Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Psalm 85:11
Let us remember once again today that the Old Testament is a Christian book. It is not a Jewish book, or God forbid a Muslim one, but it is nothing else than the promise of a Savior for the whole world. A promise fulfilled when Christ came to “lighten the darkness of our hearts by his gracious visitation,” as we prayed in today’s Collect. When he forgave our iniquity, covered our sins, withdrew God’s wrath, and restored us to our True Father: the tender, gentle and loving Father that every man longs to have and to hold.
Because the Old Testament is a Christian book we should consider the New Testament to be the last chapter of the Old, its completion and fulfillment. And we should interpret it as predicting Jesus at every turn. His incarnation, life, death and resurrection. His coming to us in liturgy every Eighth Day of our lives, and his coming again in glory, which will be earth’s final and finest moment! And we will be there. Alive! Springing up from the ground to “meet the Lord in the air” as St. Paul teaches, and thus be “forever with the Lord!” This is the Christian gospel, Christian faith, and Christian hope “by which we will never be put to shame! For the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” in holy baptism.
At this time of the church year we are focused on the events of the Lord’s first coming into the world. Holy Scripture says that, “In fullness of time God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” And so we are! Sons of Abraham and sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
But of all the superb words we confess in our Creed each Sunday none has caused greater wonder, or inspired deeper reverence than this sentence, “and was made man;” and today’s Psalm is a prophecy of those words. Of that event that, even in this late age of militant unbelief, and concerted rebellion against the Almighty, still has the power to bring the world to a halt from Wall Street to Main Street, from Walgreen’s Wal-Mart. And to move the bottom line of the economy from the red to the black. All because of the gift of a child, that God gave the world on Christmas Day.
“Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.”
In the Psalm “Faithfulness” is code for Jesus for he is, “The faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth … who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood …”
When our God and Savior Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh to rescue us, he did so as our brother. As a full and complete man, like us in every respect except for sin. His Father is God, but his mother is Blessed Mary and his oldest ancestor is Adam. As Adam was formed of the virgin ground, so Jesus of the Virgin Womb, that “good and blessed earth” from which the bread of life sprang forth.
As the Son of Mary he was fit material to be the sacrifice for our sins. For our mutiny and rebellion against heaven. Able to die, for us, in our stead, and as our substitute. But because the Christ, whose Mass we will celebrate (Christ-mas) in a fortnight, is also God death could not hold him. But instead he sprang up from the earth very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, and we will follow suit!
And as he who is Righteousness once came down, and took up residence in the Virgin’s womb at the Annunciation; even so he comes down from heaven continually at the moment of the Eucharistic Annunciation into the Virgin church, his Bride, who you are! Where we receive his incorruptible flesh, into our corruptible, under the forms of bread and wine, which also spring from the earth.
Yes, faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. But righteousness in Holy Scripture is not, in the first place, about behavior. Such a misinterpretation leads us to the most repugnant sin of all, self-righteousness, which is not the same thing as religion. Instead, righteousness is what results when God comes to earth to save us. It is the condition of things after he has completed his redemptive work. When he has finished renewing and restoring what we have trashed, abused, disbelieved, disrespected and made un-righteous by our sins.
God is not content!
We might be happy to live in squalor, like the legion of demons who asked to possess a herd of 2,000 swine, when the Lord exorcized them from the tormented man in Gennesaret. We might be perfectly pleased to return time and again to our sins “like a dog to its vomit,” to quote St. Peter. But God is not content! God is not happy, and he will not rest again until he has renewed the face of the earth. All things, all people, all tribes and all families: nothing excepted! A thought as terrifying as it is benevolent. For the kingdom of this scorched earth, and war-torn world, with its tattered citizens, and ragamuffin families, is become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. But don’t fret, dear Christians and do not be dismayed, because you cannot have Righteousness without Mystery: and “all that is now hidden in darkness will be brought to light,” when Righteousness again comes down from the sky.
But though righteousness is not, in the first instance, about behavior, it does finally convert us. It enters us at baptism, and works its way from the heart to the mind; then to the hands, and lips and feet so that we walk in the paths of righteousness each day. Faithful to our Savior and his will; and merciful to the world he came to redeem, starting in our own beds, our own homes, and working our way out from there.
“Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” Christ is our Faithfulness, Christ is our Righteousness.