The Advent of the Word of God (1981)
"The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 3:12, 13).
The Advent which we celebrate is the Advent of the Word of God: the coming forth into the world of God's eternal Word, his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ - God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, eternally begotten from the Father, before all worlds.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So says St. John's Gospel: "The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.... He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-14).
The Word of God is God the Son, the eternal offspring of the Father. As our words are the offspring, the children of our minds, temporally conceived and uttered, so the Word of God is the Divine thinking, conceived and uttered eternally, the very life of God himself. In that Divine thinking, all things are created. "All things were made by him", says St. John: that is to say, all things have their existence in and through God's thinking them. Without that thought, without that Word, "was not anything made that was made".
And, therefore, the Word of God is always in the world; or, perhaps better to say, the world is always in the Word of God. The world exists in God's thinking of it, and without that Word, it could not exist for the least fraction of a second. The Word of God is present in all creation, in every moment of it. "by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6). And not only the world of nature, but also we ourselves have our existence in the Word of God. As St. Augustine remarks, "Men go out and gaze in astonishment at high mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, and the motions of the stars, while they overlook the greater wonder of the inner life of their own souls". The innermost life of our very souls - that too is the Word of God, for he is "the light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world". The Word of God is there in every judgment of truth and every desire of good.
The Word of God is present to the whole of nature, and present to the very essence of our souls. How then shall we speak of the Advent, the coming, of the Word of God? How can he come who was never for a moment absent? We do not speak of the advent of an absent God, we speak rather of the appearing, the manifestation of an ever-present God. "He was in the world, and the world knew him not", says St. John. Though the Word of God is ever-present, closer indeed to us than we are to ourselves, closer than "soul and spirit", closer than "joints and marrow", yet we lose sight of him in our slavish subjection to his creatures. And therefore the Word of God has spoken through the Law and the Prophets, and "in the fulness of time", "in these last days", he has spoken by the word made flesh in Jesus Christ.
The Word of God, the eternal offspring of the Father, was made audible to bodily ears, and visible to bodily eyes, so that we who were sunk in bodily and temporal things might be recalled to his eternal kingdom of the spirit. "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only -begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." "We have touched and handled of the Word of life"(1 John 1:1). That is what Advent is about; that is the sense of Bethlehem.
The Collect and Epistle for today call our attention especially to the Word of God in Holy Scripture, for Scripture is the record of the promise and the appearing of the Word made flesh - the Word made audible to human ears, and visible to human eyes, in Jesus Christ. And the Gospel lesson for today makes clear to us that the appearing of God's Word is also for us a time of judgment. We are judged by the truth made plain to us. The Word of God, the truth of God is audible and visible: the Word of God made flesh in "the Kingdom of God is nigh at hand". Judgment is not some sentence arbitrarily imposed upon us, as it were, from outside: judgment is simply a matter of what we do about the Word of God made plain to us. "This is the judgment", says St. John, "that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John 3:19).
The word of God comes as light into the world, "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 3:12, 13). The Advent of the Word of God is inevitably a judgment, and that is a dominant note of the Advent season. The Infant of Bethlehem judges our pretensions, the truthful Word of God is judge of all our lies, the crucified Word of God judges all our expectations. His coming is our judgment - "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword".
But his coming is also, as today's lessons also emphasize, the ground of our living hope, and thus the Advent season also has a note of rejoicing. For the Word of God reveals to us, and calls us into, a new, eternal Kingdom of the Spirit. The Word of God made flesh, audible and visible in word and sacrament, opens to us a kingdom of the spirit, into which we are born anew, "not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." From the moment of our Baptism, our Christian life is a constant renunciation of the devil and all his works, the vain pomps and glories of the world; and a constant affirmation of the Word of God, whereby we believe in God and serve him. The coming of the light demands that we put off all works of darkness, even the most hidden and secret counterfeits of the heart. The coming of that light is a crisis and a judgment for each one of us; our hope and confidence is that he himself provides the grace whereby we see and serve that light.