Heaven and Earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. -St. Luke 21:33
We have said that Advent means coming, and in it Christ comes to prepare us for His coming at Christmas. So last week Jesus Christ came to awaken us out of spiritual sleep or slumber in order to purge and cleanse our souls. The urgency of the call was illustrated in Christ’s purging of the Temple at Jerusalem. If the temple was the image of the soul, then its condition – a den of thieves, should have left us with little doubt about His judgment of our present spiritual state. For this reason then we prayed that He might give us Grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life…(Advent Collect) We prayed that Christ the Everlasting Light might penetrate our hearts and souls, freeing up as much room as possible for His immanent coming with new birth in us at Christmas time. Advent’s coming light is the unchanging Word of God, found expressed to the hearts of faithful men on the pages of Holy Scripture, and made flesh in the life of Jesus Christ. In both manifestations, Advent’s coming light intends to make our souls spiritual spaces that Christ can indwell by Grace.
So, on this Second Sunday of Advent, we are called to open our spiritual eyes and understand more fully the nature and work of Christ’s coming light. St. Paul makes it very clear in this morning’s Epistle that Jesus Christ is the light that has come into the world to confirm the promises made to [our Jewish] fathers so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. (Romans xv. 8,9) Jesus Christ is God’s Word of Promise made flesh. For the Jews He is the fulfillment of promised salvation and deliverance from the Law of sin and death. For the Gentiles He is the realization of that mercy and forgiveness that they never imagined could emerge from the heart of a God who was always distant, unapproachable, and too radically perfect and unique to even want to have anything to do with the sordid lives of men.
Because the promises of deliverance and salvation were made only to the Jews, the spiritual preparation for Christ’s coming can be found expressed on the pages of the Old Testament in the faithful witness of the Jewish patriarchs, priests, prophets, and kings. Thus St. Paul tells us that ancient books of the Old Testament were written aforetime…for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Ibid, 4) The Jews had a personal relationship with God.
To them, God spoke His Word. His Word is Christ. Through Christ the Word, He promised to come to them in a more lasting and unbreakable intimate way. We read the Old Testament to hope for a deepening of our relationship with God. We hope, always, in that union with God through Jesus Christ. Through many dangers, toils, and snares the Jews persistently remembered God’s Word of Promiseand believed that it would be realized in His coming as the Word made flesh.
So, to the hearts and souls of the ancient Jews, the coming light was God’s written Word as Promise.
The coming light to the early Christians was the fulfillment of that promise in the life of Jesus Christ. For both groups of people, the coming light was embraced in the heart by faith as the Word of God which neither changes nor disappoints. The struggle endured by both the ancient Jews and the early Christians was the temptation that Christ’s coming light might be darkened and even extinguished by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, which is always passing away. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.(St. Luke xxi. 25,26) The ancient Jews and the early Christians knew only too well the many temptations that threatened their relationship to God, through His Word, and by His Spirit.
What we Christians must realize in Jesus’ depiction of His Second Coming is that the creation is always changing, altering, coming to be and passing away. When men fix the hopes of their hearts on earthly things, there shall be distress, anguish, and disappointment. Those who pursue earthly treasures and measure their ultimate value against perishable riches shall always be overwhelmed with fear for the future whether with the ancient Jews, the early Christians, or modern man. They are hewing out for themselves broken cisterns which can hold no water. Jesus uses the parable of the fig tree to describe the state of the earth and those who trust in it.
Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. (Ibid, 29-31)
St. Gregory the Great interprets it this way:
This is as if Jesus were saying: As from the fruits of the trees you know that summer is near, so from the ruin of the world you may know that the Kingdom of God is likewise near. From which it may be truly gathered that the fruit of the world is ruin. To this end it arises, that it may fall…But happily is the Kingdom of God compared to summer, because then the clouds of sadness will pass away, and the days of our life shall be resplendent in the glory of the eternal Sun. (Greg: Homily I)
For those with the eyes of faith, who see the creaturely limitations of the earth and that the fruit of the world is [always] ruin, the powers of heaven shall be shaken. (Idem) And because they believe, the heavenly gates shall open and they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Idem, 27)
This coming light that we are called to embrace in Advent is the brilliant illumination of Christ who comes to judge the world here and now. It can be seen only with the eyes of faith. We must not postpone for the Second Coming what we must receive as spiritual correction and discipline for our future destiny. Jesus says that heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away. (St. Matthew xxiv. 35)And so His ever-coming Word must be applied to our present lives. Before this morning’s Gospel passage, Jesus says In patience possess ye your souls. (Ibid, 19) And what He means is: Be vigilant, wait, and watch. He comes to us in the present, but especially in this season of Advent, as one who judges the world and reveals that it is always passing away into its own ruination.
This morning’s message is that we need to embrace the spirit of patience in order to hope for His Second Coming by welcoming His coming light here and now. Our Gospel reading about the Coming of Christ awakens us to the fear of the Lord in the present time so that our souls might submit humbly and endure patiently Christ’s judgment of us through His written Word. We pray that the words of the Bible may changes us so that we might be filled with all joy and peace in believing, abounding in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost in anticipation of His coming Judgment. (Romans xv. 13) And so we should pray: O Lord, let me fear thy coming light here and now, and in fearing thee to submit humbly and heedfully to thy judgment of my life. Shed thy coming light upon my sins, that I may know and confess them. In confessing my sins, give me deeper sorrow for them. Let me desire thy healing power so that my heart may love the thing that is good and hate that which is evil. Give me patience to suffer for holiness and righteousness sake. With thy healing power, infuse me with new life, new virtue, and new hope. To lend content and understanding to this prayer, today’s Collect exhorts us to the devout perusal of Holy Scripture: Blessed Lord who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise, hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy Holy Word we may ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life…(Advent ii, Collect) Our relationship with God comes through His promised Word, God’s written Word and the Word made flesh. His Word endures. So, in patience, we must possess our souls and embrace His Holy Word. Today this coming light calls us out of the heavens and earth, away from all of created reality that is always passing away. Patience is the companion of wisdom, St. Augustine wrote. The rule and governance of God’s Word take much getting used to, and so patience is essential to our discovery of the wisdom that we shall find in it. But with the practice of patience, we shall begin to see the loving truth in Christ’s coming light which enables us to receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save our souls. (St. James i. 21)
Today, we pray for the fear of the Lord –that we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life. (Idem) Judgment is drawing nigh. There will be a Second Coming and Final Judgment, make no mistake. Then, there will be no more time to make ourselves right with God. God’s Word alone endures; calling and addressing, questioning and judging, punishing and correcting us, beginning here and now. The Kingdom of God can be found only through the fear of the Lord, the patience and comfort of his enduring Word, and the real operation of his quickening Spirit. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you. (1 St. Peter i. 24, 25) Or, as Alyssa Underwood puts it,
Through drift of days
comes rest in space and silence.
What’s past is ours to release,
God’s to redeem.
Scattered seeds of truth,
once sown in love or violence,
when yielded to His hands
may bloom in glorious gleam.
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 bodies 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 any others that came after them.
Today’s readings are a case in point. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant and euphoric entry into Jerusalem, and our overly 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 for His Birth at Christmas time. And we ought to liken His Birth to a triumphant entry 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) So Advent, with the Ancient Latin Fathers, means preparing spiritually 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 prepare ourselves through repentance for Christ’s dramatic visitation. Yet, so many materialistic and worldly people today do not take the time to consider how dramatic this visitation really is! People who are moved and defined by earthly riches and their fortunes are most in danger here! Being so mollycoddled and comforted by their riches, their spiritual senses are dulled and their consciousness of God doesn’t seem present at all. Casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition seems so alien to them. Compunctious and contrite sorrow over sin is far from their daily routines. The determination to exorcise and expel all darkness from the soul seems far-fetched and strange! And this, because they and we are far too moved by the worship of the creature rather than our Creator! Is it any wonder that the Incarnation of God’s own Son doesn’t seem to move us at all?
Nevertheless, if we shall truly perceive the Light of Christ’s Birth on Christmas Day, we must courageously face the darkness. The contrast between darkness and light is essential to our salvation. What, then, is this darkness? Is it not an accumulation and accretion, a cluster and conglomeration of vice and sin that stubbornly resist and repel the liberating Light and brightness of Christ’s coming? The darkness, actually, is that part of us that hates the love of Christ the Light and resists His determination to redeem and save us through His birth in our souls. Darkness is that character of hard spiritual skepticism that fears the approach of Christ the Light.
Another way of studying 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 they relate to darkness? Are you afraid of Death? When you begin to endure it, you will be powerless. Have you ever thought about that? When you die, you will be in the hands of God. And Christians believe that then you will face God’s Word and Wisdom, Jesus Christ, who will judge your life based upon His Redemptive Love. If you have done good, you shall be saved. If you have done evil, you shall be damned. This comes straight out of the pages of Scripture. Are you ready? Heaven and Hell are the two states of life that await all of us. We go to the one or we go to the other. It is up to us. Perhaps now we might think about darkness and sin with a little more seriousness?
So, Advent begins with Christ’s riding into Jerusalem. With the crowds of old in this Advent season, we must respond 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. He allows us to proclaim Hosanna only if it means that we praise and glorify the One who comes as the Great Physician and healer of our souls. The Christ who comes in Advent awakens us to the darkness that too easily 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 thedarkness.
His impassioned determination to help us is revealed in what comes next. 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. Materialists and people who find comfort in their earthly comforts and riches are in real trouble. 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. He is kind, gentle, loving, and compassionate. But once He knocks you out with anesthesia, He goes after the sickness with the zeal and fervor of a whirling dervish. He is determined to rid the temples of the Holy Ghost of all darkness.
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-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, being roused, and becoming conscious of our need for Jesus Christ’s effective healing. We need to admit that this world’s false gods have left us mostly in unhappy darkness. We need to admit that they have corrupted us and left us further removed from Christ the Light. We need to repent. Advent is about anticipating, waiting, and watching for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas. With no repentance, there will be no room in the inn of our souls for Christ’s birth. The Advent fire of Christ’s Light can wash, cleanse, purify, and heal us of all our sins only if we allow Him to purge the temple of our souls of all false commerce with darkness. 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 and eagerness to remain obedient, docile, and acquiescent to the healing directives of Christ the Light. If we persist in the spiritual healing process and begin to be cured, we shall die to sin and ourselves. Through Him, 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) Then we shall be ready to be born again in Christ at Christmas time because we shall welcome Him, who came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and [the]dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons