Last Sunday, I mentioned that I am reading a biography — a massive biography, such that give me a few more weeks to finish since there is a limited number of pages I can read during the few minutes before bed that I permit myself to read each night — a massive biography of Thomas Cromwell, who first gained Henry VIII’s approval for Cromwell’s role in “The Great Matter,” Henry’s attempt to have annulled his marriage to his first wife, the Spanish Catherine of Aragon, who could not bear him an heir to the throne, and then to marry Anne Boleyn.
Many of you will know that Henry and his kingdom were Roman Catholic at the time, and that he tried dutifully but unsuccessfully to get the Pope to annul the marriage, and that effort included appeals to scholars around Europe in the hope that with their support, he might be able to get other European monarchs to put pressure on the Pope to meet Henry’s needs. Of course, history tells us of that failure, which ultimately led to Parliament’s declaring the King the supreme head of the Church in England and the break from Rome that gave us the Church of England from which we today here get both the Episcopalian and Methodist denominations.
At any rate, one of Cromwell’s dinner guests wrote to him about the stimulating and, he felt, correct discussion shared at Cromwell’s that included reading and interpreting several Bible passages that had been translated into English — this was before the time of the King James Bible — reading and interpreting the meaning of some verses, the translation of which the guest had returned to his home and checked with both his own Bible and “St. Jerome’s.”
Jerome was the fourth - fifth century theologian known for his translation of the Bible as it then was from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, a translation we know as The Vulgate, which I believe is still the basis for Catholic usage, as I have understood things.
Latin. As my father used to say, “Latin is a language, at least it used to be, it killed off all the Romans, and now it’s killing me.” But I loved Latin, and not only because it was in Latin class that I first met my late wife, Carol, but also because in Latin I really learned the fundamentals of language and grammar — I was already fond of diagramming sentences, I must confess, — the fundamentals of language and grammar, including conjugation of verbs.
Conjugation. Amo, amas, amat — “I love,” “you love,” “she” or “he loves” is known by plenty who never actually studied Latin.
But of course, those are all present tense forms of the verb, to love; going deeper into conjugating verbs in English to show different tenses, we have, for instance, “I am,” “I was,” “I will be,” or, to use the example of a different verb, as my title suggests: “He comes,” “He came,” “He will come.”
And with respect to Jesus, those last three are all true.
Advent, this wonderful season of Advent, is, of course, about observing the time before the birth of Jesus; strictly speaking, Advent is about He will come, or He is coming. And very specifically, during Advent and then at Christmas, we celebrate the fact that He came, or, He has come.
Of course, if you were here last week, which was the last Sunday of the previous Church or ecclesiastical year, we really observed that He was leaving but that He will come again; He will return.
So which is it? Well, all three, albeit in different ways. There is nothing about the waiting and anticipation of Advent, waiting for the coming in the past — of Jesus that I would want to change; we are expectantly, hopefully, awaiting like an expectant mother; yet we are also dwellers in a harsh world, but dwellers convinced that when our time here is ended, we shall be with Jesus, though we may not be quite certain exactly how. Undoubtedly, many of you do think in what we would-be-theologians call eschatological terms; you understand, with ample basis in the Bible, what I would never question: that Jesus will come again at the end of time, though I tend to understand that “end of time” in our lives as being the end of our individual earthly lives, but that is not an issue that should divide us.
But there is another truth as we look at the conjugation of come, and whether you wish to argue it is the simple past tense, He came, or the present perfect — I like this one — He has come, which can also mean, He came and He is here!
He came and He is here! He is here as we celebrate the Sacrament; Luther would agree with me on that, but even more than that, He is here, which is to say, He is with us whenever we call upon Him. Sometimes it might seem as though it is taking Him a while to get here — especially when we are going through mini-Advents, not of hopeful waiting, but of fearful waiting and doubt, — but trust me; if we call upon Him, He will come!
And that is our first message this Advent: He is here when we need Him! He is here; He came, He has come, and is in fact always with us, even if we try to ignore Him.
He is here now; do we need Advent, the time for waiting for Him? Well, it is a nice time; it gives us the joy and reassurance of knowing that when the world so needed Him, He came.
As one of those passages I read in Latin, one written by Julius Caesar, himself, says, Veni, vidi, vici.
I came; I saw; I conquered. He came and He saw our plight and He conquered sin on our behalf; let us help Him conquer for still others, even as they spend unknowing time in their personal Advents.
And in His name, which is not Latin, Amen.