Making the World Credible to the Gospel
Reflecting on the Third Sunday of Advent: Two Days after Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 42
Old Testament: Ezekiel 47:1-12
Epistle: Jude 17-25
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are greatly hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy quickly help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
But you, beloved, must remember the words previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.” It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to[a] eternal life. And have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies (Jude 17-23).
It may well be said that for the great majority of modern Christians the little letter of Jude is quite unknown. Jude is seldom read. How many sermons have you heard on Jude? In one respect this is understandable. It is such a small letter and it comes just prior to the much larger and more interesting book of Revelation. In addition, the argument of Jude is not subtle. Reading it is rather like getting hit with a hammer.
Jude tells his readers three things in his letter: First, the faith is something that is delivered to us. The truth of Christianity is not something which we have discovered ourselves. In the true sense of the word the truth comes from our tradition, something which has been handed down from generation to generation. They go back in an unbroken chain to Jesus Christ himself. The chain of Christian tradition is a living chain whose links are men and women and teachers who have experienced the wonder of the faith and faithfully pass that faith on to others.
Second, the Christian faith is something that is once for all delivered to us. There is an unchangeable quality to our faith. Certainly, each age must wrestle with how to live the Gospel in their context, but Jude is telling us that we do not have to invent the faith in each new age. There is an unchanging nucleus in our faith—and the permanent center of our faith is Jesus Christ who came into the world and lived and died to bring salvation to all of us. Jesus died to free us from our sin and give us new life. Jesus did not come to allow us to rationalize our sin in order to make it acceptable.
Third, the Christian faith is something entrusted to the saints. That is to say, the Christian faith is not the possession of any one person. It is the possession of the church of which we are a part. The faith comes down from within the church, it is preserved within the church, and it is understood within the church. It is not the task of each individual Christian to make up the faith. That does not mean that we do not encounter the faith as individuals, but we must never think that we decide for ourselves what the essence of Christian faith is. The faith is delivered to us, and we in turn deliver it to others.
Finally, the Christian faith is something that must be defended. Every Christian must be its defender. To defend the faith here does not mean to be defensive toward the world that denies Christianity. This is not a call to engage in the culture wars. Rather, we defend the faith by standing up for our beliefs in love and humility. By our way of life we commend and thus defend the faith by just being the followers of Jesus. Our task is to defend the same faith that the apostles defended. There are times when this is difficult. The word Jude uses for to “defend” contains the root of our English word “agony.” The defense of the faith can be costly and bring great pain, but it must be defended nonetheless.
The great dilemma of the church in every age is how to be in the world but not of it. How can we be a witness to the world, how can we minister to the world, without taking up the values of the world? This is a complex problem. If the church becomes of the world, if it takes up the values of the world, if it uses the gospel of grace to excuse immorality injustice, just plain meanness, than it will no longer be able to witness to the truth that in Jesus Christ God has not come to affirm the values of the present age, but God has come to change them.
The good news of Jesus is not making the gospel credible to the world, but making the world credible to the gospel.
PRAYER: O God, who has caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we pray, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
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