“You are what you eat.” No doubt all of you have heard this ancient adage many times. Of course we know that originally it was meant in a purely figurative sense. Taken literally, we would be hard pressed to apply it to John the Baptist who, as stated in today’s Gospel reading, had a diet of locusts and wild honey.
According to Wikipedia, the world’s most trustworthy source of all information, the phrase “you are what you eat” originated with Ludwig Feuerbach in 1850, when he wrote, "Der Mensch ist, was er ißt," “what one is, is what he eats,” which of course sounds better in English than it does in German. Mind you, Wikipedia also attributes to Feuerbach the origin of the question, "Can any good come out of Nazareth?"
According to another internet source, “you are what you eat” originated almost 25 years earlier when Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es," which means, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” Of course, as always, it sounds much better in French than in English.
But I found it absolutely fascinating that the same internet source traces “You are what you eat” back to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who, in 1549, included in the first Book of Common Prayer today’s Collect, the Collect for the second Sunday of Advent. Hear it again:
Blessed Lord, Who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of Your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which You have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
This is among my favorite of all Cranmer collects; it’s one of the ones that I keep taped to my computer monitor, where I can read it with greater frequency than once or twice a year when it shows up as the collect of the day. Clearly Cranmer’s use of this idea was purely figurative, as in his day the actual eating of a Bible was probably a punishable crime.
But what was Cranmer’s point? We’re not left to wonder, because Cranmer states it clearly in his collect. We are to “inwardly digest” Scripture so that “we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which (God) has given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”
All of us as believing Christians understand and do indeed “embrace... the blessed hope of everlasting life” that’s ours through Jesus Christ. But the part of that phrase that I find riveting is that “by patience and the comfort of (God’s) Holy Word” we are to “ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” That’s a critically important part of daily ingesting and inwardly digesting God’s Holy Word.
What does any of this have to do with today’s Scripture readings? Everything! Our reading from II Peter continues the theme we’ve had before us for the past several weeks: “the Day of the Lord.” And, as usual, there’s some rather fearsome language associated with it. Peter warns us that “the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up... (and) the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!”
Peter gives us five compelling reasons why he’s issuing this dire warning:
- So that we will consider “what sort of people (we) ought to be in holy conduct and godliness”
- So that we will be “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God”
- So that we will be “looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells”
- So that we will “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless”
- So that we will “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation”
Connecting this with Cranmer’s collect, what is Peter feeding us here? What is it that we should we be hearing, reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting? Note that while it may be that Peter’s primary thrust here is to tell us about ourselves, how we should be and how we should be acting, he also repeats twice two incredibly important words that tell us about how God is and how He is acting in this process: He is patient, and He acts in accordance with His promises.
Verse 9 tells us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward (us), not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” And then in verse 13 Peter tells us that “according to (God’s) promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” and he concludes in verse 15 that we’re to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Note that these verses are pretty much saying the same thing: God is patient because He does not wish for any to perish and because His patience allows for our salvation. And all of this is in accordance with God’s promises in His Holy Word, the Word that we’re to be digesting.
I found a very beautiful and comforting post by Jon Bloom on his internet site called “Desiring God.” He wrote, “When our body needs energy, we eat food. But when our soul needs hope, what do we feed it? Promises. Why do we feed our soul promises? Because promises have to do with our future, and hope is something we only feel about the future. If our future is promising, our soul will be hopeful even if our present is miserable, because hope is what keeps the soul going. So, we ‘eat’ promises, which our soul digests and converts to hope.” That’s just another version of Cranmer’s collect.
“We ‘eat’ promises, which our soul digests and converts to hope.” God’s Holy Word may be seen as a book of promises. Advent and Christmastide are times filled with promises. They’re the archetypical seasons of promise, of forward-looking, of looking within ourselves to see how we’re doing at looking up, looking ahead, embracing the promises and actually living as though we believed them to be true.
If that sort of preparatory looking results in our living “in holy conduct and godliness” so that we may “be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,” then we will indeed be converting God’s infallible promises into hope. And we will see everything about these seasons as being not just hopeful, but completely hope-filled.
One more thing: if Peter tells us how we should “be,” John the Baptist shows us what we should “do.” John the Baptist is always such a prominent figure in Advent, simply because Advent is a time of looking ahead, of forward-looking. John understood perfectly his role as the forerunner of Messiah, the one whose calling was to bring people to repentance, to get them to confess their sins, to bring them to an overt expression of their repentance through baptism, to raise his eyes and point to “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
His role was to do all of that in order to prepare people for the first coming of Messiah. But our role is to do exactly the same to prepare people for the Second Coming of Messiah. If God is showing His patience and fulfilling His promises for the sake of rescuing the perishing and for the goal of salvation, then we are the “instruments of His peace” through whom that message of salvation is to be proclaimed. That’s His plan. That’s His plan! We’re privileged to be a part of it. But it calls for an active sort of obedience, and not all of us are very good at that.
There’s a starting point if you’re among the many who struggle with being God’s light in this dark world. The starting point is the one we already have stated in Cranmerian language: “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures, not as an end in itself or for our own personal benefit alone. I believe that the more we literally immerse ourselves in God’s Holy Word, the more eager we’ll be to share it with others.
The central message of Scripture is that the very God Who created us and our universe has been at work to provide eternal life with Him in His own presence. That’s what the incarnation is all about: the most important step that God took to effect His promises. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (II Corinthians 5:19). The apostle Philip said to Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh, “Show us the Father and it will suffice for us;” and Jesus answered, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8, 9).
This same Jesus came so that we might become the children of God, as many as receive Him (John 1:12). That’s the message of Christmas. But the message of Advent is that He’s coming again and that, as we wait for Him in expectancy, we must busy ourselves with proclaiming the message of the Gospel so that the offer, the gift of God’s salvation will be extended to everyone. Peter reminds us today that God is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” And so we shoulder the burden of John the Baptist and, like him, call others to repentance and confession of their sins. And that’s how we become instruments of God’s peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen