Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Christian Year begins with four weeks of penitential preparation for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord. Without penitence the Advent, the coming of the Saviour, can neither be desired nor understood.
Penitence is a change of mind enabling us to perceive the fact and the con-sequences of sin: to recognize our helplessness to save ourselves; and to turn to God for redemption and release. By this result repentance is recognized as a valid experience. The alternative is remorse.
Remorse is human sorrow for sin which turns inward and leaves the soul self-centred. Repentance is Godly sorrow for sin and leaves the soul centred in God. Remorse leaves the soul the victim of works of darkness. Repentance leaves the soul clothed with the armour of light. Remorse is morbid. Repentance is healthful.
Advent demands the act of faith without which repentance is incomplete. The faith required is faith in the love of God the Father. Without such faith the conscience-smitten may, without difficulty, realize God's hatred of sin. It is only by faith that the conscience-smitten can realize God's love for the sinner.
The moment the penitent, convinced of his helplessness, cries, "I can go no farther," God answers the lament by the instant promise, "Lo, I come." In whatever distant country the penitent may be, God comes all the way to visit him in great humility and with a love that passes knowledge. It is more than the penitent can desire or deserve.
Of the reality of the love there is no place for doubt. It is an amazing love because it is Divine Love. It is the love of the Divine Father for His human children. Once even dimly understood it is compelling. This is the final note of Advent. Repentance is the preparation. Faith is the final reality.
It is this faith in the love of God which I shall try to emphasize this Advent. In our Communions and our prayers and our meditations we shall look for this star. It will lead us straight to the house where we shall see the young Child and his Mother. If we listen we shall hear the angelic song which proclaims the Divine Love and this will guide us directly and swiftly to the Manger. But I have in mind those for whom the journey may be a longer, only a little longer, one. For them, just because they have come so far, there will be given treasures of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
It ought not to be so difficult to realize the love of God the Father. Our Lord has taught us so plainly, "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
"So God loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." God's first thought for His sinful people is that they should not perish, but have everlasting life. He desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live. It is the sinner who needs to be turned. God is always the same. God is eternal love.
The work of redemption is the change in the person who is being redeemed. This change is a miracle of grace. It is the free gift of God. It-makes contrition possible. It make possible the reception of forgiveness. There never is uncertainty about God's forgiveness. The uncertainty is concerned with the reaction of the sinner.
Will the sinner decide to accept the gift? Will he care enough about it to be willing to become a penitent? Will he care enough to arise and go to his Father, and say Father I have sinned? If he cares enough to do that he has nothing to fear. He will quickly learn the love that casts out fear. Nothing can be so badly broken that his Father cannot mend it. No wound can be beyond the Father's power to heal. No sin can be beyond the Father's power to forgive.
So, once more, a single word rings round the world. Come.
Affectionately in Our Lord,