cor. 1:12).

How did this happen? The members of the church permitted the sins of the city to get into the local assembly. Corinth was a polluted city, filled with every kind of vice and worldly pleasure.

Around the 1970’s there was a slogan in the Protestant denominations: “we are in the world, but not of the world.” This meant that we would hold fast to our Christian beliefs; that we would set the example to a disbelieving world. Unfortunately, soon after that, the church developed a philosophy that the church needed to change in order to attract people or hold onto “young” people. We need to welcome diversity. So, the churches conscientiously or unconscientiously allowed the sins of the world into their churches. This was especially the case here in New England. Unfortunately, the opposite result happened. The church has lost thousands of members; attendance is down; churches are closing. People turned away from God and His Word.

The word church in Greek means “a called-out people.” Each church has two addresses: a geographic address (i.e. 730 Main St. Waltham, MA) and a spiritual address in Jesus Christ. The church is made up of saints, that is, people who have been “sanctified” or “set apart” by God. A saint is not a dead person who has been honored by men because of his or her holy life. No, Paul wrote to living saints, people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, had been set apart for God’s special enjoyment and use. In other words, every true believer is a saint because every true believer has been set apart by God and for God. We are God’s living saints!

As we enter the Advent season and look forward with anticipation to Christmas. It is natural for us to think of the coming of Jesus Christ. But I am not talking about the birth of a baby boy, I am talking about the return of Jesus Christ, where He will establish His kingdom on earth.

When we look at the times we are in: high unemployment, fighting in the streets, promotion of class warfare, fighting across the Middle East. One might wonder, will things get better or are these signs that His return is near?

Our gospel reading this morning talks about the end times and the tribulation. In the Book of Revelation, the last half of the Tribulation is called “the wrath of God” (Rev. 14:10,19). During this time, God will judge the world and prepare Israel for the coming of her Messiah.
It will be a time of intensive judgment such as the world has never seen or will ever see again. In it, God will be working out His purposes and setting the stage for the coming of the Conqueror (Rev. 19:11ff).

Satanic deception will continue to the very end, and false Christs and false prophets will lead people astray. In fact, they will even do miracles (Matt. 7:21-23). So deceptive will be these miracles that even the elect will be tempted to believe their lies. Of themselves, miracles are not a proof of divine calling and approval (Deut. 13:1-5). The final test is the Word of God.

The tribulation period will climax with the appearing of terrifying signs in the heavens and worldwide chaos on the earth (Luke 21:25-26). These signs, which have been predicted by the prophets (Isa. 13:10; 34:4), will prepare the way for the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. It will be a revelation of His great glory as He comes to establish His rule on earth (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7).

The Apostle Mark describes the re-gathering of Israel from the nations to which they have been scattered throughout the world (Deut. 30:3-6). They will see their Messiah and trust Him, and the nation will be created in holiness and glory (Zech. 12:9-13). Some theologians think the reestablishing of the State of Israel to be a sign, where Jews from around the world have returned to the land promised by God.

Jesus did not want His disciples or us to get so involved in the prophecies of the future that they would neglect the responsibilities of the present. Those responsibilities are: sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost, being a living saint, and living a life in the control and will of God.

As Christian believers today, we are not looking for “signs” of His return; we are looking for Him! But people living during the Tribulation will be able to watch these things occur and will know that His coming is near. This assurance will help them to endure (Mark 13:13) and to be good witnesses.

We as believers do not depend on signs; we depend on His unchanging Word, the “sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19-21). But He does command us to “watch.” To “watch” means to be alert, to stay at one’s best, to stay awake. Why must we stay alert? Because nobody knows when Jesus Christ will return. When He was on earth in His humiliation, Jesus did not know the day or hour of His coming again. Even the angels do not know. The unsaved world scoffs at us because we continue to cling to this “blessed hope,” but He will return as He promised (2 Peter 3). Our task is to be faithful and to be busy, not to speculate or debate about the hidden details of prophecy.

Watchfulness has nothing do to with going to heaven. It is purely a matter of pleasing Him, hearing His loving commendation, and receiving His reward (Matt. 25:14-30).

While Christians today may not experience the terrible sufferings described in the Tribulation, we will have our share of persecution and tribulation in this world before the Lord returns (John 16:33). But the warnings in this chapter of Mark may be applied to our own lives today: “Take heed that you are not deceived” (Mark 13:5); “Take heed that you do not become discouraged and quit” (Mark 13:9); “Take heed, watch and pray” (Mark 13:33).

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, “Watch” (Mark 13:37).

Let us pray:
O Lord, most merciful and gracious God. As we look forward to and with anticipation to the return of your Son. Help us not to get lost in the affairs of this world. May we be ever vigilant to His coming again. We love you with all our heart, mind, and soul. Give us the courage to be a witness to a darkened world. Help us to be true to you and to your word. And may we be a living saint in your church and with all we meet. This we ask in the name of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name we live and pray.