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 goes back to the Ancient Church. As Father Crouse reminds us, If you consider the selection of lessons for the Sundays in Advent 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 knew that they were safer guides to our salvation journey than any others.
Today’s readings are no exception. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant entry into Jerusalem, and literally minded post-moderns wonder why we are using readings for Palm Sunday. Why did the Ancient Fathers choose this reading for Advent Sunday? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas? But the Church Fathers understood that Advent prepares Christians for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas time. His birth is, of course, a triumphant coming into our souls once again, on Christmas night. 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) Advent, with the Ancient Latin Fathers, means preparing spiritually for the birth of Christ the Life and Light, and this involves readying the soul so that we may joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer.
Our Advent season encourages us to prepare ourselves through repentance for Christ’s dramatic visitation at Christmas. Advent is a season of fasting, prayer, and abstinence. St. Paul insists that we should walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and making no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. (Ibid, 13, 14) Preparing for Christmas in Advent means readying ourselves of Christ’s dramatic coming at Christmas. Preparing for Christmas in Advent demands spiritual and bodily mortification so that we might welcome the Christ Child in a deeper way. Casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition will give us a keener vision into the need for Christ’s birth historically and spiritually. Compunctious contrition over sin reveals our distance from God. Our alienation from God demands a response to our fallen condition that God alone in His Son, Jesus Christ, can remedy. Christ came into the world to exorcise and expel all darkness from human life. Christ comesto us continually to root and ground us in His Redemption and Salvation.
To perceive the Light of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day, we must courageously face the darkness. The contrast and contradiction between darkness and light was emphasized last Sunday when we asked the Lord to stir up [our] wills to plenteously bring forth good works in Advent’s time of preparation for Christmas. Advent’s call is prepare to meet thy God. We are called to meet our God at Christmas, but more poignantly at the Great and Dreadful Day of Judgment. Christmas itself must be a trial run for Judgment Day. Casting away the works of darkness means facing our sins and ridding ourselves of them now in the time of this mortal life. Darkness is comprised of that hardheartedness that neglects and dismisses sin because we fear the coming of Christ the Light.
Another way of facing the darkness which has a firm grip on our souls is to remember that Advent is all about the Four Last Things. What are the Four Last Things? They are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. How do we relate to darkness? We are afraid of Death. We shall be better used to it if we start dying now. Dying to what, you ask? To ourselves, the world, and to sin. Thus, we might begin to allow the Judge Eternal throned in Splendor, Jesus Christ, to judge us now before it is too late. If Jesus Judges us now, He shall teach us how our thoughts, words, and works measure up against His Will for us. He shall show us Heaven and Hell. Either one or the other awaits us all. It is up to us which we choose by acclimating our lives to Jesus Christ or not.
Advent begins with Christ’s riding into Jerusalem. With the crowds of old in this Advent season, we should respond to Him with Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Ibid, 9) We should rejoice that, once again in Advent, 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 time to repent, one more time to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light. When we proclaim Hosanna, we should mean it. We mean it if, indeed, we allow Him to be the Great Physician who comes to heal our souls. The Christ who comes in Advent intends to awaken us to the darkness that defines our lives. He doesn’t have time for cheap Grace or 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 cure our souls and to call us out of darkness.
Next, we read that
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. If we want Jesus to cast away the works of darkness in our souls, we had better allow Jesus to purge our systems of the worship of all false gods, like money, mammon, and the false security they deceptively provide! Christ is like any good doctor. Do we resent sharing our riches with others? Christ means to knock it out of us. Do we help others a little and ourselves a lot as we jump onto the computer to buy another frock, another trinket, or another house? Jesus is grieved over this worship of mammon. Do we make a God out of our loneliness and fail to take the time alone with ourselves to get close to Jesus? Jesus is angry because we forget that we are never alone. He is forever with us, longing for us to get to know Him better.
On this Advent Sunday, we must open our souls to the penetrating, invasive, determined, and dynamic Light of Christ’s coming! St. Paul tells us this morning that our patient preparation 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. If Christ is to enter our souls, we must die to putting ourselves first and try putting ourselves last. We are sinners in need of a Savior. 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 acting out of insecurity and selfishness and begin to love and give freely. The night is far spent and the night is at hand. (Idem) Christ the Light comes to us freely in love to offer us the priceless gift of salvation. Do we want it? 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, being roused, and becoming conscious of our need for Jesus Christ. We need to admit that this world’s false gods have left us in unhappy darkness. We need to admit that they have left us further removed from Christ the Light. We need to repent. Advent is about waiting and watching for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas. Without repentance, there will be no room in the inn of our souls for Christ’s birth. The Advent fire of Christ’s Light can purify and heal the temple of our souls of all false commerce with darkness.
In closing, we might remember that forewarned is forearmed. Now is high time to wake out of sleep. (Idem) A friend of mine is fond of saying that is not my problem. But what if God has sent those who struggle and have needs into our lives not as problems but as opportunities. Perhaps others come to us as a Divine Opportunity to help and assist them not by compulsion or force but to prove our free love. Freely ye have received, freely give. (Matt. X. 8) It might just be that Christ is testing us against the Great and Dreadful Day of Judgment to see if we can practice love like His, love freely given and with no expectations! God loves us in Jesus Christ, no matter what! Owe no man anything but to love. (Idem) We are redeemed and saved by the Blood of Jesus Christ to commence and continue paying the debt of love. We can never pay off Christ’s debt of love to us, but we can offer it always and freely. Perhaps if we learn to love others and give to others, no matter what, in this Advent Season, Christ will come to us and be born in us, and we shall be called Christians, maybe even for the first time, on Christmas Night and others will awaken out of sleep too!
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: