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.
(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 assaulted by the sentimentally, syrupy Santa Claus songs of secular society. 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.
So we are thankful that the 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 comingfrom Heaveninto the world in the life of His Son Jesus Christ. And 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. And so it is about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. But in between time past and future time is time present, where we find ourselves today. And in it, we learn that Advent is a time of Christ’s coming to us nowin heart and in 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)We pull out our purple Altar frontal and vestments to remind ourselves that this is a season of fasting and abstinence. This is a season of preparation- when we prepare our hearts and souls for the Coming of Jesus Christ once again at Christmas time. It is a time of reflection. Looking into our hearts we struggle to clear away the dust and cobwebs which cover bad old habits, persistently present vices and the temptation to avoid facing ourselves in the light of Christ’s coming. It is a time of true meditation and contemplation, in silence with stillness. In this season we pray that we shall be inspired and incited with a sense of promise, expectation, and hope. In this season we pray that we may yearn the more earnestly to do what we must so that we might be found worthy on the great and dread Day of Judgment.
I have said this, and still, it is not easy. Nobody, not even Jesus Himself, said 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 what they end up with. 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. And the soul is left with a godless universe. God who was 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.
Quite frankly, such a prospect should frighten the living daylights out of us. It should awaken us out of our slumbering sleep. It should make us appreciate all the more the Church’s Advent, her season of solemn warning an impending doom. It should awaken us to the fact that Jesus Christ’s Advent- His coming to us, is reflected in the three ways that we experience time- 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 comes to us now to make us living members of his Body, partakers of the life that He lived in time past, reconciled to Eternity, and offers to us as our only meaningful future. Jesus comes to us in Advent to visit, wash, cleanse and defend us as we pray for entry into His Kingdom. But how do we embrace this hope of Christ’s coming to us now? How do we welcome His persistent coming, answering that knock on the doors of our souls, responding to that tap at the window of our spirits? We find ourselves, if we are honest, examining our own sins. We look into ourselves and admit who we are, what we have done, and what we need. We seek that something which comes from God, and yet too often thensink back into ourselves, into our fears and anxieties, into our desires and wants, into those gods that keep us from the sacrifice needed to welcome His coming. He has come, we believeit,we say. He is coming, and we want to be ready, we exclaim with the best of intentions. We cry, Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.(Matthew xxi. 9) But we slip back, maybe to our stallsin the temple where we engage in false commerce and evil exchange. We seem lost once again. We have given up so many false gods, only to be threatened by the demonic spirits of cynicism, despair, and hopelessness. Our houses seemed swept clean and in comesnotChrist, but the devil. The devil is always comingalso. 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 for every step forward that we take, there are two steps backward.
So what are we to do? Today we are called to remember that the process of Christ’s comingto us is no easy business. It does involve tension, struggle, and pain. Our Gospel lesson this morning reminds us that the one who comes to us, though superficially welcomed with the songs of Hosanna,cannot be received casually. If He is to come into the temple of our souls in time present, as He did in the temple of Jerusalem in time past, we are to know that He intends to purge and to cleanse. He intends to drive out and banish all false commerce, wrong thinking, wicked speaking, and evil living. As His tough love intended to make the temple at Jerusalem a house of prayer long ago, so too does He intend to make our bodies and souls the temples of His prayerful Spirit in this world now. Advent is all about Hiscoming.He comesto us with the piercing eye that sees what is in us and what must come out of us. 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 name, claim, confess, and experience sorrow for our sins. This we must do if we intend to have any part of His coming sanctification, His coming redemption, and His coming salvation.
Our Epistle this morning reminds us that this comingof Christ’s tough love to us in Advent is not matter of sentimentality or emotion.Owe no man anything but to love one another (Romans xiii. 8), St. Paul exhorts. This is the love that offers itself to others in forgiveness and hope because it is chiefly concerned with receiving the coming love of God in Jesus Christ. This is the love that keeps the commandments because this is the foundation upon which Christ’s loving redemption can be built and can weather any storm. 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 love all men. This will enable to see more clearly andknowing 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)
On this first Sunday in Advent 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 the shortening of the time we have to open our hearts to the Advent comingof the Lord’s purgative love. The night is far spent, the day is at hand (Romans xiii. 12). This Advent let us welcome Christ’s coming in a meaningful way. 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 comingat 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. Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons