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The Fourth Sunday in Advent
by W.J. Hankey
from COMMON PRAYER, Volume Six: Parochial Homilies for the Eucharist 
Based on the Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer, 1962, Canada. 
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.  Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
“Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” 
St. John 1.23

“Behold the Lamb of God.”  With these words John the Baptist points beyond himself to Jesus who has come to John for baptism.  Even though John has baptized Jesus, he knows Jesus to be a far greater man than he; “his shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”  John does not become a disciple of Jesus.  He is beheaded by Herod as a consequence of his own ministry which denounced sin and preached the baptism of repentance.  Jesus tells us that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, yet John is indispensable to the Advent of that Kingdom.  John’s virtue, one which we must all imitate, is that he knew what he was not and thus knew what his soul needed from God.  His reply to the Jewish priests and Levites was profoundly negative.  He confessed:

‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Art thou Elijah?’ and he said, ‘I am not’ ‘Art thou the prophet’ and he answered, ‘No.’
He knew what he was not.  He had no delusions; he recognized what he was lacking and he was not afraid to let others see it.  He let his softness, his yielding, his vulnerability be known to all men.  Expecting, hoping and longing for the coming of the power of God’s Kingdom, he was willing to let his need be known so that it could be supplied, so that he could be filled with a power and strength greater than his own.  Today St. Paul rouses us both to rejoice in the coming of the Lord and “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to let our requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4.6)

Because John knew what he and the world lacked, his life was devoted to longing and calling for that justice and righteousness which he did not possess.  He recognized the dryness and barrenness of his own goodness, and demanded of God that he come from on high and fill that desert with life: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his path straight.”  Consequently, he recognized the Lord when he came.  The Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, came as the fulfilment of John’s desire.

Let us today on the eve of Christmas learn this from John that, if we are to know the coming of the Lord, we must infact want him to come. We must know and acknowledge what we need and lack and have the humility to pray for it, to long for it with our whole being. If Christ isto be born in us, there must be a place prepared for him.

But how can we prepare a place?  Why is there always in us a need and longing for God, a place only he can fill?

St. John the Divine tells us that the Lamb of God to which John the Baptist points, is the “Lamb slainfrom the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13.8)  God’s love for us did not begin 2000 years ago.  It is the eternal purpose of God to join mankind to himself forever.  This is the great eternal fact which the coming of Jesus reveals and makes known in time.  “God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1.4)  The eternal purpose and everlasting love of God is that men and women should enjoy his infinite goodness forever.  We long for and desire God and cannot avoid this because he loves us and wants us for himself.  We love him because he first loved us.  Because he loves us we find that all the bread and drink of this world is untrue.  It cannot in the end feed our hunger or quench our thirst.  We seek true bread, true drink, the bread that comes from heaven and is born in Bethlehem, because the all-powerful love of God is always drawing us to God’s goodness.  But this love of God is costly for him.  We know that the Lamb of God, his innocent goodness which takes away our sin and makes us acceptable in God’s presence, must be slain. The child born in Bethlehem will be raised on a cross outside Jerusalem.

Christmas is inseparable from Good Friday.  The Lamb who takes away the sin is to be slain.  As John Donne puts it:

The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; 
Others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.  
His birth and his death were but one continual act, 
and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but 
the evening and morning of one and the same day.
“The Holly and the Ivy” makes the same point:
The Holly bears a berry as red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
The Holly bears a thistle as sharp as any thorn
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
The Holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
We cannot carol Jesus on Christmas unless we recollect the blood of his passion, the thorns of his crown, the gall of his crucifixion, for these are the high cost of the eternal love of God shown and adored in the babe of Bethlehem.  At Bethlehem God works in time to carry out his eternal loving purpose of taking mankind into himself and sharing his goodness with us forever.

The same Eternal Will required the sacrifice of his Son to pay for our sins.  From eternity the Son shared God’s love and undertook to pay the price.  “Lo it is written in the Book, I come to do thy will O God.” (Hebrews 10.7 & 9)  The man at whom John Baptist points is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.  We come to God through the sacrifice of love he has made from the beginning.  This sacrifice is made present to us in this season in the remembrance of the humility of Almighty God coming to us as a child.  This same sacrifice is made present here this morning on the altar so that, eating the bread of eternal life and drinking the cup of everlasting salvation, we may taste how good the Lord is.  This done, may we so long for him as to welcome him always, and welcoming him, may he make us worthy to sing the eternal praise of the God who eternally loves us.