The Collect for this Sunday weaves together the 1st and 2nd Advent themes of the Epistle and Gospel with phrases taken from each of these readings. As such, it is a fitting conclusion to the Epiphany season, and focuses on the final great epiphany or manifestation of our Lord at His second coming.
In His first advent, our Lord broke the power of the enemy over men’s lives, both by His own victory over temptation and sin, and by His many acts of driving from tormented human lives the demonic spirits that had mastered them.
In His final coming, He shall break forever the power of death, the last enemy to be destroyed, which will no longer effect those who are “made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom.”
It is today’s epistle (1 John 3:1-8) I would like to focus on…this glorious statement of our position in Christ and its meaning for our everyday lives.
verse 1: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”
St. John tells us that, as a result of His unfathomable love for us, God has adopted us as sons – the Greek word translated sons here is tekna and it is really “children” – a word characteristic of St. John, and implying a community of nature, whereas, “sons” as used by St. Paul generally suggests the privileged status of heirs or inheritors. St. John sees in our rebirth as children of God a new kind of humanity, through the redemptive act of the one, unique Son of God, and applied to us in holy Baptism.
We have been granted a participation in the new, redeemed human nature of the Second Adam – a human nature joined to divinity in the Incarnate Son, and bestowed upon us in the waters of Baptism. Through it we are partakers of the divine nature, as St. Peter tells us. We have communion with God the Holy Trinity and a new life which we can choose to nourish or leave dormant as we wish. It is not something readily visible to the world, even as Jesus’ own unique nature was not readily visible, save to the eyes of faith.
verse 2: “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”
This is our true identity, and our destiny as new creatures in Christ, if we cooperate with the grace of God in our lives seeking to transform us. In the rest of our reading, St. John is speaking essentially of this. He who looks forward to becoming like Him hereafter, must strive after His likeness now.
There were heretical sects even in St. John’s time which taught that the new life in Christ makes the Christian at once perfect; a spiritual being raised above all possibility of sin or sin’s consequences. That is not what St. John is saying when he states : “Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not” . That is proved by what he has already said in verses 8 and 9 of chapter one :
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”
St. John’s thought here is in the realm of the ideal….the divine life and the life of sin are mutually exclusive. Sin in the Christian is either involuntary or in willful contradiction to the ruling principle of his life. The commission of sin for us is a failure to abide in Christ. When St. John says “he that committeth sin is of the devil” he is referring to a habitual state, not the occasional lapse. One who continues willfully in sin, is manifesting a different ruling principle in his life than one seeking to live in Christ.
Abiding in Christ, in the new nature which is ours in Him, is the ascetical principle for combatting temptation and sin in our lives. It is the key to our life and our walk as disciples of Jesus. And our moral character, the extent to which we are becoming virtuous, is the test as to whether we are abiding in Him. If we are, then we will be growing into His likeness.
Abiding in Christ is essentially our life of prayer; the spiritual rule of our life. The corporate prayer of the Body of Christ in the Daily Offices, and the Communion with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, but especially that third component of our Rule, our “private” prayer, which, while done in private is still very much a part of the prayer of the Body of Christ, of which we are members in particular. It is also our meditation upon Scripture and the life and acts and words of our Lord, and on the great doctrines of the Faith; our converse with Him in “colloquy” as it is called in the traditional vocabulary of ascetical theology; our self-examination which flows from the above and leads to our confession of sin; our “recollection” or “practice of the presence of God” throughout the day.
All this is designed to free us from a sporadic life of prayer, as slaves to our feelings alone, to balance us in Christ, and enable us to truly abide in Him. And, as we progress, virtue is built in our lives as efficient Christians, as contributing members of His Body, to the building up of the whole Church.
His ultimate desire for us is our perfection in Christ, and we pray that
“having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom”. The life of loyalty and obedience to Jesus Christ is the life of the new humanity. Each participant takes his or her share in the transformation of the world, through prayer and compassionate service and witness to the glory of the life in Christ. We have no idea how many lives we touch and through them, how many more. In seeking to bring the nations back to their true Lord and God, the ripples of our lives stretch out to eternity, and that should give us hope and perseverance.