The Second Sunday of Advent, Year C, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).

The “Day of the Lord” in ancient Israel began as a tocsin call, a rallying cry to the People of God to assemble and prepare for battle. There were many enemies in the Promised Land, and the People needed to gather and to act together in the face of invasion. The Day of the Lord, however, was celebrated as a day of victory in a way that subverted the notion of holy war. The People came to believe, not that God fought with them but that God fought for them; the victory was not theirs but God’s. In some sense this insight was the beginning of faith.

Over time, the idea of the Day of the Lord took on a greater shape. It was not simply the day in which God rallied the People and took action against the surrounding nations: it was also the day in which God intervened decisively in human history. The prophets took up the theme, transforming the Day of the Lord from the mustering of the militia to the day of God’s action. “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty” (Is. 13:6), Isaiah prophesied. God was not just the god of one people, but God of all times and places, of all time and history.

The Day of the Lord was a day of judgment, directed not only against the nations that oppressed the People of God, but also a day of judgment pronounced against the People themselves. “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light…” (Amos 5:18), the prophet Amos pronounced against Israel. In the eyes of the prophet it was no longer possible for the People to call for the Day of the Lord without acknowledging their own faithlessness.

At the same time, the Day of the Lord began to point towards the end of human history, to the time of restoration and the establishment of the Kingdom. Even the nations around them would be included in this restoration. “At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord” (Zeph. 3:9). In the vision of the prophet Zechariah, “And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (Zech. 14:9).

All of this is background to our second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, and the confident expression of hope in the “day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Paul mentions this day twice in our short reading: a sign of its importance. It too, like the Day of the Lord proclaimed by the prophets, is a trumpet call of assembly, for the gathering of the faithful. It too is the day when all the nations are assembled around the throne of God. It, like the Day of the Lord proclaimed of old, is the day of restoration when all things are gathered into one. But now the faithful are gathered in Christ Jesus, who comes in glory at the end of time.

Think for a moment about the context of this letter, which may suggest some lessons for us. St. Paul writes to the church in Philippi, a community he himself had established in his first missionary foray in Europe. He has a close relationship with this church: he longs to see them, and they for their part hold him in their hearts (Phil. 7:8-9). Later in the letter he admits that he has anxiety for them, in the face of internal challenges to the church, as well as the external persecution that he himself faces.

Paul also tells us that he writes to them from prison, probably the imprisonment that he suffered in Rome before his execution. He’s under no illusions as to the danger he’s in. Later in the letter he talks about his own situation as one of life and death (Phil. 1:20); about being poured out even now as a sacrificial offering (Phil. 2:17). He knows that his life hangs by a thread.

Yet for Paul, in spite of peril and anxiety, the day of Jesus Christ is the horizon of his own hope. He has confidence that on that day, the community in Philippi will be found faithful, gathered and expectant. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ *(Phil. 1:6). He does not place his confidence in them but in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who is trustworthy for both.

Finally, some questions for us: where will we put our trust, our faith, in the Day of Jesus Christ? Where is the horizon of our hope, the day that lies before us? Is it simply this day and the day after and the day after that, or is it the return of Christ in glory? God has begun a good work in us, no doubt about that, but we are a work in process, a work to be brought to completion. Is there work ahead to be done? Whatever the challenges, the work is at hand for us, and God will bring it and us to completion on the Day of Jesus Christ.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee