In this Advent series, today I’d like to talk about Jesus, “He whose words shall not pass away.”
Having an English Teacher seating on the pews, I must, therefore, be very careful about what I am going to say.
Granted that they have their own self-interest very well present, but “welocalize” – a company dedicated to help businesses and organizations to “Communicate effectively across markets, cultures, and contexts,” affirms what it should be self-evident.
“Language evolves over time. We no longer speak or communicate in the English that Shakespeare wrote his plays in. The words, the pronunciations, and the grammar rules have all changed. In fact, we no longer communicate in the same language as our grandparents.”
And of course, the same could be said about music, dress code, education, literature and even the structure of government – All that we define as culture. And in fact, cultural change could open a very interesting discussion about social sciences. However, for the time being, let us limit ourselves to the realm of words.
Languages evolve in the same way as culture does. Small changes and then, sudden, generational, even overwhelming changes almost overcome us.
But language doesn’t change only in terms of the arrival of new words and in the vanishing of old words, but in the meaning and usage of them.
We live in a world that encircles us with words that often bring fear, discord, and even hopelessness. Every day brings new messages that cannot always be trusted, like one that I received, “The government has a program to give you $3,500 dollars to help with the cost of living. Just click here!”
In her 1983 hit “A Little Good News” – which forty years later I believe still it is quite relevant – Anne Murray sang,
I rolled out this morning kids had the morning news show on
Bryant Gumbel was talking about the fighting in Lebanon
Some senator was squawking about the bad economy
It's gonna get worse you see we need a change in policy
Just once, how I'd like to see the headline say
Not much to print today can't find nothing bad to say.
As you drive by, you can often see signs screaming about how bad and ugly is a political opponent, and not positive messages about how they propose to solve the problems we all face.
In the church, I am sorry to say, we do not fare any better. It is true that divisions in the church are nothing new. But vitriol rather than balm, and hatred rather than compassion are at the front and center of too many a sermon – all in the name of God, of course.
It is against such backdrop that in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “The world, culture, trends, and structures – even the church – eventually will pass away. However, my words shall not pass away.” That it is to say, our Lord’s words are of lasting value. And, therefore, perhaps our Lord’s words should be taken seriously.
What did Jesus say that is of such lasting value? What Jesus said that can transcend language and culture? What did Jesus say that His words may transcend the test of time? What did Jesus say that we, in the Church, should take heed?
First, Jesus spoke about love. When Jesus spoke about love He wasn’t talking about commercialized or transactional love. But sacrificial love. The love that has no qualms in getting its hands dirty for the sake of the beloved. The love that causes people to keep mum, when a caustic “I told you so” may be in order. The love that places the life of the other ahead of one own’s.
Second, Jesus spoke about truth. No truth with disclaimers, fine print, or conditions. Truth; liberating truth. The truth that should motivate us to say “Amen” when we hear the prophetic words, “We all have fallen way short of what you created us to be – indeed, we have messed beyond repair.” Such are the words that we need to hear so that we can understand our need to return home to our Father’s loving embrace.
Third, Jesus spoke about relationships. No matter which way one tries to describe the Trinity, in the end one word suffices – Relationship. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit who is supposed to nest like a heavenly dove in our lives. Jesus the Head of the Church, whose members relate to each other to work in harmony for the salvation of the world.
Fourth, Jesus spoke about service. Not self-dealing. But as we heard last Sunday serving those who deserve it the least. Service not for the sake of recognition “for what we do what we were supposed to do” but for God’s sake. Service which Jesus Himself modeled, by taking a washbasin and cleaning our feet, and hung on a Cross for His blood to clean our souls.
Fifth, Jesus spoke about righteousness. Righteousness – and here is another word whose meaning has changed. Righteousness goes beyond justice. While justice toes the line of the law, righteousness goes the extra mile. While justice is about the fine print, righteousness is about caring for the good of all.
Sixth, Jesus spoke about human dignity. How valued are all and each one of us under God’s eyes. Time after time, Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his days not to impose on others the burdens that they themselves were not willing to carry (Acts 15:10). The Feast of the Incarnation says it all – He became like one of us, so that we may become like Him.
Seventh, Jesus spoke about faith. Not faith in the sense of articles of faith or defining how many steps one should walk during the Sabbath, but faith in the sense of trusting God. In the old days, a handshake was as good as a contract. Well, God’s handshake to humankind was on Calvary’s Cross. While faith speaks of believing in God, trust speaks as believing God.
Eight, Jesus spoke about gratitude. It is telling that one of the words that parents try to instill in their children is the notion of gratitude. “What do you have to say?” we ask our children. And yet, as grown-ups, it is the word that we tend to forget the most. Beyond the obvious, let me suggest that we should learn to be grateful to those who from the shadows make our life better.
Ninth, Jesus spoke about commitment. Jesus didn’t use the word “career.” I don’t know even if the word existed in those days. But if anything, Jesus was not a “Christmas and Easter” Christian. Since the foundation of the world, He committed Himself to the salvation of the world, to bring us back home. Jesus spent his lifetime here on Earth to love, to rescue, to heal, to bless, and to affirm. And He further promised to hang out with us until the end of time.
And finally, Jesus spoke about hope. Hope for better days yet to come. As the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. James Perumbalath remarked, hope is not optimism. “Optimism is based on our circumstances, and our understanding of progress. Hope comes despite our circumstances, and when there is no sign of progress.” How could Jesus keep on keeping on when He knew that the Cross laid ahead? Because He hoped beyond the circumstances, trusting no progress, but God.
“To whom shall we go,” asked Peter. And Peter himself answered, “You have words of eternal life.”
As we all face the challenges and uncertainties of our daily life, let this season of Advent be a time to renew our hope, laying hold to what Jesus had to say.
During this Advent Season, let me encourage you to pray in these words inspired in an old prayer from the BCP,
Be present with us, O merciful God, and protect and inspire us through the day, and even when the Sun fades – That we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may be sustained by your words of love, truth, and hope, and at night we may rest upon your unchanging faithfulness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.