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13 December 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 19-12-2015

3rd Sunday  of Advent

John the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but he was not obsessed with sin. The tax collectors, in some people’s eyes, were sinners by definition.  They were regarded as traitors and blasphemers since the tax went to support the occupying power and the worship of the false gods of Rome.  John doesn’t say that they must give up their job only that they should take no more than was due. He doesn’t tell the soldiers that they must resign from the army - only no extortion, no pillaging. John was relaxed.  Christians sometimes have been uptight.  St Augustine, an outstanding thinker and writer, cast a shadow over the West. In reaction to his own past he took a dim view of human nature and tended to see sin everywhere. It’s no coincidence that Luther, who also was obsessed by sin, was an Augustian Friar.  

                 A dark cloud of scrupulosity, reaching down to our own time, was spread by a movement called Jansenism which came across the channel from France - and this was inspired by St Augustine. We are saved from our miserable state because Christ payed the price for our sins on the cross - as though God the Father were Shylock demanding his pound of flesh. Being the divine person that he was Our Lord could have atoned for our sins just by lifting his little finger. His laying down his life in such a memorable way would seem to have another reason and the clue we may find, perhaps, in his talk at the Last Supper.

The blessing he was born to bring was for us to share the life of God. The life of God is one of mutual love, each living totally for the other. After describing his gift to us Jesus said: I am giving you now a new commandment - love one another as I have loved you - adding - greater love no man has than this - than to lay down his life for his friend. Laying down his life for us so dramatically on Calvary was his way of driving home his message. If as St Leo put it: Christ became man to make man God, we must then live like God - loving to the limit.  So it’snot for us to go through life, beating our breast and moaning about sin. We are to walk tall, aware of our dignity as childrenof God andnot letting ourselves down by any lack of openness and generosity. It is Our Lord’s birth which brings this possibility of our leading a life worthwhile. The optimism of Christmas is the birthright of our baptism. This is why St Paul could write: I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord.

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