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The End of the Book of Life

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sermon for the fourth Sunday in Advent

In this day of technology and information, there is still something to be said in favour of books. Their weight, their texture, their smell all contribute to making their words real. The computer screen doesn’t have that effect even if the information you see is more accurate. Books have a sense of permanence that computer information does not. You can’t accidentally delete a book with a click of a finger. To delete a book requires significant physical effort, or an ill-placed cup of tea.

As we stand with St John in his vision, we see what God wants him to understand. St John knows books and so he is shown books. How would God have given His revelation via a computer screen in this day and age? Would the great apocalypse to St John be played out in a YouTube video?

It seems that God still uses books too.

[PAUSE]

There is a Book of Life and St John has seen it opened.

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Once a book is published, its contents are fixed. And here is a bit of a problem. St John himself tells us that the Book of Life was written from the foundation of the world. Does that mean that our fate is sealed from before we were even born?

If God can see all of His Creation as a complete book, then surely He has written our fate completely. Perhaps Calvin is right, some people are predestined for Heaven and others for Hell. Or perhaps Origen is right, that a loving God would not allow His creation to go to Hell and so everyone must be saved from Hell.

Are our lives really a closed book?

[PAUSE]

These are questions that Christians have been wrestling with for centuries and there are no hard and fast answers. The reason is obvious: we cannot know the mind of God, nor can we know our fate after death. Christians have long been accused of declaring that a certain men are in Hell. These include the more obvious such as Hitler and Stalin, but then Christians have also condemned Luther, Calvin, and virtually all the popes. And yet, if you think about it, the moment that a Christian makes this judgement, he has written his own book of life.

Our Lord is quite clear, there is everlasting life with Him and there is everlasting fire in which those who find themselves there possess a worm – i.e. a gnawing pain – that will not die. Hell is a reality and it lies outside of the Book of Life.

So how can God create Man in His own image and yet allow him to end up in Hell?

[PAUSE]

God makes Man in His own image. In other words, whether we are sinners or not, whether we love Him or not, we reflect the being of God within our very selves and are therefore worthy of His love through that image. Yet, with the freedom to choose, Man chooses to sin and is therefore separated from God. Our Lord Jesus Christ is made man so that, by His death, Man can return to sharing fully in God’s Divinity. God becomes Man so that Man can become like God.

This means we are being given the opportunity to be truly alive and to live beyond Creation in the warmth of God’s love. In bearing the image of God, we exist beyond the simple understanding of the world we know and see and hear now. Indeed, we already exist beyond the whole confines of past, present and future. The question is whether we choose to unite that image with God or to say, “no” and keep away from being reunited with God.  

Since Love does not insist on its own way, the opportunity to be reunited with God must be able to be rejected and rejected Eternally. Hell is separation from God. It is therefore real and Eternal for those who refuse to reconcile the Eternal image that they bear with the One whose image it is. This is why Hell is so terrible. This is why Our Lord not only has to tell us how horrible it is, He has to show us through His teaching, through His healing of the sick and His death upon the Cross. It is to save people from the reality of Hell that the Apostles work so hard and live and die, sometimes horribly. This is why the testimony of the martyrs, virgins and confessors is a matter of life and death. Our Lord wants us to be reunited with Him and is giving us every opportunity for that to happen.

[PAUSE]

If our names are not written in the Book of Life, then the consequences are dire. We, in the Church, have a lot of work to do in bringing people to see the Lord in us. It is a big task, but God is with us. We have to be faithful and let His image shine in us. We have to stop condemning people to Hell but rather let God’s light in us lead those who stray back.

There is a Book of Life in which our names are written, and we have books of our own lives which we write ourselves. Is the image of the Lord on the cover?


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