The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, November 22, 2004

Fr. Carl's sermon for Christ the King Sunday before Advent

Please scroll down for the November Ordo through Nov. 25

During this past week, in our First Lesson readings at the Daily Offices, we read, in the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees, of Mattathias and his sons, heroic Israelites during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Antiochus IV (175-164 BC), who styled himself Epiphanes, "God revealed," or “the manifest one,” but nicknamed Epimanes, "the Mad," due to his abnormal and erratic behaviour, was the 8th ruler of the Seleucid empire. Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great’s leading generals, became satrap (governor) of Babylonia in 321 BC, two years after the death of Alexander. The Seleucid empire (312–64 BC), was carved out of the remains of Alexander the Great's Macedonian empire by its founder, the aforementioned Seleucus I Nicator. Some 150 years later, Antiochus Epiphanes undertook an aggressive series of military campaigns to consolidate his power and to secure the territory of the Seleucid kingdom, which by this time, included Palestine. In 168 BC, his military ambitions came to an brought abrupt halt when a legate of the Roman Senate ordered him to withdraw from Cyprus and Egypt. The Romans, however, allowed him to keep southern Syria, against the Egyptian claim, thereby allowing him to keep that portion of the Seleucid realm intact. Many historians remark on his enduring hatred for the Jews, which may have been exacerbated by this rebuff. Whether it was simply a case of resistance from the Jews of Antiochus’ attempts to thoroughly Hellenize them, or whether he truly did despise them, he made a rather furious and determined effort to exterminate them and their religion. He devastated Jerusalem in168 BC (1 Macc. 1:21-31), defiled the Temple, offered a pig on the altar, erected an altar to Jupiter, prohibited Temple worship, forbade circumcision on pain of death, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, destroyed all copies of Scripture that could be found, and slaughtered everyone discovered in possession of such copies, and resorted to every conceivable torture to force Jews to renounce their religion. 1 Maccabees records all of these nasty things that Antiochus did, and even other horrible things such as killing women who had had their children circumcised against his orders. This led to the Maccabaean revolt, a truly heroic venture in the history of the Jews, as recorded for us in 1 Maccabees.

The aforementioned desecration of the Temple altar occurring on the 15th day Kislev in the year 167 BC (1 Macc. 1:54). Kislev is the ninth month in the 13 month Jewish civil calendar, approximating to the last part of November and early December. Judas Maccabaeus and his brothers recaptured Jerusalem in 164 BC, and on Kislev 25 (1 Macc. 4:52), three years after its defilement, the Jews cleansed and rededicated the Temple. Hanukkah is the eight-day festival celebrating this event. This year, Hanukkah begins on December 8.

Mattathias, of a priestly family line, lived in Modin (Modein), a village just to the north of Jerusalem. His lament over the ruin of Jerusalem and other parts of Judea by Antiochus is recorded at the beginning of Chapter 2 of 1 Maccabees. As we discovered this past week in our readings, his lament, however, was not to result in the same passive capitulation of the other Jews. Beginning at verse 14 in Chapter 2, we read, “Then Mattathias and his sons rent their clothes, and put on sackcloth, and mourned very sore. In the meanwhile the king’s officers, such as compelled the people to revolt, came into the city Modin, to make them sacrifice. And when many of Israel came unto them, Mattathias also and his sons came together. Then answered the king’s officers, and said to Mattathias on this wise, ‘Thou art a ruler, and an honourable and great man in this city, and strengthened with sons and brethren: Now therefore come thou first, and fulfil the king’s commandment, like as all the heathen have done, yea, and the men of Juda also, and such as remain at Jerusalem: so shalt thou and thy house be in the number of the king’s friends, and thou and thy children shall be honoured with silver and gold, and many rewards.’ Then Mattathias answered and spake with a loud voice, ‘Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances’.”

Today, the last Sunday in the Church year, is also designated as the Feast of Christ the King – a day on which we are encouraged to contemplate Who is the King of kings; a day on which we, like Mattathias and his sons, might judge whether we will be led like sheep, going astray and worshipping earthly rulers, or whether we will stand fast in “the religion of our fathers” as they did.

Today has also been designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church – a day on which we are encouraged to pray for our brothers and sisters in over 130 countries around the world, who even today live under regimes similar to that of Antiochus Epiphanes, or should we say Epimanes? Certainly many rulers or ruling parties in various countries exhibit today the same sort of irrational anger, even hatred, towards Christians and Jews as did Antiochus towards the Jews in the 2nd century before Christ. Are they any less “mad” today than he was?

Subsequent to the impassioned statement by Mattathias that he and his family would remain steadfast in the covenant of their fathers, they rebelled with force both against Antiochus and against lapsed and lapsing Jews. Most famous, as mentioned, are the exploits of one of the sons, Judas Maccabeus, in liberating Jerusalem and rededicating the altar in the Temple. The autonomy of the Jews was secured by Judas and his successors for a century.

As we know, by the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jews were yet again under the yoke of unbelieving rulers. In anticipation of the Messiah, likely recalling the heroism of a century and-a-half before, they most probably were hoping for another Judas Maccabeus – someone to drive out the hated Roman occupiers, someone of royal descent, a brilliant military general and politician. Such expectations for the qualities of a king would not be so very different today, would they? But of course we know, or at least we should know from our study of the Bible, that God does not think as we do. Instead of a king fashioned according to human expectations, Christ the King was, and is so very different. Not regal, not wilful, not pompous, not aggressive; but humble and loving. And oh how that humility and love have overpowered mighty men and kings who all are truly powerless in the face of God.

This past week, we commemorated the life of Hugh, 12th century bishop of Lincoln. Hugh was almost unbelievably forthright, and especially it seems to the reigning monarchs of England. In spite of his bluntness, he somehow managed, literally, to keep his head on his shoulders through the reigns of Henry II, who as we might recall had Thomas a Becket “offed” right in Canterbury Cathedral, and Richard I – the lion-hearted – for whom Hugh refused to raise money for foreign wars. Hugh lived into the second year of King John, with whom his relationship was less happy. John showed him an amulet, which he said was sacred and would preserve him. Hugh replied, "Do not put your trust in lifeless stone, but only in the living and heavenly stone, our Lord Jesus Christ." The following Easter he preached at length on the duties of kings, and the king slipped out partway through.

Today, on the feast of Christ the King, we are reminded in one of our Collects that it is God’s will that the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of His Son Jesus Christ. Might we all emulate Hugh in our forthright proclamation of this King to Whom we will bow and obey. Many of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, without any knowledge whatever of Hugh of Lincoln, follow in his footsteps with no thought of consequences.

In the information package that we received leading up to this Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, there are suggested sermon notes. In the preface, we are encouraged to remind our congregations that, in spite of the precipitous decline in the Church in the West, it is growing at an amazing pace in many parts of the world – 5,000 new converts daily in both India and China – both countries where Christians are often severely persecuted. At the end of the sermon notes, is this quotation, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor murdered for his faith in a World War II concentration camp, wrote in The Cost of Discipleship that, ‘in Jesus Christ His followers have witnessed the kingdom of God breaking in on earth. They have seen Satan crushed and the powers of the world – sin and death – broken.’ Bonhoeffer knew painfully that God’s kingdom is still exposed to suffering and strife. We long for the day when God will hasten the end of the kingdoms of this world and will establish perfectly His own kingdom in power and glory. The kingdom is coming. The seed is being sown. And the Bible’s picture harvest is of a “multitude that no-one could count,” taken from every corner of the world.”