Looking Forward to Christ’s Second Coming
“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. ” – Revelation 21:4
The end of the Church Year in the month of November and the beginning of the new Church Year with Advent both have a strong emphasis upon the Second Coming of Christ and the blessed hope we have as Christians for Christ’s return in glory. Christian hope centers in the anticipation of the complete and total enjoyment of Christ for all eternity. For Jesus’ sake, God will take away all suffering forever. But the most important reason we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming is because we shall see Jesus face to face in the resurrection. Corruption, mortality, and the curse of the fall will be no more. In that day, for Jesus’ sake, “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” because Christ has taken it all away in His suffering and death. “There shall be no more pain” because Christ has taken all our pain away. “The former things”—what it is to be a sinner, living in a sinful world, suffering under the consequences of our rebellion against God, experiencing the devastation that evil has brought into the world, the pain and brokenness of sickness and disease—will all have “passed away” forever. The fullness of what Jesus came to accomplish in His suffering and death will be fully realized in the resurrection on the Last Day. In that day the words of Jesus concerning His suffering and death will come true: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
Advent Midweek Services
Isaiah preached the Gospel 700 years before the birth of Christ. The book that bears his name is rich with the promises of Christ and the hope of salvation for a world that is troubled with sin. This year’s Advent midweek services gives special attention to the lessons from the book of Isaiah: The Mountain of the Lord’s House (Dec. 4), The Rod from the Stem of Jesse (Dec. 11), and The Desert Shall Blossom as the Rose (Dec. 18).
The Church Year Calendar lists the feasts of St. Stephen, the First Martyr (Dec. 26); St. John, Apostle and Evangelist (Dec. 27); and the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) on the three days following Christmas. This wonderful “trinity of feasts” continues the celebration of Christmas as we experience both joy and suffering as Christians. We will celebrate each of these three feasts on their respective dates at 6:30 p.m. They will be simple divine services, but rich in the treasures of the faith.
Flee Sexual Immorality: The Scourge of Pornography in the Church and Society
It’s been called “The New Narcotic.” New neurological research reveals that “the effect of internet pornography on the human brain is just as potent—if not more so—than addictive chemical substances such as cocaine or heroin” (Morgan Bennett, “The New Narcotic”). While cocaine increases dopamine levels in the brain which induces a “high” effect, and heroin produces a relaxing, opiate effect, pornography triggers both. The result of this one-two punch is highly addictive. Further Bennett writes, “Internet pornography does more than just spike the level of dopamine in the brain for a pleasure sensation. It literally changes the physical matter within the brain so that new neurological pathways require pornographic material in order to trigger the desired reward sensation.” In addition to these chemical and physical addictive effects, changes in individual “taste and desire,” the acquired taste of pornography, has negative social effects which are being recognized by religious and secular groups. Men who spend hours on-line can find “real” women difficult to relate to and be close to. It is no wonder that God says in His Scripture, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18 NKJV).
The effects of pornographic sexual immorality are not solely individual. There are social costs to couples. Girlfriends and wives can feel hurt, angry, and betrayed by their partner or spouse when they discover their habit. Kids are affected, either by strained parental relationships or by the exposure to ever-increasing hard-core images which normalizes the perverse.
While marketed as a “marriage help” to the sexually inhibited or “freedom” to the sexually liberated, pornography perverts the mystery of the one-flesh union, established by God in creation and given in marriage, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24 NKJV). Human sexuality is not arbitrary. It is an icon of God’s purpose in the gospel. It is an icon of Christ and His Church, as Paul writes concerning the one flesh union of Gen 2:24, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church (Eph 5:32 NKJV). If sexuality is akin to Christ and his Church, no wonder it is difficult to restrain, wildly beautiful and as glorious as the Church Herself, enlivened by the love of God in Christ.
Pornography, however, does not fulfill God’s intention for sexuality in marriage as giving and receiving. Pornography is intended for a single, solitary purpose. Even secular people recognize this: “Sex, in pornography, is a commercialized product, devoid of emotion, stripped of humanity, an essentially empty experience” (Pamela Paul, “From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm,” in The Social Costs of Pornography, p. 4). Christian sexuality is intended to be flourishing, to bring love, happiness—even pleasure—and new life. Pornography hides the righteousness of Christ in a “pitifully desperate act.” It turns sexuality into a “darkened spirituality,” exchanging the glory of the Immortal for images (Rom 1:21, 23).
Pornography is self-focused and fruitless. No amount of blocking software can alleviate temptation or sin’s effects. The self-loathing and guilt which the idolatry and adultery of pornography creates cannot be resolved with more solemn promises. In the struggle with sin, one may come to think that he has “crossed the line,” feel hopeless, or wonder if he has rejected his salvation in baptism and all that God promises in Christ for him.
While one may turn to sin, whether the gluttony of pornography or potato chips, to deal with the stresses of life and frustrations, the habit can develop into an addictive behavior which leads to alienation from the church body or to a sense of hypocrisy while among the brethren to self-justifying arguments that rationalize the behavior. The Christian-sinner turns from the “faith,” believing in things unseen, to “sight,” believing in those things which have a tangible appeal. In effect, we Christians are confronted with what we are as human beings. Sin confuses us, leaving us beside ourselves, ashamed and often feeling isolated. The devil is pleased to leave us in this state, and if he cannot thwart our faith through despair, he will thwart our faith through tempting us to believe that we can be better through works of the Law, i.e. promises “to do better” and to stop sinning. We try to alleviate the despair of sin with firm resolve, steps or methods, the plan, a book, or counseling which allow us to go to God with a clean conscience. We reach for things we see and put us in control, regardless of the “severity” of the sin. We can experience self-loathing, self-obsession, fear, and in the case of pornography, an addictive lust.
Whether overt or subtle, all sin is an attempt to trust in ourselves or justify ourselves before a righteous God. Luther understood that works of the Law are no comfort to the troubled conscience. He understood, as we should also understand, our sin is not more powerful than God’s forgiveness. Victory over sin is won in Christ. As Luther writes, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ” (Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 18). In Luther’s words, “The afflicted and troubled conscience has no remedy against desperation and eternal death unless it takes hold of the forgiveness of sins by grace, freely offered in Christ Jesus” (“Preface,” in Commentary on Galatians). The Christian must “step into grace,” not by works of the Law but by embracing the freedom of forgiveness in Christ. Hidden sin can cause misery, but when sin is confessed, and the light of Christ is shed upon it, sin no longer has power over us. In other words, take the agonizing step into grace, believing in God’s great love despite your great sin.
For more information, see: “The New Narcotic” by Morgan Bennett (http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com) Accessed 10/23/2013; “Pornography,” an interview with Dr. John Kleinig of Australian Lutheran College on Issues, Etc., Sept. 21, 2010 (http://issuesetc.org/tag/porn); The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers, edited by James R. Stoner, Jr. and Donna M. Hughes. Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute, 2010.
The Gift of Friendship: Lewis & Tolkien
November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of C. S. Lewis’ death. C.S. Lewis’ writings have gained in popularity since his death. Recognized by children and adults for his fictional works, such as The Chronicles of Narnia books, Lewis made contributions in apologetics in Mere Christianity, in sermons, such as The Weight of Glory, and left 12,000 letters of correspondence in response to admirers, fans, and seekers of God. (For examples, read Letters to an American Lady.) Though baptized in the Church of Ireland as an infant, Lewis rejected his faith in adolescence for atheism. Significant to his return to faith at age thirty-two was his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien, a steadfast Roman Catholic and family man, famous for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Without Lewis, the world would not have the works of Tolkien, and without Tolkien, the world would not have the Christian works of Lewis.
The two authors’ friendship was formed in shared interests and experiences of life, in the words of biographer Colin Duriez, in the “What, you too?” As a child, Lewis experienced the death of his mother at age nine; Tolkien’s mother died when he was twelve. Tolkien had already lost his father. Lewis, sent to boarding school after his mother’s death, felt his father’s loss through alienation.
The two shared, as well, experience of World War I. Lewis was injured during the war, and Tolkien lost two of his closest friends. They both experienced war’s grotesque images. The two shared a love for language. Tolkien, specializing in Old and Middle English, invented two forms of an Elven tongue, based upon his study of Welsh and Finnish. Lewis, a professor of English literature was a brilliant, medieval scholar. They shared a love for fantasy, myth, and a common employer: Oxford. Their friendship played out over forty years.
Influential to the friendship was the “Inklings,” a discussion group that met for the purpose of reading works that each member had written. The group began before Lewis became Christian. During that time, Lewis shared his poems and translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Throughout the years, Tolkien shared his works related to developing the mythic world of Middle-earth: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. In the group, Tolkien also shared his faith. Tolkien helped Lewis to find Christ, elaborating his understanding of the gospel narratives which demanded both rational and imaginative thought. Tolkien developed a “theology of story” or a “theology of language” in which human storytelling is alive with God’s presence. Words carry meaning from a culture’s worldview, but even more, words were a remnant of God’s story in history. From Tolkien’s influence upon Lewis, they both came to believe that stories can come true.
As for Lewis’ influence upon Tolkien, he wrote after Lewis’ death, “the unpayable debt that I owe to him was not ‘influence’ as it is ordinarily understood, but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my ‘stuff’ could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more I should never have brought the L. of the R. to a conclusion. . . .” Tolkien found in Lewis a ready listener, an appreciating friend.
While their friendship was not equally influential, Lewis illuminated his friendship with Tolkien in his book The Four Loves which describes affection, friendship, eros, and charity (agape or self-sacrificing divine love). While the loves may move from one to another, as when friends become marital lovers or family affection demands self-sacrificial care of a dependent, friendship involved the recognition of a shared vision alongside of one another, what Duriez described as “What, you too?” “You like, NASCAR, too?” Or “You’re a computer nerd, too?” Or in the example of Lewis and Tolkien, their “peculiar” interests in language, mythology, and fantasy become less “peculiar” and more shared with one another. For Lewis, friendship is the love that is least instinctive, and it refutes any sexual explanation. Lewis desired to rehabilitate friendship as a virtue, as in the Biblical example of David and Jonathan.
The authors shared common beliefs because of their faith, but one particular idea, “joy” became central to Lewis’s stories, “In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else,” he wrote. The longing of inconsolable joy repeatedly reminded him that there is always more than this created world, and that the things desired in this world pointed to another, very real world. He believed, “If a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing the false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given — nay, cannot even be imagined as given” at least in our present space and time existence. Though the longing was felt before he was a Christian and served to point him to Christ, the longing was not extinguished after he was Christian: “I believe,” he said, “. . . that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life.” For Tolkien, “joy” was the presence of grace. It denies defeat, and as a sudden turn, “a glimpse of joy” rends the story world and lets heaven itself come through.
The authors differed, in their views regarding friendship. Lewis saw friendship as a rational relationship, freely chosen, which gave the ability to see the world in a new way. For Tolkien, through friendship, he found a memory of his childhood friends lost in war and an encouragement to continue in life.
The kind of deep friendship Lewis and Tolkien shared derives from Christ’s forgiveness. Lewis and Tolkien shared in a belief in Christ, a “communion of saints” rooted in fellowship in Christ not merely in friendly, social relationships, no matter how deep and influential. The foundation of the “community of holy ones,” known as “the communion of saints” is in the holy things, “Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you . . . Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Lewis described his conversion back to Christ as a sinner “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape” from God. Yet, he was gathered into the Body of Christ and made holy by the Holy One who saves souls and who forms sinners into a communion of saints, a community of believers, the Church. Lewis’s conversion to faith in Christ returned him to the Anglican church of his youth, and Tolkien, brought up Roman Catholic, remained there until death.
For more on their friendship, read Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship by Colin Duriez, Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2003.
“Season to Celebrate”
The Academy Choir has been selected to appear on WISN 12’s Christmas special, “Season to Celebrate.” Check local listings for broadcast times.