ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life,
(Collect Advent I)
Advent is so hard to celebrate properly in our own times. Long before this season even begins, we are assaulted by Christmas and a secular Christmas at that. On or even before Thanksgiving we are blinded by the garish lights and sparkling tinsel. We are bombarded with advertisements and offers meant to make this coming Christmas like none other. We are not, to be sure, aware that any Advent is present at all. Even post-modern Christians, whose sects were founded by 19th Century American “religious” upstarts, who promised, for the first time, to correct history and get the Church right after 1900 years of demonic darkness, dropped Advent long ago.
So, we are thankful that our Church still calls us into Advent as we gather here this morning. Advent is a Latin word meaning coming to. And the liturgical season which bears its name is all about God’s coming to or into His world. More specifically, of course, it is about God’s coming from Heaven into the world in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. So, Advent is, in one way, about the historical, salvific life of Christ. Advent is also about the future when Christ shall come to judge both the quick and the dead. Advent is all about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. In between time past and future time is time present, where we find ourselves today. In it, we learn that Advent is a time of Christ’s coming to us now in heart and soul. And if it is that, then we learn also that Advent is a time of penitence, a time for casting away the works of darkness and putting upon us the armour of light. (Collect) Thus, our Altar and I are draped with the purple of mourning to remind us that we are entering a season of fasting, watching, repentance, and mortification. This is a season of preparation as we ready our hearts and souls for the Coming of Jesus Christ once again at Christmas time. It is a time of introspection. Looking into our hearts we intend to identify old bad habits and persistently present vices. In the light of Christ’s coming, we resolve to die to them. Advent is a time of contemplation, in silence and with stillness. In this season, we open our lives to the judgment of Jesus Christ. We contemplate those sins which, if not overcome by God’s Grace, lead to Hell. We long to embrace the Divine Virtues by which Christ our Savior comes to dwell in us by way of preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven.
I have said this, and still, it is not easy. Jesus never said that it would be. But the alternative to embracing Christ’s Advent coming is perilous and fearsome. The dangers are great. Father Ronald Knox paints us a picture of the common variety of men who, in the course of life’s short span, never get around to contemplating God’s coming in Jesus Christ and the lasting result. He writes of those who never think about the Advent themes of death, judgment, heaven, or hell. He speaks of pagans and also of lukewarm and half-hearted Christians. Hear what he says:
Very few people feel sure that they are going to hell. Those who die in the faith, but without charity, mostly think, wouldn’t you say, that they are all right, they have just scraped through. And those who have lost the faith, or who die in sin outside the influence of faith, probably lay some flattering unction to their souls-it will be all right, they think, they will be given another chance. Up to the moment they are taken away, this world of creatures treats them no differently than any soul predestined to eternal life…So perfect is the illusion of security around them, that they forget God, and forget that they are forgetting him…And then, quite suddenly, the bottom falls out of that world…God, who gave that material world he has come from all its reality, is now the only reality left; and with a great hunger of loneliness the heart that was made for him turns back to him-and God is not there. The sinful soul has created for itself, as it were, a godless universe.’
Life is at its end, and so many people are left with nothing. The material world and its gods are gone. The body is expiring either painfully or just naturally but certainly. The soul teeters over the precipice of a godless universe. God who is always approaching, always coming, was treated as nothing and no one, and thus is absent to the barren soul. Those who have spent their lives either ignoring salvation or presuming that their superficial religiosity would save them, face the dark void. The illusion of security is now known for its false promises.
Such a spiritual condition should frighten the living daylights out of us all. It should awaken us out of spiritual sleep. It should alert our hearts and minds to the Church’s Advent, to her season of solemn warning an impending doom. It should awaken us to Jesus Christ’s Advent- His coming to us, in the past, in the future, and in the present. He came to us in the past in our flesh at the Incarnation. He will come to us in the future to judge both the quick and dead. He comes to us now through His Word by Grace and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ came once for all in history in order to overcome sin, death, and Satan and to open the Kingdom of Heaven to man once again. Jesus Christ will come again to judge the quick and the dead at the end of time. But how do we embrace this hope of Christ’s coming to us now? How do we welcome His persistent coming, answering that knock at the doors of our souls, as Jesus comes to us once again to help us to get right with the Father through the Holy Spirit? Jesus knocks. We open. And we begin to see ourselves in relation to Him. He comes to call forth from us a confession of our sins. We look into ourselves and admit who we are, what we have done, and what we need. He comes to us, is silent and still. His appearance is glorious. He has ascended to the Father. We sing, Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew xxi. 9) But we see His hands, His feet, and His side. We see ours sins and the price that Jesus paid for them. We remember that He was born to die so that we might live. Our souls are startled and disturbed with the sins that still so easily beset us in contradistinction to the love and compassion that comes to us yet again. We must awaken out of our spiritual sleep. We have tried to walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Romans xiii. 13), but we feel the impending sense of doom. It seems that theologically we know what He has done for us but really and truly, in our hearts and souls, we have failed to embrace His Grace.
So, what are we to do? Today we are called to remember that the process of Christ’s coming to us is no easy business. There is always the tension between who He is and what we have not yet become. Our Gospel reminds us that though we sing Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, the same Lord who comes to us means business. He comes to knock at the temple of our souls in time present because He does not want to have to invade the temple of our souls in the future as He with the Temple at Jerusalem in time past. He desires to purge and to cleanse us. He intends to drive out and banish all false commerce, wrong thinking, wicked speaking, and evil living. In time present, He comes and He knocks. He allows us the choice of opening the door and welcoming His entry. In time present, He offers to make our bodies and souls the temples of His indwelling Spirit. In time present, He awaits our response to His Gracious Invitation for our future salvation.
Advent is all about Christ’s coming to us. He comes to us with that piercing eye that penetrates the condition of our souls. He comes to us to elicit a full and honest confession of who we are now because of what we have been in time past. He desires that we should identify our sins and give them over to Him. He longs to grasp them in His wounded hands to cast them into death. This we must do if we intend to have any part of His coming sanctification, redemption, and salvation.
Our Epistle this morning reminds us that Christ’s coming to us in Advent is serious business. Owe no man anything but to love one another. (Romans xiii. 8) If we shall be right with God, we must be honestly respectful of all others. We must keep His Commandments. Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Ibid, 9) To prepare for Christ’s coming, we must confess that we are all sinners in need of His salvation. This will enable us to know the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Ibid, 11)
Now is high time to awake out of sleep. (Idem) St. Paul exhorts us with urgency to cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light…that we may welcome the Lord’s coming love, and put…on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans xiii. 12, 14) The end of each day reveals that time passes quickly. The night is far spent, the day is at hand (Romans xiii. 12). This Advent let us open the door to Christ who comes and knocks. Let us welcome the coming of Christ’s loving correction and even chastisement, as He comes to purge and cleanse the temples of our souls. Let us allow Him to prepare us for a deeper sense of His coming at Christmas. If we don’t do this, we shall find sooner rather than later, that it will be…too late -too late, when we awaken to the fact that we had forgotten that we had forgotten Him.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: