By the Rev’d Dr. Charles Erlandson

Advent is God’s cosmic alarm clock.

Since we humans are creatures bound by time and we will have calendars, we will observe hours and days and times and seasons.  We will set alarm clocks and timers so that we don’t miss something important.  Many of us will even observe the holy time that is set aside for our favorite TV show or sporting event and even perform the supererogatory work of learning how to program those newfangled digital recording devices—or perhaps some are still using their old VCR.

But the fact is that we often don’t sanctify the time that is one of God’s choicest gifts.  Like the characters in Kerouac’s On the Road, we claim to know time, when in reality we are more likely to waste time or kill time than we are to redeem or know it.

A simple question will illustrate our common thinking about time.  The question is: “When does the new year begin?”  Most of us would instinctively answer “January 1 (duh!).”  Some might answer, “When the fiscal year begins,” and others might groan and say that the new year begins in the middle of August when school starts.

But why not observe the church calendar, not just as a nice little ornament of our lives but as the structure of our time?  For Christians, Advent is our New Year’s.

And Advent is God’s cosmic alarm clock.

As such, Advent is necessary because Trinity is often a season of sleep and slumber.  It’s a long season, and sometimes we don’t know how to occupy the time during Trinity.  It’s also necessary because something so extraordinary and marvelous is about to happen—the Coming of Jesus Christ—that we must awake from our slumber and prepare ourselves.

The truth is that we need theological alarm clocks every hour and every day, and not just every year.  We have a nasty habit of hitting the snooze alarm in our lives and sleeping through the next alarm.  We love to go back for a little sleep, a little slumber, believing that we will spontaneously wake up.  But without our theological alarm clocks, the truth is we will never awake but continue to drift into a deeper and deeper spiritual slumber.

Once we’ve been awakened again, how shall we use the time of Advent that God has given us?  The answer is that Advent is a season of preparation.  We’ve all heard the saying, “Prepare to meet your maker!”  It’s usually heard in the context of someone about to be killed, but it has a special meaning with regard to Advent, because preparing to meet our Maker and Savior is the whole point of Advent and why we must be awakened.  We prepare to meet our God, our Maker, because He has come to meet us in His first Advent or Coming.  “Immanuel,” “God with us,” is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  God has broken into the time and history of our lives and become one of us.  Because of the love and glory and cosmic implications of God’s dramatic action in His incarnation, His first coming to us, we’d better prepare our hearts to receive Him as our long expected Savior.

But Advent also celebrates the Second Advent or Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  While Christmas is historically past (though in reality it persists every day of our lives), the Second Coming, at which Jesus Christ will judge both the quick and the dead, is yet to come.  One day, at the Second Coming, we will meet our Maker with finality and be summoned to give an account of our lives.  At that time, or at the time we die, whichever comes first, our time will have run out.  So we’d better have awakened and prepared beforehand.

It always amazes me how much time, money, and effort even Christians in America spend preparing for the Advent of Christmas – not for the Advent of Christ that’s celebrated at Christmas – but for the Advent of Christmas as a holiday (and not necessarily a holy day.)  We carefully save our money and budget it so that we can give each other gifts.  We prepare months or even a year in advance to make sure we will be able to go where we want to go to celebrate Christmas the next year. We make a big deal about it with our children and know how to fill their little lives with joyful anticipation.

But do we spend as much time and energy preparing for the coming, not of Santa Claus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ?  In Advent, we are given up to four entire weeks to prepare.  This year, why not use Advent as a time of holy preparation?

Advent is here, which means the King is coming.

Are you ready?

Fr. Charles Erlandson is the assistant rector at Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX, where he also serves as a high school teacher at Good Shepherd School. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (U.K.), teaches as an adjunct professor at Cranmer Theological House, and has a number of other books in progress. His daily devotional, “Give Us This Day,” can be found at <http://giveusthisdaydevotional.com/>.

Article originally published in the original email/print journal Earth & Altar, in the Advent, 2006 edition.



Advent as the Little Lent

Step into an Anglican church this time of year and you will most likely find a profusion of purple—purple banners, purple Bible markers, purple vestments. More than just a color choice, purple is a symbol that marks the character or flavor of the season of Advent and ties this season to the much longer season of Lent, which is very often also purple. In fact, Advent is called the Little Lent in many Eastern Orthodox churches. Of course, in contemporary American Culture and acculturated American denominations, Advent has long been replaced by the pre-Christmas season, the season for Santa Claus and consumerism.

In postmodern America, however, Advent is making something of a comeback as Advent wreaths suddenly pop up in Churches, mostly as a new way to celebrate the Christmas season, as witnessed also by the postmodern use of red and green candles instead of purple and rose.  But what is the understanding and meaning behind an Advent that is simply a new way to celebrate Christmas? The purple traditions help us to understand what Advent is intended to be.

So, what is Advent?  Advent, which is Latin for “to come”, is a season of the Church year that anticipates the coming of Christ.  There is a double theme for Advent. Christians celebrate the “first” Advent of Christ, when he came as a man for our salvation, and just as importantly, we long for and pray for the “second” Advent of Christ, when he shall come again to judge the world and to complete his victory.  Since our focus is on the Advent of Christ, the season is spent as a time of preparation to receive Christ and to meet him face to face.

Therefore, Advent, though expectant and joyous, is also a penitential season wherein Christians are to examine their hearts and their lives; to check the condition of their souls in preparation both of celebrating the Nativity of our Lord Christ and of the coming judgment day of Christ’s return.

This penitential nature makes sense of calling Advent  the “Little Lent.”  Lent is 40 days long, Advent is anywhere from 22 to 28 days long.  Thus, it is “littler” than Lent, but it is of a similar nature as a season.  Fasting, penitence, increased spiritual devotions and works of charity are typical activities for Lent, but also for Advent.  Lent is a preparation for celebrating the Resurrection, Advent a preparation for celebrating the incarnation and the second coming of our Lord.

Three Purple, One Rose—Traditions of Advent

As the Church works to reclaim Advent as a season of the Christian year, some traditions will need to be recovered and put to use.  Below is a list of customs that exist in the Anglican tradition for the season of Advent that Churches and families can use as possible to establish traditions in homes and parishes.

Advent Lessons and Carols
We’ve all heard of Christmas Lessons and Carols. But did you know that, decades ago, St. John’s College, Cambridge, gave the first service of Advent Lessons and Carols for those students who would miss the Christmas service while home for the holidays? The Church hymnal has a wealth of wonderful Advent carols which, when added to our tradition, will enrich our theology and our lives.

The Advent Wreath 
Have one at Church and use one at home! Light the candles during family prayer times, using the collect for the Day and for Advent, and talk about the marking of time and the coming into the world of the light of Christ incarnate. But for goodness’ sake, use three purple candles and one rose colored candle (not green and red!).

Play Advent Music Advent music is for Advent! Christmas music is for Christmas!  Of course you can cheat a bit, but this practical tradition can make a big difference in our understanding of the season as music so often shapes our emotions and moods and is a big part of most people’s context.  Then, of course, play Christmas music not only on Christmas Day, but all the way through Christmastide, thus reclaiming Christmas as a season too.

Wait for it Hold off on putting up your Christmas tree and Christmas lights. In times past, the tradition was to put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  (And, please do not take down the tree and the lights until Epiphany, January 6.)  The traditions of a season help us to understand that season and keep the seasons effective. Of course, parties during Advent are somewhat unavoidable in our culture, but Christians could at least hold off throwing their own parties until the party season of December 25 through January 6.  Remember, part of Advent’s character is about penitence and fasting—big feasts, candies, pies and fudge all seem to be just a little out of place in Advent.

Exercise your Faith Seek to use, during Advent, the spiritual disciplines God has given us.

1. Pray. Make your prayer life stronger, using resources like the daily office and family prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, and read the lectionary readings found therein, particularly with the Advent themes in mind.

2. Seek. Ask a pastor or spiritual advisor for some resources, perhaps some devotional reading.  Seek out spiritual counsel and advice from a priest or your spiritual director.

3. Fast. Seek to practice the discipline of fasting.  If you’re new to it, pick one day a week perhaps, to fast during the day, breaking your fast in the evening, preferably with Christian brothers and sisters and preferably in connection with corporate prayer and worship.

4. Confess. Consider making an appointment with your priest to participate in private confession and Absolution. This healthy discipline will assist us in examining our hearts and in setting us free from sin, so that we are prepared to meet our Judge.

5. Work. Choose a godly, charitable activity that you have not normally practiced, and do it as a good work done unto the Lord. Show forth the love of Christ by your actions in some new and challenging way, developing your godly character along the way.



There’s an old joke that identifies the favorite holiday movie of agnostics as a heart-warming story called “Coincidence on 34th Street.” I don’t know if radical skeptics wrestle with the problem of goodness and joy as much as orthodox Christians have agonized with the problem of evil and suffering, but the weeks between Thanksgiving and Epiphany must be a trying time for them. In a season with so many inducements to be grateful—in which the testimony of conscience and Creation is amplified by songs heard on the radio or at the Mall and giving thanks therefore seems meet and right so to do—how can those who admit no Giver avoid doubt about their doubt?

But perhaps the burden of “gratitude-without-a-proper-Benefactor” is a smug fantasy of well-meaning Christian apologists. After all, we live in a society in which people increasingly perceive of themselves most essentially as bearers of rights—claims or as consumers of commodities. Each of these identities tempts us to regard everything we receive as an entitlement or as a self-earned possession. In neither mode are we encouraged to realize that gratitude is the most fitting, the most natural posture for beings such as ourselves. Maybe our culture’s biases make it easy to ignore the fact that life is a gift.

Christian people regularly give thanks for the free gift of our salvation and for the blessings that accompany the redemption Christ has accomplished. But we also can find it all too easy to forget that all of Creation is a gift. The free gift of life in Christ is an echo of the free gift of life in Creation—a life that was forfeited when God’s beloved creatures chose (in Oliver O’Donovan’s phrase) to uncreate themselves and thereby to uncreate the rest of Creation.

Many devout Christians—under the influence of Gnosticism ancient and modern—fail to recognize the quality of Creation as gift and epiphany. Alexander Schmemannin his book For the Life of the World—argues that sin always involves a failure to perceive and receive aspects of Creation as the things God has made them to be. Eve convinces herself that the fruit is what she wants it to be, not what God has said it is (and what it really is). That fateful disobedience establishes a trajectory of confusion, so that the identity and purpose of all things come to be denied.

The story of the Gospel begins with an account of the meaning of all things. “All that exists is God’s gift to man:’ Schmemann writes, “and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.”’

Schmemann argues that a secularized view of Creation has deadly consequences: “When we see the world as an end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the ‘sacrament’ of God’s presence. Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world.”

The deadly practices of what John Paul II called the “culture of death” have their origins in a conceptual failure, in the assumption that nature has no meaning and elicits no necessary gratitude. So for the Church to be a culture of life, it needs more than good beliefs. It needs practices that sustain the posture of gratitude. Rather than sensing ourselves as sovereign consumers of religious products—whether ideas or experiences—we need to be recalled to the posture of humble recipients. “What do you have that you did not receive?” is the perpetual reminder we need. “Let it be unto me according to your word” is the grateful and receptive response we should strive to make habitual.

In a season of gift-giving, it may be helpful to remember that it’s easier to be generous than it is to be grateful. Robert C. Roberts—author of Spiritual Emotions observes: “Our generosity is often directed less at the benefit of the one on whom we bestow it than on the expression of our own importance. We enjoy the role of giver because of the way it ranks us vis-a-vis our recipient. And we sometimes feel a certain discomfort with being put in the role of recipient because of the way that ranks us vis-a-vis our benefactor.” Like Eve, we still want to take things on our own terms rather than to receive them (or, in the case of forbidden things, avoid them) on God’s terms. Being grateful for what we have also requires a contentment with not having what we haven’t been given. A cartoon in the New Yorker a year or so ago depicted a man confessing to his therapist: “I do count my blessings but then I end up counting those of others who have more and better blessings, and that pisses me off.” Gratitude, it seems, is not well understood by an accounting mentality; it involves a qualitative assessment, not a quantitative reckoning. “All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God.”

Ken Myers is the host and producer of The Mars Hill Audio Journal.

Robert C. Roberts, mentioned in the last paragraph, was a guest on volume 93 of the journal.



Mr. Martin Cothran was interviewed by David Kern of the Circe Institute regarding the Common Core State Standards Initiative in American Education, known as “Common Core.”

Cothran begins:

The Common Core standards are important because of the number of children that will be affected by national standards which are eliminating content knowledge and trying to replace it with amorphous “critical thinking skills.” I’m obviously not against critical thinking skills, since that’s what the liberal arts are. The trouble is that public school policy-makers have no clue what constitute critical thinking skills. It’s a nice-sounding phrase that has no definitive meaning.

What Mr. Cothran describes is a consistent problem with progressive education.  The content knowledge approach in the most recent iteration of “the answer” to our society’s problematic educational system aimed at stuffing knowledge into students so that they could pass the all-important tests that somehow are to gage our students’ progress and abilities as a whole.  

Unfortunately, as is always the case with this answer, it didn’t answer. As a friend of mine involved for decades in the public school system of California noted, 

Students were given a year’s worth of a random assortment of subject area facts, that lacked any connection or cohesiveness.  Students were forced to memorize these random sound bites without a chance to achieve mastery or understanding, just so they could pass the test.  The concepts of mastery and understanding were left out because there were too many random facts to memorize so there was not time enough for students to achieve mastery and understanding!

Because the rote memorization of facts didn’t do the trick, we must now emphasize “critical thinking” skills.  After all, students weren’t doing any real critical thinking with regards to all these facts, so that must be the answer.

Now, the aim will be to instruct grammar school students to solve complex problems, but without the basic skills or the “content knowledge” they will need to be successful. It seems as if it is always an either/or situation with progressive education.  My friend says that without a clear understanding of the critical thinking skills attempting to be taught, and without a sound pedagogy to teach them, “the Common Core experiment will be like a rudderless ship that will crash upon the rocky shore of reality!”

Cothran notes that “the lack of content knowledge will further corrupt the process of passing our culture down to the next generation, which is the most important educational goal.”

In mentioning education as passing down of culture, Cothran is echoing a section of Russell Kirk’s essay, “The Conservative Purpose of a Liberal Education”: 

Schooling was not originated by the modern nation-state. Formal schooling actually commenced as an endeavor to acquaint the rising generation with religious knowledge: with the awareness of the transcendent and with moral truths. Its purpose was not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order.

Being a good citizen is a byproduct of a good education, not the goal of a good education.  The long history of education, the one rarely ever discussed these days, tells us that children learn to understand what it means to be a “true human being” both by learning facts and figures and by learning how to build with their minds (using those very same building blocks of facts and figures).

This is simply grammar and dialectic.  Yes, children need to learn by rote.  But they also need to learn to think about those facts and figures.  They need to exercise that muscle between their ears, to actually connect the dots and make arguments. The progressive educators are not completely out in left field—content knowledge is important; critical thinking skills are important—they just think, like good citizens of the enlightenment kingdom, that the old tried and tested way of educating can’t possibly really work.  I would surmise, actually, that most educators these days have rarely heard of the old ways of educating.

Critical thinking used to be learned, partly, in a class called Logic.  I’ve noted for years how essays in my literature classes improve after the students have studied formal logic.  I’ve told my students for years that what I’m really after is teaching them to think.  I don’t care whether they can regurgitate my lecture notes, or a discussion on the Aeneid (well, that’s not quite true, I do care somewhat!)—what I’m really after is that they learn something, that they connect the dots gathered in the lecture and discussion, that they connect things in their own minds in ways even different from the ways I have. That’s learning the content and thinking critically about it.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Grammar students are not going to be reading the original tale of Aeneas’ voyage from a doomed Troy to build a new Rome…yet.  They will probably hear of and read numerous bits and pieces and characters, and will arrive in my class with a good grounding in mythology (gods, goddesses, heroes, and stories), a good skill in writing (basic English grammar and sentence and paragraph construction and basic argumentation), a survey understanding of early Western Civilization (including the basic flow of the history, timeline and dates, and maps), and will have all that in their heads, ready to read the great epic of Virgil.

A real education takes time and patience, consistency and direction. It’s more like a story than a collection of facts. Passing our culture down to the next generation, teaching students to be truly human, takes an education that gives content and also teaches students to think. Yes, grammar students tend to learn grammar, but they are already doing small “l” logic even in grammar school. Yes, middle school students tend to learn logic, but they are still drilling in grammar.  The older students, and adults, for that matter, will always be needing to learn the grammar of things, and then to put them together into a coherent whole—without these skills, there really is very little learning and understanding of who we are.

The problem with progressive education is that it is always looking for the magic bullet—the new “answer.”  That answer, however, has been staring at us for millennium.  Humans haven’t changed that much, and they tend to learn in the same basic ways.  Perhaps it’s time to try educating students in the “old-fashioned” way; the way that worked for well over 2000 years before we found all these fixes for something that wasn’t really broken.



Scripture puts the “outward, objective, historical view of the Gospel…before every other.”

M. F. Sadler, Church Doctrine—Bible Truth

Imagine a group of believers coming together to write up the ideal presentation of the Gospel. What might it sound like? Maybe there would be discussion on where to begin—with Scripture? with God the Father? with the sinner himself? How strongly should we state man’s fallen condition? Should we state it at all? Was Christ’s death a vicarious one? Should we mention social issues? Any number of churches might add any number of other specifications, denials, and statements. Not many of us, perhaps, would think to step back one or two paces and consider that the very phenomenon of presenting the Gospel as a list of affirmatives, negations, and commands is, well, odd. And not just odd; it is downright unscriptural.

Not that the Bible anywhere says, “Thou shalt not agglomerate statements one upon the other.” We aren’t even given any explicit template for how to present the Gospel. Every statement and every demand in this gospel presentation could be defensible by Scripture. But it still would be unscriptural, because it would not be in the form in which God Himself presented the Gospel in the Scriptures.

This is M. F. Sadler’s assertion in one chapter of his book Church Doctrine—Bible Truth. Sadler uses as one example the doctrine of election. Never in Scripture, he says, is the doctrine of election discussed apart from a narrative of some historical event, whether that be the calling and casting off of Israel as a chosen nation, and the choosing of the Gentiles, or the calling of the disciples as the new twelve tribes. Another example is the doctrine of the atonement. The doctrine itself gets relatively little treatment (for example, “He was wounded for our transgressions,” and following) when compared to the amount of narrative devoted to the actual sufferings of Christ—His agony and bloody sweat, His cross and passion, His death and burial.

Consider a few of the passages of Scripture that are more full of the abstractions of dogma: the early part of Hebrews, or I John 1, or the better part of Romans. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “There is therefore now no condemnation…” “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” “Therefore he has mercy on whom he wills, and whom he wills he hardens.”

After discussing all this doctrine in Romans, what does Paul do? He bursts into a hymn of praise: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” Dogma is a good thing; just not in isolation. The real problem with which Sadler contends is not the articulation of doctrine, but the exclusive focus upon doctrine apart from “historical facts.”

And why is this so important? “For anything that we know,” Sadler notes, “the exclusive contemplation of the doctrines apart from the facts of Redemption may nourish a Christian character very different from that which God desires to see in his children.” He doesn’t have positive things to say about the pleasantness of those characters which have been formed “by the exclusive contemplation” of evangelical doctrines: “not humble, not forbearing, not forgiving, not peaceable, not childlike, not unobtrusive.” Moreover, if God knows best how to bring men’s souls to faith, and as He has seen fit to present far more narrative of historical fact than teaching of abstract theology in His Word, ought we not to imitate Him?

Our own Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are a list of doctrinal assertions. But they do have a few important distinctions from statements such as the Westminster Confession and more recent attempts at similar statements (e.g. T4G http://t4g.org/). First, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion do not attempt to be “the Gospel” or even a summary of it. Secondly, they are connected physically and literally to the Book of Common Prayer, and in the same way connected to the life of the Church as guided by the Book of Common Prayer. They are part of the same volume which contains the daily readings for morning and evening prayer, the exhortations, the confession, absolution, and comfortable words, the propers for each Sunday and feast day, and the offices for everything from baptism to burial.  They don’t stand alone.

In this life of the Church we see God’s good provision for how His Church should continue to honor the union of story and application, of the historical and the doctrinal. Every Sunday, during the Office and the Order for Holy Communion, we are to hear, at the least, a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from an Epistle, and a reading from one of the Gospels. We are furthermore instructed to make confession of sins, then are pardoned, and then assured from Scripture of our forgiveness, and through Whom we are forgiven. Then we are exhorted to come eat from Christ’s table. Each year we walk in Christ’s footsteps from conception to ascension, wondering at the mystery of Christmas, tasting of his sufferings during Lent, and rejoicing inexpressibly at Easter. “You never know someone until you walk around in His shoes” does sound trite, but is so very true.

Many of us have a great zeal for proclaiming the Gospel, and spill much ink and use much breath in our efforts. But the very form of the Gospel presentation we often use is mitigating the good that those efforts could do.



In contemporary Christian culture, we hear much talk about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus.  Though not the only way to speak of it, this is a reasonable way to describe the covenant our triune God makes with us. Yet,  it is important to understand how that relationship is manifested. I have a relationship with my wife that is emotional, intellectual, familial, physical and spiritual.  I also have a close relationship with my firstborn, my son, and also with my daughters.  All these relationships are close, but different in quality and kind.

None of these relationships, however, happens in a vacuum.  All of them depend upon time spent and discussions had and meals eaten and letters written and experiences shared.  Our relationship with God is no different.  The Gospel in our lives has brought us into relation with God, and that relation is built by the same types of experiences—time spent with God, discussions had in prayer and in silent stillness, waiting upon God, meals eaten together at the Table of our Lord, letters written by God and for God at his inspiration.  We share experiences with God as we suffer as Christ suffered; we rejoice with Christ as He rejoiced and rejoices still in the truth, beauty and goodness of His creation.

Notice that the most obvious, concrete expression of our relationship with God is actually in formal worship and in our prayer life.  Prayer, praise, thanksgiving, communing—these are relational activities.  So what and how does the Gospel actually change our lives by changing our relationship with God?

The Gospel in our lives takes us from outside the Church to inside the Church.  The Gospel action in our lives is the action of the Holy Ghost bequeathed to us in our baptism and incorporating us into the Body of Christ, His Church.  To be in the Church is to have the privilege of participation.  We are allowed to participate in the fullness of the life of the Church in Word and Sacrament.  Thus, we ascend the Holy Hill to worship God, and we find that we are not climbing Mt. Sinai, nor any other hill on earth, but Mount Zion.  We come “to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the…church of the firstborn…” (Heb. 12:18-24).

This is amazing. Never in the history of the world before Christ was man allowed to come into the very heart of the city of God.  Never before was man able to enter into the Holy of Holies, except as represented by the High Priest once a year.  In fact, the Holy of Holies in the movable tabernacle days had a curtain around it that contained images of Cherubim, a reminder that the angel still stood at the gates of paradise with a sword. “None shall pass”  wasn’t a joke to the Israelites.

Now, however, Christ has made a way for all of us.  The Gospel in our lives means that we have access to the Holy of Holies, and it’s not a man-made Holy of Holies.  It’s the heavenly Holy of Holies.  Jesus is the anchor of our soul, and we are held secure to Him even as He enters the holy place.  He makes a way through the veil because His flesh is the veil, and it was torn for us (Heb. 6:19, 10:20).

When we get to the Holy of Holies in the heavenlies, we find that our high priest is a man.  Not just any man, of course, but the God-man Jesus Christ who at once sits at the right hand of the father ruling His kingdom, and at the same time is the Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, performing a greater liturgy than the liturgy of the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:6).   “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Heb. 8:1-2).  This is what the Gospel means for us.  This is what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.

The writer to the Hebrews says that Christ’s liturgy is fundamentally greater than the Old Covenant liturgy in two obvious ways.  Firstly, our High Priest is offering the best sacrifice ever offered (Heb. 7:27, 9:11-14, 26b-28,).  It is a once for all sacrifice continually offered in the Holy of Holies on our behalf (Heb. 7:27, 9:12, 10:10, 7:25, cf. Rom. 8:34); it is, of course, Christ’s self-oblation—offering himself in worship to God for us.  It is a sin offering, a whole burnt offering and a peace offering—again, all for us and on our behalf.  This is by far a greater act of worship than anything the Old Covenant liturgy had to offer (Heb. 8:6).

The second way Christ’s heavenly liturgy is better than the Old Covenant liturgy is the practical benefit for the people of God.  The relationship we have with Jesus ends up being a closer relationship than was available in the Old Covenant.  We get to participate in this worship not at a distance, but up close and personal (Heb. 12:18-24).  We don’t have to stand at the bottom of Mt. Sinai, like the Old Covenant worshipers, but we participate in this worship on the top of Mt. Zion, in heaven itself.  In the liturgy we plead Christ’s sacrifice as our sin offering and we receive forgiveness.  Our oblation of ourselves is received because it is offered in and through Christ’s sacrifice as our whole burnt offering.  Christ is our peace offering, as well; we find ourselves no longer at enmity with God, and we have peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

None of this is possible without the Gospel—the actual historical incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  The effects of that Gospel in our lives, the realities behind our words of “relationship with God” point us to heavenly worship—not ethereal or ghostly in the sense that our bodies are not participating, but real worship acted out in our bodies on earth and taking place simultaneously in heaven, where the liturgy of the Church is founded.

This is the greatness of the Gospel of Christ in our lives and in the relationship with Jesus that the Gospel brings about in our lives.  We are called to tell others of the great effects of this relationship with Jesus, i.e. we are to call many to the worship of God, to bow the knee in the greater liturgy in which the Messiah, our High Priest, is leading us—not a liturgy just happening on earth, but more importantly, in the Holy of Holies in the Heavenlies.