Another week of Advent, and another opportunity to preach an Epistle lesson that is full of joy rather than doom and gloom. In fact, thanks to the RCL’s decision to keep the introduction of JBap short, other than an almost sidebar reference in the Gospel lesson, you don’t have much of a chance to preach repentance at all on Advent 2C. As you might guess from my constant complaining about Advent, this doesn’t bother me much. Still, if I were preaching both Advent 2 and 3 in Year C, I’d save my JBap sermon for next week and focus on Paul’s joy for the Church in Philippi.
One of the chief complaints about Paul’s letters is that they are overly moralistic and, as such, they are heavily dependent on time and place. We hear this often in the conversation around human sexuality, especially the three of “Those 7 References” that occur in the Pauline Corpus. While this is probably a fair critique of the way Paul gets used in contemporary Christianity, I’m not sure that it is really Paul’s fault. In fact, while Paul did spend considerable time calling the early Christians to live lives worthy of the Gospel, his focus wasn’t so much on self-sanctification, but on the power of Jesus at work in the lives of believers. We get a glimpse into that hope in Sunday’s lesson from Philippians 1.
While it is true that Paul calls the Philippian Christians to lives that are “pure and blameless,” he makes no mention of a moral code of discipleship. There is no law in his call to sanctification, save the law that Jesus gave, “that you love one another.” For Paul, the key to living lives that are pure and blameless is living lives of love.
“And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11
By modeling Christ’s life of love for the world and following his commandment of love for our neighbor that our lives our changed. Sanctification doesn’t come by beating the sin out of ourselves, but by living lives of love empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will become pure and blameless as the sinful desires of our hearts slowly melt away. Discipleship, or as the Season of Advent would have me say it, being ready for the return of Christ, need not be about following a strict codes of ethics. Instead, if we choose to live lives that overflow with love, the moral life will naturally follow.