Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for today is an Advent hosanna. You remember that the word "hosanna" means "save us now." The Gospel for the First Sunday in Advent brought to our remembrance the Palm Sunday hosanna, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest."
Today we are expecting the commemoration of the first coming of Our Lord into the world. On Saturday we shall be celebrating the Festival of His Nativity. We therefore pray, “O, Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end."
We can only realize the joy of Our Lord's coming by first realizing our need of Him. We can only realize our need of Him by first realizing our sins and wickedness. We can only realize our need of His bountiful grace and mercy to speedily help and deliver us when we have used and exhausted every ounce of spiritual energy in running the race that is set before us toward the goal of the attainment of the Christian virtues. We can only realize that we are sorely let and hindered in running that race, spurred on by the stern dictates of conscience, when we have learned by penitence to recognize our own sins and wickedness as being the impediments to our progress.
All this knowledge comes to us at the cost of experience. Experience is an exacting teacher. If we are reasonably teachable experience will be a kindly teacher. The great lesson taught is the lesson of humility. Experience will teach us; it has taught us, we trust, that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Saint Paul learned that lesson, and with humility we may learn what he so humbly taught. "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for that I would, that do I not: but what I hate, that I do: For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of death?"
There we have the deep and the sane self-knowledge which is the characteristic of Christian penitents. You can find it no where else. Remorse is common enough. Repentance is different. Remorse is natural emotion. Repentance is a spiritual sublimation of human sorrow, so complete in its effect that it turns the sorrow into joy by changing the penitent. This is why Saint Paul, after his general confession, cries," "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." True repentance always ends with thanksgiving.
Why? Saint Paul answers that question. He faces all the facts, as we have seen. "Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did more abound." Grace did more abound. Saint Paul never forgot that. He knew the power of evil. He also knew the power of grace. He knew that grace had conquered sin. "As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
Repentance, faith, thanksgiving are the notes of the Fourth Sunday in Advent.
Before another Sunday comes we shall have made our repentance as adequately as we know how to make it. We shall have heard the echo of the angelic voice. "Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord."
With the shepherds we shall have gone to our Bethlehem to worship. We shall have received the most precious Body and Blood of Our Saviour and He will be dwelling in us, and we in Him. In His indwelling life we shall find the fulness of Christmas joy.
Affectionately in Our Lord,