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 money changers, 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)
The traditional Anglican lectionary is one of the few collections of liturgical readings that goes back to the Ancient Church. As Father Crouse reminds us If you consider…the selection of…lessons for the Sundays in Advent, as they appear in [our] Book of Common Prayer, you will find that they are…those appointed in the Sarum Missal of the Medieval Church of England, and are in fact the same as those prescribed in the “Comes of St. Jerome”, which goes back to the Fifth Century. 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 what might otherwise be selected.
Today’s readings are a case in point. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant and euphoric entry into Jerusalem. Of course, our overly simplistic and literal post-modern minds jump to Palm Sunday. Why on earth, you ask, did the Ancient Fathers choose this reading for Advent Sunday? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas? The answer is, Yes. But according to the logic of the Church Fathers, preparing for the coming of Christ means readying our souls penitently for His Birth. We ought to liken His Birth to a triumphant entry into our souls once again on Christmas Eve. 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, with the Ancient Latin Fathers, means casting off the works of darkness to make room in our souls for the birth of Christ the Light, and this involves readying the soul so that we may joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer.
Our Advent season encourages us to repent and empty ourselves of all darkness to welcome in Christ the Light. Yet, how hard this seems to so many. Today’s materialistic and worldly people do not seem to take Christ’s visitation seriously at all. People these days are moved and defined by earthly riches and mammon. Being so mollycoddled by creature-comforts, their spiritual senses are dulled, and their consciousness of God doesn’t seem to register at all. Casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition seems alien and absurd. Even the very notion of sin itself seems to have been banned the feeling-police to today’s barbarian world. The determination to exorcise and expel all darkness from the soul is punishable as a hate crime! And this because theyworship the creature rather than the Creator! (Rom. i. 25) Is it any wonder that the Incarnation of God’s own Son and our Saviour doesn’t seem to move men at all?
So be it. The ways of the world are wicked. As Christians, we must courageously face the darkness if we shall truly welcome the birth of Christ the Light on Christmas Eve. The contrast between darkness and light is essential to our salvation. First, what is this darkness? Is it not an accumulation and accretion, a cluster and conglomeration of vice and sin that stubbornly ignore or reject the Light of God’s Word? The darkness is the will that turns aside from God’s Wisdom, Power, and Love. Darkness is that effect of a hardened heart that defends the self against the influence and rule of the Light of God’s Word.
The darkness is so powerful that it drives us away from Advent’s exhortation to have us consider the Four Last Things. The Four Last Things are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. How do they relate to darkness? Are we afraid of Death? Why else would folks mindlessly fear the darkness of earthly diseases and earthly cures? We Christians must focus on the Judgment. We believe that at death everyone will face God’s Word and Wisdom, Jesus Christ, who will judge each man’s life based upon His Redemptive Wisdom, Power, and Love. If we have repented and done good, we shall be saved. If we have not repented and die in our sins, we shall be damned. From Jesus’ mouth to our ears. Are we ready? Heaven and Hell are the two states of life that follow upon our Judgment. We go to the one or to the other. It is up to us. Perhaps it would be advisable to think about darkness and sin after all.
Advent begins with Christ’s riding into Jerusalem. The crowds of old in this morning’s Gospel respond with Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Ibid, 9) Christ is 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 to give us one more chance to repent, one further extension of His Mercy so that we might cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life. (Collect, Advent Sunday) We are permitted to sing Hosanna but only if we joyfully welcome the One who comes to purge the temple of our souls and to cast away our works of darkness. The Christ who comes in Advent illuminates us to the darkness that defines our lives. He doesn’t come with cheap Grace to accommodate lukewarm religion. 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) Christ comes to cast away the works of darkness. (Idem)
Christ means business. 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 money changers, 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) Materialistic and power-hungry men who take comfort in fleshly gods are in real trouble. If we want Jesus to cast away the works of darkness in our souls, we had better allow Him to purge our systems of the worship of all false gods, be they material or spiritual, who only and ever provide false security through deceit and unbelief! Christ is the Ultimate and Good Physician. He is kind, gentle, loving, and compassionate. But once He administers His anesthesia, He goes after the sickness with zeal and precision. He is determined to rid the temples of the Holy Ghost of all darkness.
On Advent Sunday, we must open our souls to the invasive, penetrating, and dynamic Light of Christ’s coming! St. Paul tells us this morning that our patient-prep for Christ’s spiritual surgery must involve love. If Christ is to enter our souls to purge, cleanse, and wash away our sins, we must not be resentful, angry, or bitter. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We must humbly and meekly acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses. We must shut our mouths and submit to His all-healing power with gratitude and love. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (Romans xiii 8) This means that we must stop comparing ourselves with others, stop judging others, start loving all others and thus focus ourselves on the business at hand. The night is far spent, and the night is at hand. (Idem) Christ the Light is coming to us in this the day of our salvation. Now it is high time to wake out of sleep. (Idem) For they that sleep, sleep in the night. And they that be drunken, are drunken in the night. (1 Thes. V. 7) Alas, for the Day. The day of the Lord is at hand. (Joel i. 15) All sinful things are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Ephesians v. 13,14)
My friends, today we are called to slow down and contemplate our darkness in relation to Christ the Light. Advent is all about waking up, seeing ourselves truly in Christ the Coming Light, and longing for the bright beams of His healing light to save us. We need to admit that this world’s false gods have led us into unhappy darkness removed from Christ the Light. In Advent, we must repent. 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. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light. (Eph. v. 8) And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Ibid, 11) Then, we need enduring vigilance to be corrected humbly and with eagerness to rebuke the Devil and his enveloping darkness. If we persist in the sanctification, we shall cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of Light now in the time of this mortal life. (Idem) And with that earnest young Elizabethan poet, we shall pray:
Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beams and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us sight to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav'n, and comes of heav'nly breath.
Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.
Sir Philip Sidney
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons