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
Wherby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.
(Jeremiah xxiii. 6)
Last week you and I reflected upon a sick woman who pressed through the crowded, noisome business of this world, with persistent faith, to touch the hem of the garment (St. Matthew ix. 20) that Jesus wore, hoping that her effort would rid her of a persistent disease. That woman’s faith stirred her up to reach out to Jesus, the source of man’s salvation and deliverance. That woman was stirred up. Her faith should have inspired us to possess a zeal and passion for the cure that Jesus alone brings into the world, so that even today, on this The Sunday Next before Advent, we should be able to persist in praying for the effects of His cure. Stir up we beseech thee O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. With her, if we have reached out to touch Jesus, our faith is ready to be stirred up into something spiritually stronger and greater. Advent is coming, a purple season, in which we repent and prepare for Christ’s coming to us again at Christmas time. Advent will call us to look within, that the Lord may stir up fuller self-honesty and then confession, contrition, and compunction for our sins. Repentance will then enable us to know our need for the Birth of Jesus Christ in the world once again.
But before we are stirred up, we must refresh our memories with a few practical details about the condition of our spiritual lives. We must remember that God has made us for Himself, and that the chief created vocation and calling of human nature is the good of the soul and its realignment with the Mind and Heart of the Maker. Yet man’s obedience to God’s purpose is not instinctual or natural. Our instincts and natures are handicapped by sin. So, our relationship with God must be rational and volitional. Man is made to be stirred up in mind and heart, to discover, know, love, and obey God. We are created to discover His necessary and omnipresent rule of the universe so that we might invite Him to dwell in us, that we might dwell in Him. (1 St. John iv. 13) We are created to know ourselves in God and then God in ourselves and all others. As the Bishops of the Church of England said in 1922: God’s revelation is a self-communication of the personal God to the persons whom he has made, and it can only be received through a personal apprehension and response. But men are capable of that apprehension and response only as God bestows on them, by creation and by the operation of Grace, the spiritual illumination by which to see…(DCE, p.43) Man is made to apprehend God through the mind and respond to Him from the heart. Yet, none of this is effectual without God’s Grace. Or, putting it another way, man is a capacity for God –homo est Dei capax. (CSDCC) Man’s nature is suited to know God and to love Him. Man is made in the Image and Likeness of God and so is capable of learning to know as God knows. To perfect his capacity to be like God, he must take what he knows and will it into habits of virtuous and godly living. But he can do this only if the devices and desires of [his] own heart are stirred up and moved by the Grace of God so that the Image of God is made more and more into a true Likeness.
Thus, on this Stir-up Sunday, we are called to be stirred up. But we need to be careful not to confuse this with non-Christian forms of being stirred-up. In the past year we have been stirred upby earthly demons who have given us new false gods to worship. The devices and desires of our own hearts have been distracted by some kind of earthly illness. The powers that be have cast a pall of doom and gloom over our world. Nations that have long since denied God have found their nihilistic hedonism crowned with the idiotic and the absurd. Evidently, humanity is in far worse shape spiritually than we ever imagined. Mankind has been all stirred up. When they learn that they have been sick with and dying of the same things that have always killed them, under a new code-name, perhaps then they will feel stupid enough and sufficiently fed up to be stirred up once again for what matters most in human life -redemption and salvation. So, let’s be clear, despite earthly sickness and suffering that emerge from completely predictable, malicious sources in a sinister world, we are not called to be stirred up by the hungering and hankering after false gods who will only ever land us in Hell with their possession of our affections. Rather, we are called to be stirred up to become the capax Dei, the capacity for God, as God fulfills what the world cannot. Being controlled by the Global Elites who foment hysteria to make money and control us all will lead us to Hell. Being moved and defined by the God of the Universe might just land us Home in Heaven, where those made in the image and likeness of God are meant to be.
Jeremiah the Prophet, who knew all about false gods and what they do to sinful men, can help to stir us up today. He lived some six hundred years before the birth of Christ, in a nation whose spirit had given way to unbelief, treachery, and despair. As a result of internal spiritual decay and disintegration, the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzars conquered Israel and Judah from the east with little resistance. Spiritual corruption within Israel had spawned a moral vacuum with an idolatry that was ripe and ready for foreign conquest and its insidious designs. Israel abandoned all faith and hope in God and thus opened herself to foreign conquest.
And yet, in the midst of it all, Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah was moved and shaken, stirred upby the ever-present Word of God. The Lord stirred him up to consider the origin of his spiritual vocation. Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jer. i. 5) God stirred up Jeremiah to remember that He was the God of Israel, the Creator and Redeemer of the world. God stirred upJeremiah to remind the Chosen People that each of them was made to become the capax Dei, a capacity for God, whose future could have meaning only in so far as he remembered and obeyed God, hoped in His coming promises, and hanged yet upon His every Word.
BEHOLD, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Jer. 23.5)
Jeremiah was stirred up to recall his people to the promises of God. Jeremiah would stir up the Jews to remember that God would raise up a righteous branch from His Chosen People and her most honored King. He would prophesy the coming of a Jewish King who would bring judgment and justice to the earth. This King would judge them with His mercy and crown them with His righteousness. This King would enable man to once again become the capax dei –the capacity for God.
In the coming Advent, we ought to work on discovering who we were made to be. Like the people in today’s Gospel, we ought to discover that we can never be made right with God until we feed from His Kingly Hand. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (St. John vi. 5) Jesus looks out with the faith of man for God and the hope of God’s provision for man. He knows that as God’s Word made flesh, He alone can satisfy man’s inmost hunger. Human nature is capax Dei. Earthly sustenance can never perfect man’s potential for God. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. (St. John vi. 7)
To be stirred up to hunger for what is more than the earth can give, we must seek out Heaven’s King and submit to His rule and sway with all our lives. William Law says this.
True Christianity is nothing but the continual dependence upon God through Christ for all life, light, and virtue; and the false religion of Satan is to seek that goodness from any other source.
(William Law, The Power of the Spirit)
For the heart to be stirred up, the conscience must be startled into deepest confession that without God, His Christ, and the Indwelling of our Lord the Holy Ghost, we are doomed to Hellfire and Damnation. We must, with Jeremiah the Prophet, remember that we derive from God, depend upon God for all our hope, and must desire to please God with all our lives. We can do this only by submitting to the King who has come to us from God and out of David’s loins. With Jeremiah, we must see that the barren and desolate wasteland of creation must be joined to God’s Word so that out of its poverty a King might be born for us. Only Jesus Christ, God’s chosen heir, the Image and Likeness of God the Father, born of a woman by the Holy Ghost can be that King who will save us. And so, we must long to be stirred up by the strange birth of an unusual King who comes from a desolate and poor place to make us rich in new and remarkable ways.
Begin from first, where He encradled was,
In simple cratch, wrapped in a wad of hay,
Between the toyleful Ox and humble Ass,
And in what rags, and in what base array,
The glory of our Heavenly riches lay,
When Him the simple shepherds came to see,
Whom greatest princes sought on lowest knee.
(An Hymn of Heavenly Love: Edmund Spenser)
When we are stirred up with spiritual appetite for what God alone can give, we shall discover that Heaven’s King comes to us as David’s Son in an humble and simple way. The Babe of Bethlehem, wrapped in a wad of hay, is the same King whose bounty metes out loaves and fishes that multiply over and again with Heaven’s repast until the capax Dei, the capacity for God, is perfected in the Image and Likeness of God. And all this, because our spiritual hunger has been stirred up with a passionate desire for Heaven’s King through spiritual poverty that yields plenty.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons