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, December 19, 2005


“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” (John 1.10)
When a sports team is preparing to take to the field or the ice, literally the instant before, the coach will be heard delivering a passionate exhortation. The idea is to focus their minds on the matter immediately at hand so that there can be no opportunity for distraction and to pump some additional adrenaline into their bodies so that the athletes take the field in a heightened state of readiness. If not so prepared, the probability of “obtaining the prize” as St. Paul was wont to say, is much reduced.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” (Ps. 19.1)
Immediately prior to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the priest and his assistants pray something called The Preparation. In our parish, this is done in the Sacristy; in some parishes it is done in front of the altar. The purpose of The Preparation is manifold: to confess any sins prior to presuming to celebrate the Divine Mysteries; to ask God to inspire our minds and hearts to a measure of worthiness that we humans are incapable of attaining by our own merits, and to focus our minds on the matter at hand – the aforementioned celebration of the Divine Mysteries.
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John1.29)
In both of the aforementioned examples, the “pumping up” for want of a better term, necessarily occurs just before the event in which the participants will be engaged. Even a small amount of time lag between the two would have a measurable negative impact.
“He shall come down like the rain upon the mown grass, even as the showers that water the earth.” (Ps. 72.6)
This year is one of those that occurs every six or seven wherein we have the longest Advent Season possible. Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, which means that, rather than just a few days after the fourth Sunday in Advent, this year a full week transpires before Christmas Day. I don’t know about the rest of you, but in my case, the older I become, the less I remember of last Sunday’s sermon as any week progresses, whether I delivered it or one of the other priests.
"This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Tim. 1.15)
Advent IV, today, is the last opportunity prior to Christmas for a preacher to close off the Advent theme of preparation for the Second Coming, and rather focus the collective attention of the faithful on the awesome feast that is this year seven days away. We don’t take the field, as it were, for another week – no coach to pump us up immediately before the service; will the Exhortation that we just heard read still resonate in our minds in one week? Will our attention still be properly focussed? With today possibly being the last opportunity for prayerful corporate preparation, will our minds and hearts be completely “dialled in” to the nature of this first day of obligation in the Church year?
“Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.” (Advent Prose)
This is not a misplaced exhortation, aimed at those who aren’t in church today, and may not be on Christmas Day. Rather, the intention here is to encourage each of us to recognize that next Sunday, is not “just another Sunday.” Not that any Sunday shouldn’t be the most special of days in any week!
“He goeth forth from the uttermost part of heaven … and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” (Ps. 19.6)
Therefore on this, the last sermon prior to the central feast day of the first part of the Church year, my duty is to attempt, as a coach just before an athletic contest, as The Preparation before a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, my duty is to encourage each of us, looking ahead over seven potentially very distracting days, to approach Christmas in a state of heightened spiritual readiness. Perhaps, aided by one or more of the well-known Scriptural quotations that I have interspersed in my thoughts this morning, each of may spend some time between today and next Sunday in prayerful anticipation, contemplating the significance of the Feast of the Holy Nativity.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by Him.” The God Who created not only this tiny planet on which we live, but the entire universe, takes on human flesh. How did John Donne phrase it in his poem Annunciation, addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary? “Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.” (the last line of Annunciation, and the same words with which he began the next poem in the series, Nativity)
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” The heavens, a very significant part indeed of His general revelation, always have declared His glory. One star, of the hundreds of billions in His creation, one star at His behest, led the way to His birthplace.
“He shall come down like the rain upon the mown grass, even as the showers that water the earth.” Like a rainstorm, saturating everything, the Birth of God Incarnate was not just for Jews and Christians, a few blades of grass as it were, but for every blade, every grain of sand, all the stars of heaven. This helpless infant born in the garden shed next door, is the God of heaven and earth. Sadly, though His redemption was for all mankind, all the blades of grass, “the world knew Him not.”
“Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.” One week from today, He Who is righteousness itself, drops down as the saturating rain to take on human flesh.
“He goeth forth from the uttermost part of heaven … and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” In one week, He comes not just as a tiny Child, but as the One Who created my soul, created it for Himself; and I am not hid from Him. May each of us come to Him, fully prepared, in a state of spiritual readiness, in lowliness and adoration.
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." And as we come to gaze upon the Child of Bethlehem, let us remind ourselves that He was born into this world for one purpose only – to be the Sacrifice for sin, to redeem us from sin; as echoed in that Comfortable Word, "This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
Therefore, in awesome anticipation, “My soul truly waiteth in silence upon God, for of Him cometh my salvation.” (Ps. 62.1)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


“When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” (Luke 21.31)

In both today’s Collect and Epistle there is one word, other than “Scriptures” (this being Bible Sunday), that might attract our attention. It appears once in the Collect and four times in the Epistle. Another clue? It appears Quinquagesima Sunday in the Epistle reading, but rarely is it the focus of sermons that day, as the other two theological virtues, faith and charity, that accompany it in 1 Cor. 13 most often take centre stage.

Yes, hope. This season of Advent, by its nature of anticipation, is a season of hope. At the beginning of today’s Epistle passage, and in reference to the Old Testament, St. Paul says, “that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” And towards the end, “There shall be a root of Jesse, And He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope,” followed by his concluding thought, “Now the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

What do we mean by hope? Over the course of the centuries, certainly no less here in the west where we have so many “things,” hope, whether used as a noun or a verb, in popular usage has taken on altered shades of meaning against that which St. Paul meant. People say that they hope for something, when in actual fact more appropriate words would be wish, crave, lust etc. “I hope that the Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup.” “I hope that I get this or that for Christmas.” “I hope that I will win the lottery.” Having taken on this idea of some sort of vague wishfulness, it is perhaps not surprising that even many Christians have lost their way when it comes to hope.

This was brought home powerfully this past week when the mother of close friends of my wife and me, died. She had already had a very close brush with death four years ago with a brain aneurysm. Lately, we had been praying for her, as cancer had invaded her body. She was 86 years old, and, all things considered, her death was not particularly sudden. Nevertheless, she was deservedly much loved, and in the midst of weeping with those who weep, it was disconcerting in an alarming sort of way how at least some of her offspring and their spouses reacted. For them, perhaps because hope is a vague, wishful sort of thing, there was a terribly finality to mum’s death. As often is manifested with those who see no hope beyond this life, one of the apparent sentiments was anger. Anger that mum had died, and then defensiveness against the inevitable day of their own death.

By the time of the funeral on Thursday, there was greater calm; however, the ragged emotions still remained. I was speaking briefly with the son who lives in our neighbourhood and with whom Barb and I are closest. He freely admitted that their abundant and open turmoil was all based on the uncertainty of what happens after this life. The day prior to the funeral, Barb was somewhat rudely rebuffed when she attempted to offer the comfort that mum was in a better place where there was no more pain. Now, just after the funeral, in so many words he said, “Without a long lecture, I just want someone to tell me in two words or less that what happens after we die … that there is some sort of guarantee … that it really is better for mum now.” I replied, taking his plea literally, “It is.”

While the other members of his family, including his now deceased mum, were regular churchgoers, and appeared to be dealing with mum’s graduation somewhat better, our neighbours have not been all that regular. Perhaps that is why they have lost sight of the meaning of the word “hope” as it relates to the fate of our souls. Perhaps providentially, I had already begun this sermon, focusing on hope, before I was even aware of his mother’s death.

Hope, as any regular churchgoer should know, in the classical, Biblical sense is something quite different than vague, wishful thinking. Whether we consider it in Old Testament terms, or post-Incarnation, there is a common thread with even the watered down modern feeling that we’ve already considered. And that is that hope, even in the theological sense also speaks of desire, of expectation. However, the major distinguishing feature in the theological sense is that the desire, the expectation is based on confidence or trust. Confidence that God would keep His promise to send the Messiah – and He did. Trust in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as the gate of everlasting life – which we accept, but the struggle that our neighbours are experiencing.

I suspect that we were all already aware of the nature of the theological virtue of hope – that we trust God to keep His promises. But do we all understand what is the object of our hope? The quick answer, and certainly the one that would provide most comfort to our mourners, is salvation, or, everlasting life. And that is fair enough, in terms of the desire for future good, based on a reasonable expectation and trust in God. But, frankly, that is a limited, some might even say, self-centred understanding of Christian hope – the “what’s in it for me approach.”

When considering any virtue, we should ask what is the end or purpose of a virtue, what is its motive, and Who is its author. In the case of hope, the end, the motive, the author is not just salvation or everlasting life, but, God Himself. He is the object of our hope. When we come to that understanding, we realize that hope is confined to this life. It has no place in heaven, where its object, the Beatific Vision, God Himself, has been attained. A perhaps alarming corollary is that neither does hope have any place in hell.

The sober understanding of that reality should also provide us with a necessary sanity check against becoming too presumptuous. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church completes its article on hope in stating, “Hope, being confidence in God’s goodness tempered by fear of His justice, is opposed to both despair and presumption.” That statement is so powerfully succinct that perhaps we should unravel it a bit to ensure that we all grasp its meaning. Yes, our hope is based on God’s promises to us, but we must always keep in mind, certainly based no less on the repeated episodes contained in the pages of the Old Testament, that He is a just judge, and He must be true to His nature. And there’s something else where we’ve lost pretty completely the proper understanding of justice. Today, we very often confuse leniency with justice. Justice means that the rule maker, the judge, will carry out pre-established promises without wavering, because then that judge would not be true to the nature of the promises. In Old Testament terms, think of how often God told the Israelites, “do this and it will go well for you; do the opposite, and things will not go well.” And how often did the Israelites do the opposite? Far too many people have concluded that, because God did not intervene on behalf of the disobedient Israelites that His Old Testament manifestation was that of a vengeful sheriff. In actual fact, and especially when we recognize that His instructions to “do this” were morally right and proper, He was simply being just in keeping His promises. As often as not, it’s not so much that He punished the Israelites, but that He left them to their own devices and desires. And, also as often as not, there was a component of presumption on the part of the Israelites, “We are God’s chosen people; things can’t possibly go wrong for us, no matter what we do.” - enter, yet once again the Philistines, the Amorites, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans. That, of course, the Old Testament, was written for our learning, to read, mark and inwardly digest.

“Hope, being confidence in God’s goodness tempered by fear of His justice, is opposed to both despair and presumption.” Perhaps too, the solemn acknowledgement of His justice explains the choice of Gospel reading for today. In His rather dramatic and even frightening account of the ruination of the world, is not Jesus perhaps making it clear that this hope of ours is not a matter of displaced humanistic optimism or worldly expectation? Is He not telling us that it is in the devastation of the world, in the destruction of all worldly hopes and expectations, that our salvation appears to us? “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”

When taken on its own, this speech of Jesus generally is interpreted as a prophecy about the end of time, and all down the centuries there have been preachers who have sought to discern the signs of the end in their own day. After all, “this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.” Well, it is, of course, a prophecy about the future, about the end of time; but is it not perhaps a mistake to read it only in that way? It also has a reference to the present. It is a comment about the world in which we live, and about the way in which we live in it, here and now. It is in fact a supremely relevant and devastating criticism of our own worldliness, our worldly hopes and expectations.

The point is this: for every one of us individually, this world, and the things of this world must pass away, not just in some hazy, remote and unimaginable future, but right now. They are passing things; that is their very nature. No cleverness, no vague wishful thinking, no advanced technology can make them anything other than transitory things. Are they the ground of our hope, or is God?

I was reminded in this of yet another quotation from John Baillie’s Diary of Private Prayer. He states, “A wise woman once said, ‘He asks too much to whom God is not sufficient’.” In attempting to find the source of that quotation, the wise woman, I came up empty. But I did discover perhaps the longer quotation from which it was derived. In the early 19th century, in his comments on the Psalms, specifically in regard to the beginning of V.57 of Ps. 119, “Thou art my portion, O Lord,” Thomas Le Blanc said, “He is an exceedingly covetous fellow to whom God is not sufficient; and he is an exceeding fool to whom the world is sufficient. For God is all inexhaustible treasury of all riches, sufficing innumerable men; while the world has mere trifles and fascinations to offer, and leads the soul into deep and sorrowful poverty.”

“When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”

“Our hope is in God?” Our hope is God.