A Message from the Archbishop

In England, where I grew up, the Sunday next before Advent was familiarly called "Sir up Sunday" from the opening words of the collect of the day, 'Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, and come among us...' - a collect that was intended to provide a bridge from the long Trinity season into advent.  More prosaically it was also held in folk law, to be a signal that if you had not already done so, it was time to "stir up" the Christmas cake and the Christmas puddings.  Such folk associations between the Christian Year and every day life are increasingly disappearing today in the face of a rather mindless secularism that has little use for tradition, and has a liking for creating 'brave new worlds' - complete with all the sinister overtones that phrase conjures up. 

 

Of course, as Christians we have to remember that 'on earth we have no abiding city' and that ultimately our true citizenship is in heaven.  We often forget that fact in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we become involved the immediate, and loose sight of the eternal.  One idea that should help us to refocus on the eternal is the notion of Christ the Victor.    The phrase was used as the English title of a book by the Rt. Rev. Gustav Aulén, who was Bishop of Linköping, Sweden, which focussed on the Patristic understanding of the Atonement.  This contrasted with the familiar mediaeval concept of the Son making an offering to the Father, inherited by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches at the Reformation, with the much fuller and richer, but also less precise theology of the Early Fathers (and also, it has to be added, Martin Luther) which saw Christ not solely as a sacrificial victim, but also as the conqueror over sin, death, and the Devil.  In the Patristic era, the image of Christ in Majesty was a familiar as that of Christ crucified, and the heavenly citizenship of the Christian granted by baptism, and achieved through faith, was a source of joy.

In the old days, when the worship schedule was dominated by Morning and Evening Prayer, the Four Last Things - heaven and hell; death and judgement dominated the Advent season.  But today, with the Sunday Eucharist being the normal main service, Advent concentrates on the themes of what I like to call 'Coming' and 'Becoming.'  The second coming and the Last Judgement are underlying themes of the season, but with the entry into Jerusalem, St John Baptist's disciples interrogation of Jesus, and the "Record of John," the theme is explicit only on the Second Sunday in Advent when the Apocalypic passage from St Luke 21.  If the Gospels emphasize the theme of "Coming" then the theme of "Becoming" is dominant in the Epistles as each focusses on the Christian's struggle to more fully embrace the Grace and likeness of Christ. 

As Anglicans we believe firmly in the value of these Scriptural values which are part of making Disciples for Christ.  Sadly, Christianity today, especially in the mainstream churches, is dominated by social action, and social commentary, rather than by the very real desire to make disciples.  The emphasis today to too often on what we can do for Jesus, rather than what Jesus has done for us, and the images of Christ Crucified, and Christ in Majesty have been consigned to the back room.  The prevailing image in many churches today seems to be of Cardinal Glick (George Carlin's) "Buddy Jesus" from the film 'Dogma,' and the sort of approachable designer Saviour that that image conveys.  Yet the traditional images are thought of by some as a 'downer' the reality of far different.  Christ through the Cross, Tomb, and Resurrection conquered sin, the Devil, and death.  We no longer have to fear these things, but rather accept what God in Christ has done for us.  It is the truest function of the Church to proclaim that Gospel, that Good News.

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Lastly, I would like to add that we firmly believe that the best way for the Church to advance the Christian Faith is to abstain from ecclesiastical politics, and to devote all our energy to preaching the Gospel of Christ, and celebrating the sacraments of our Redemption. Our mission as the Church is to point always beyond ourselves and towards our Saviour preaching the Gospel of God's Love in Christ for humanity.

 

In Christ,

+Peter D Robinson,

Presiding Bishop of the United Episcopal Church of North America,