And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
(St. Matthew xxi. 12, 13)
Father Robert Crouse used to remind us that the traditional Anglican Lectionary was the only remaining calendar of liturgical readings that remained mostly unaltered since the times of the early Western, Latin Church. For even the Roman Church, prior to Vatican II, had altered the ancient lectionary. But our own Anglican Reformers decided to opt for the readings selected by the Ancient Fathers, since they thought they were probably safer guides to our salvation journey than any others that came after them. And today’s readings are a case in point. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant and euphoric entry into Jerusalem, and your mind jumps to Palm Sunday. You might say to yourself, Oh my, Father Martin’s intestinal pain has got the better of him, and he isn’t thinking straight. He read the wrong Gospel. But happily for me, you are wrong.
So then, you might ask, why did the Ancient Fathers choose this reading for Advent Sunday? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas, you might ask? And the answer is, Yes, we are. But according to the logic of the Church Fathers, preparing for the coming of Christ means readying our souls for the His birth in us at Christmas time. And this means the hard work of waking up to the awesome mystery that is coming to us. St. Paul tells us this morning that, The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans xiii. 12) Christmas is all about the coming Light, the Light which was the life of men…the Light [which] shineth in the darkness, and the darkness [overcame] it not…the Light that ligtheth every man that cometh into the world. (St. John i. 4,5,9) So Advent, for the Ancient Latin Fathers, was a time of spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ the Light, and this involves arranging and assembling the inner self for this mystical arrival and birth of Christ in the soul so that there might indeed be room for [Him] at the inn. (St. Luke ii. 7)
And Advent facilitates this spiritual state through repentance. And what is repentance but that casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition? What is compunctious and contrite sorrow or penance if not that determination to exorcise, expel, and expurgate all darkness from our souls? And what is this darkness, but an accumulation and accretion, a cluster and conglomeration of vice and sin that stubbornly resist and repel the liberating Light and brightness of Christ’s coming? The darkness, actually, hates the passion and desire of Christ the Light to redeem and save us through His birth in our souls. Thus Advent is all about that spiritual preparation that conscientiously and fastidiously locates the darkness of sin that lingers or even grows in our souls, and then begins to welcome the Light that alone can infiltrate, penetrate, and vanquish it.
Without God’s Grace, we can do nothing, and so we must ask Him for it more fervently and expeditiously in Advent. And so God’s Grace in Christ must come to us one way now in Advent in order to come in a far more glorious way then at Christmas. If we do not allow Him to come in the first manner, we shall fail to appreciate Him the second. And the first manner in which He comes to us is through all meekness, humility, and lowliness. He comes to us as a servant. So we read that God’s Light and Desire made Flesh entered the ancient city of the Jewish kings in fulfillment of the prophecy: Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (St. Matthew xxi 5) Christ comes to us now, as He came to the crowds then. Because He loves men’s innermost being most, He will not confuse and complicate matters with any hint of worldly or earthly power and might. He comes to serve where the work is most needed. And so His servant-hood is directed to the cure of men’s souls. In the end, He will serve all men in all times by laying down His life for his friends. (St. John xv. 13) His mission of service will involve the expression of true kingship, where the ruler so loves His peculiar people that He is willing to surrender His own life for their future well-being and salvation.
So long before Christ suffers and dies for those whom He loves, He rides into the Jerusalem of our souls. With the crowds of old in this Advent season we must respond: Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Ibid, 9) We rejoice at Christ’s Advent coming to us. We sing Hosanna because the God of all glory and holiness has stooped down from His heavenly throne to enter our souls in an unassuming, inconspicuous, and unpretentious way. He allows us to proclaim Hosanna only if it means our praise and glorification of the One who comes as the Great Physician and healer of our souls. The Christ who comes in Advent awakens, alerts, and even alarms us to our sinful condition in relation to salvation. He doesn’t have time for external and outward displays and spreads of His Divine Majesty. He knows [the] time, [and] that now it is high time to awake [us] out of sleep, for now is our salvation closer than when we first learned to believe (Romans xiii 11: AV & Knox) ; the cure of our souls is pressing, urgent, and impelling. His impassioned and industrious determination is revealed after He dismounts His ass and enters the temple. Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Ibid, 12, 13) Christ means business. And if we want Him to cast away the works of darkness in our souls, we had better be ready for His courageous and determined assault on our sickness. Christ is like any good doctor or surgeon. By all appearances He is kind, gentle, loving, and compassionate. But once He knocks you out with anesthesia, He goes after the disease and sickness with the zeal, fervor, and alacrity of a whirling dervish. He is determined to rid our bodies and souls of any idea, word, or occupation that frustrate His birth, growth, and maturation in our souls.
So our determination on this Advent Sunday must be to open our souls to the penetrating, invasive, determined, and dynamic Light of Christ’s healing power. But St. Paul tells us this morning that our patient-prep for spiritual surgery must involve love. If Christ is to enter our souls to purge, purify, cleanse, and wash away our sins, we must not be distracted by anger, fury, rage, resentment, bitterness, or revenge. He says, Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (Romans xiii 8) This means that we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into and determined by distractions that enhance, enlarge, broaden, and deepen any malevolence towards our fellow men. Perhaps an example would be useful. We might start to practice love when we get behind the wheels of our cars. The Ancient Fathers tell us that we are most liable and susceptible to vice when we are moving too fast. Well, when we are in our cars, our rapid pace outruns our hearts and minds. And then we find ourselves too easily subject to passions and emotions that yield so quickly to judgment, condemnation, and derision. We cry out, you idiot, you fool, or you moron. The words jump out of us, one thing leads to another, and before we realize it, we are bothered, distracted, and then even possessed by subjects of passing importance, ephemeral meaning, and unlasting merit.
My friends, in this Advent Season we are called to slow down. No doubt, Advent is all about waking up, be roused, and becoming conscious of our need for Christ’s effective healing. Indeed, we are called to name, identify, and claim our sins that He might help us to conquer them through His Grace. We need to tell the good physician where we hurt, in what way, and to what extent spiritually. We need to admit and confess our weakness, fatigue, and powerlessness over sin and its effects in our lives. As John R. Brokhoff says, If Christ is going to come again into our hearts [at Christmas], there must be repentance [in Advent]. Without repentance, our hearts will be so full of worldly things that there will be ‘no room in the inn’ for Christ to be born again.…We have the joy not of celebration. Which is the joy of Christmas, but the joy of anticipation. (Preaching the Parables) Advent is about anticipating, waiting, and watching for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas. But with no repentance, there will be no room in the inn of our souls for Christ’s birth. The Advent fire of Christ’s Light can wash, cleanse, purify, and heal us of all our sins only if we remain still and passive on his spiritual operating table and allow Him to do His work. What needs to be alive, zealous, and passionate in us is the willingness to pray more fervently for the purifying fire of Christ’s Light in our hearts. Then we need enduring vigilance, alacrity, and eagerness to remain obedient, docile, and acquiescent to the healing directives of Christ the Light, Christ the Good Physician. If we persist in the spiritual healing process and begin to be cured, we shall die to our sin and ourselves. Through Him, we shall cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of Light. (Idem) Then we shall be ready to be born again in Christ at Christmas time. At that is only the beginning! All births are! What follow are spiritual growth and maturity in the firey Light of Christ the Word. And then, knowing that our salvation is nearer than when we first began to believe (Idem), at the last day, when [Christ] shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with [the Father] and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons