The theme for the third week of Advent in Faith and Life is Holy Orders, and consequently here again is a thought from Augustine of Hippo on both the difficulty and the blessedness of being a member of the clergy.
I ASK that above all things your religious prudence will consider, that there is nothing in this life, and especially at this time, easier and pleasanter, and more acceptable to men, than the office of a Bishop, or a Presbyter, or a Deacon, if the duty be discharged in a perfunctory or men-pleasing fashion: but that there is nothing more wretched, more dismal, more worthy of condemnation in the sight of God. Also, that there is nothing in this life, and especially at this time, more difficult, more laborious, more dangerous, than the office of a Bishop, or a Presbyter, or a Deacon; but nothing more blessed in the sight of God, if only we serve in such manner as our Commander gives us the word.
–St. Augustine, Epistle xxi.
Certainly if we have faithful shepherds, we should tell them how much we appreciate their labors and their intercessions on our behalf and on behalf of the Kingdom.
Here is a repost from Advent of prior years: from the Catechetical Lectures of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem in the fourth century, comes this meditation on the First and Second Advents:
We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of His patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom. For all things, for the most part, are twofold in our Lord Jesus Christ: a twofold generation; one, of God, before the ages; and one, of a Virgin, at the close of the ages: His descents twofold; one, the unobserved, like rain on a fleece; and a second His open coming, which is to be. In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covereth Himself with light as with a garment In His first coming, He endured the Cross, despising shame; in His second, He comes attended by a host of Angels, receiving glory. We rest not then upon His first advent only, but look also for His second. And as at His first coming we said, Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord, so will we repeat the same at His second coming; that when with Angels we meet our Master, we may worship Him and say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. The Saviour comes, not to be judged again, but to judge them who judged Him; He who before held His peace when judged, shall remind the transgressors who did those daring deeds at the Cross, and shall say, These things hast thou done, and I kept silence. Then, He came because of a divine dispensation, teaching men with persuasion; but this time they will of necessity have Him for their King, even though they wish it not.
And concerning these two comings, Malachi the Prophet says, And the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple; behold one coming. And again of the second coming he says, And the Messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in. Behold, He cometh, saith the Lord Almighty. But who shall abide the day of His coming? or who shall stand when He appeareth? Because fire cometh in like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ herb; and fire shall sit as a refiner and purifier. And immediately after the Saviour Himself says, And I will draw near to you in judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulteresses, and against those who swear falsely in My Name, and the rest. For this cause Paul warning us beforehand says, If any man buildeth on the foundation gold, and silver, and precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. Paul also knew these two comings, when writing to Titus and saying, The grace of God hath appeared which bringeth salvation unto all men, instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and godly, and righteously in this present world; looking for the blessed hope, and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. Thou seest how he spoke of a first, for which he gives thanks; and of a second, to which we look forward.
This excerpt is from Catechetical Lecture XV. Note this Father’s use of Scripture as well.
Singing with the Biola University Chorale and Symphony Orchestra, Katelyn MacIntyre does an excellent performance of “Rejoice Greatly, O Daughters of Zion” from Messiah.
Here is another repost – this one I first posted in 2005: a quote from Leo the Great on the Incarnation, from Sermon 22:
The festival has nothing to do with Sun- worship, as some maintain. Having therefore so confident a hope, dearly beloved, abide firm in the Faith in which you are built: lest that same tempter whose tyranny over you Christ has already destroyed, win you back again with any of his wiles, and mar even the joys of the present festival by his deceitful art, misleading simpler souls with the pestilential notion of some to whom this our solemn feast day seems to derive its honour, not so much from the nativity of Christ as, according to them, from the rising of the new sun. Such men’s hearts are wrapped in total darkness, and have no growing perception of the true Light: for they are still drawn away by the foolish errors of heathendom, and because they cannot lift the eyes of their mind above that which their carnal sight beholds, they pay divine honour to the luminaries that minister to the world. Let not Christian souls entertain any such wicked superstition and portentous lie. Beyond all measure are things temporal removed from the Eternal, things corporeal from the Incorporeal, things governed from the Governor. For though they possess a wondrous beauty, yet they have no Godhead to be worshipped. That power then, that wisdom, that majesty is to be adored which created the universe out of nothing, and framed by His almighty methods the substance of the earth and sky into what forms and dimensions He willed. Sun, moon, and stars may be most useful to us, most fair to look upon; but only if we render thanks to their Maker for them and worship GOD who made them, not the creation which does Him service. Then praise GOD, dearly beloved, in all His works and judgments. Cherish an undoubting belief in the Virgin’s pure conception. Honour the sacred and Divine mystery of man’s restoration with holy and sincere service. Embrace Christ born in our flesh, that you may deserve to see Him also as the GOD of glory reigning in His majesty, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit remains in the unity of the Godhead for ever and ever. Amen.
This particular admonition appears to be just as true now as it was in Leo’s day, does it not? But then one thing one learns from reading Scripture (and the Fathers as well) is that human nature is the same today as it was centuries ago–and our need for reconciliation to God has not changed–nor will it be lessened in this world.
Continuing with the Scriptures as the theme for this week in Advent, here again is a quote from Faith and Life of John Chrysostom regarding the benefits of the Word:
The company of the Divine Scriptures is a haven free from billows, a wall that cannot be broken, a tower that cannot be shaken, a glory that cannot be taken away, armour impenetrable, gladness imperishable, pleasure uninterrupted, and every good thing you can mention. It keeps off sadness, it preserves cheerfulness, it makes the poor man wealthier than the rich, it compasses the rich with security, it makes the sinner righteous, it places the righteous in safe keeping, it plucks up evils that exist, it plants the good that existed not, it drives away wickedness, it leads back to virtue, —and not only so, but it roots virtue in men, and makes it remain stedfast; it is a spiritual medicine, a divine mysterious spell, a destroyer of passions.
–St. Chrysostom on Psalm xlviii.
And yet there are so many who do not avail themselves of these benefits.
For the Second Wednesday in Advent, here again is a wonderful excerpt from Faith and Life where St. John Chrysostom talks about being continually watered by the waters of life from the Scriptures.
A soul which stands beside the streams of Holy Scripture, and drinks of them continually, gathering into itself these waters, and the dew of the Spirit, will not be overcome by any troublesome circumstances; and whether illness, or reproach, or calumny, or insults, or mockery, or any slothfulness, or all the evils of the world beat down on such a soul, it easily keeps off the flame of painful feelings, while it enjoys sufficient comfort from the reading of the Scriptures. For neither grandeur of dignity, nor the weight of sovereignty, nor the presence of friends, nor any thing else in life, will be so able to console a person in pain as the reading of the Divine Scriptures. Why is this? Because the former are perishable and corruptible, therefore the comfort they give is perishable also; but to read the Scriptures is to converse with God. Accordingly, when God comforts the low-spirited, what earthly thing is able to plunge him into despondency? Let us then “give attendance to the reading,” not for two hours only, but continuously; and let each, when he goes home, take the Bible into his hands, and enter into the meaning of what has been said, if indeed he means to enjoy the benefit of the Scriptures perpetually and sufficiently. For that “tree planted by the water-side” converses with the waters not only for two or three hours, but all day and all night. It is this which makes that tree full of leaf, which makes it heavy with fruit, even though no man waters it; since it stands beside the waters, it draws up moisture through the roots, and diffuses benefit through its whole body as it were by channels; even so he that habitually reads the Divine Scriptures, and stands beside their waters, even though he have no one to interpret them, still through his habitual reading, as it were by roots, derives benefit in large measure.
–St Chrysostom on the Beginning of the Acts, Hom. iii.
I like that analogy of the “tree planted by the water-side.” There, John Chrysostom is certainly referring to Psalm 1.
Here again is perhaps my favorite of all of the performances of any part of Messiah. To me, all the instruments and voices are in perfect harmony.
Again with a theme of “Bible Sunday”, here is a quote from Faith and Life with an excerpt from the great Augustine on the Scriptures:
If an argument be alleged against the authority of the Divine Scriptures, however acute it may be, it deceives people by its likeness to truth, for true it cannot be. Again, if a supposed authority of the Holy Scriptures be set against most plain and certain reason, he that does so does not understand, and is setting up against the truth, not the meaning of Scripture, to which he has not been able to penetrate, but rather a meaning of his own; and is opposing, not what he finds in Scripture, but what he finds in himself, and supposes to be in it.
–St. Augustine, Epistle cxliii.
Augustine was quite perceptive, and he is right that some of the opposition to the authority of Scripture comes from unwillingness to submit to that authority.
Continuing with the theme for the Second Sunday in Advent (otherwise known as “Bible Sunday”), here again is an excerpt from Faith and Life with a quote from St. John Chrysostom:
As soon as one touches a Gospel, he at once brings his mind into better order, and by the mere sight of the book puts worldly things away. But if there be added to this a careful reading, then his soul, as it were initiated in a holy sanctuary, is purified and becomes better, while God converses with it through those writings. The reading of the Scriptures is a great preservative against sin, whereas ignorance of the Scriptures is a great precipice, a deep abyss, and to know nothing of the Divine Law is altogether to throw away one’s salvation. It is this which has generated heresies, which has brought in a corrupt life, which has turned every thing upside down. For it is impossible, quite impossible, that any one should go away without benefit who reads Scripture habitually and attentively.
–St Chrysostom on Lazarus, Sermon iii.
He echoes “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Psalm 119:11)
In this selection, Alison Browner sings “Behold, a Virgin” and “O Thou that tellest” from Messiah very well. You may have to turn your speakers up a bit, but it is very much worth it.