Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent sermon by Phillips Brooks

As something of an addendum to my recent post on "O Little Town of Bethlehem," here is a sample of the preaching of Phillips Brooks, appropriate for the season, from a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent. Reflective of the theology ascendant at the time, the elements of so-called Christian humanism are apparent, but it is, nevertheless, a stirring exposition on the Incarnation. You can read the full text of the sermon here.

"He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God."—John I. 11, 12.

I cannot stop to tell you what I am sure that many of you must know—how real this belonging between God and humanity becomes to a man at the time of his own conversion. God stands far off from you, and you think that you have nothing to do with Him. You send Him duty-prayers as if you shot arrows into the darkness, toward a voice which you are not wholly certain that you hear. By and by that God comes to you; and the surprise of all surprises in conversion is to see how your heart knows Him and opens and lifts itself to take Him in. "My beloved is mine, and I am His," it says, with surprised and sudden recognition. Christ has come "unto His own."

But there is a yet closer and tenderer meaning of these words, I think. They mean that Christ came in answer to a most urgent and pressing call of need. That is what it signifies when it is said that "He came unto His own." For in a true sense everything is a man's own which needs that man; not everything which he needs, but everything which needs him. Do you not know what that is? Your child is yours not merely by the claim of birth and nature, but by the tie of continual dependence. He is most yours when he needs you most. He is never so much yours as when he requires your forgiveness for some sin. He ceases in part to be yours as he outgrows his most urgent need of you. So the charitable man or woman talks about "my poor." So the teacher talks about "my boys." Everywhere that is yours which needs you. I pity the man who does not know the responsibility and privilege of that high sort of ownership. It is a most sacred claim upon another to go to a poor helpless creature and say, "You need me. I will help you. You are mine." Now when it is said that Jesus came to His own, is not this at least part of the meaning? He came to those who needed Him; most of all to those who from the stricken earth held up to Him the deepest of all needs, the need of sin that craved forgiveness; and that was what made them His. Certainly no level-eyed intercourse of sinless man with sinless Christ could have wrought in us such a profound and precious sense that we belong to Him as this simple knowledge that we need Him. Need has its sacred rights. Because we want forgiveness and help, and He only can forgive and help us, therefore we are His.

How clearly this shines out in those typical men and women of the Gospel stories! How closely they became Christ's by merely needing Him! How He acknowledged their claim! The sinning woman who crept in and touched the hem of His garment was completely His; she commanded with a perfect freedom His sympathy and time and care simply because she was so wretched and could not do without Him. The poor man to whom He gave sight, and whom the Pharisees turned out of the synagogue, laid hold of Christ immediately, and Christ acknowledged him as one of His because he could not do without Him. And who among the apostles was more perfectly Christ's own than Simon Peter, whom Christ was always answering and saving in extremest need?

Need I say more about the meaning and the purpose of the Incarnation? Put these two ideas together. Jesus "came unto His ovm." To men forgetful of their godlike nature He came to tell them that they were the sons of God; and to men who could not do without Him He came because they needed Him. Oh, my dear friends, by what high warrants does the Saviour claim us for His own! Because we are His Father's children, and because we are so needy, therefore our divine Brother comes. He comes to you and says, "You called Me." And you look up out of your worldliness and say, " Oh no! I did not call. I do not know You!" But He says, calmly, "You did, although you do not know it. That power of being godlike which is in you, crushed and unsatisfied—that summoned Me; and that need of being forgiven and renewed which you will not own— that summoned Me. And here I am! Now wilt thou be made whole? If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." Just as all through the crowds of Jerusalem there must have been many who walked with a sense that they peculiarly belonged to the great Healer—one with his healed arm that once was withered, another with the new-given sight in his eyes, another witb his body yet missing the long possession of the demon who was cast out yesterday, each with some need which had been recognized and supplied—so through this congregation there are many who rejoice that they are Christ's. They needed Him and He owned their need. He took them, He forgave them, He holds them, and nothing shall pluck them out of His hands.