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Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent

November 28th, 2021

[n.b. the lections used during Advent are those found in the Book of Common Prayer with the addition of an Old Testament Lesson and Psalm]



“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”



It always seems to creep up on us each year, and around this time you doubtless hear people comment on how surprising it is that Advent and subsequently Christmas is already upon us. Even though we have calendars, phones, and day-timers, it is always a surprise when this day arrives – the beginning of a new church year.


Though we knew on some level it was coming, it nevertheless arrives like an unexpected guest.


And perhaps this is a good thing, or at least a providential thing. We should recall that just a few short weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell his disciples – eager to know about the end times – that about that day and hour (of his return) no one but the Father knows, not even the angels in heaven. At other times he says that the day will come like a thief in the night.


Because the season of Advent is a season which, as I said a few weeks ago, has an eye on both the beginning of all things and the end of all things. Jesus’ incarnation – God’s taking on human flesh – is a celebration of a beginning, but we cannot ever think of Jesus, even at his birth, without also thinking about his final promises of his return at the last day when God’s Kingdom will come in all its glory and every promise will be fulfilled.


And so Advent is a season of preparation, not just preparation for Jesus’ birth, but a preparation for that Day of the Lord, the last day when he will come again. And Advent is meant to show us that the preparation we need to undertake as his followers is the same both for Christmas, as for that last day, and we should waste no time in doing it.


We give preparation time to all kinds of things in our lives, and indeed in this season particularly we give great amounts of preparation for Christmas. My own mother, who is no doubt listening to this service right now, asks each year for a list of things we might like to see for Christmas; perhaps we are already beginning to bake for Christmas, plan the Christmas meal, string up the lights, and pick out the tree.


All good things, to be sure, and part-and-parcel of the rhythm of our lives – but is it the kind of preparation that we are called to make in Advent?

Putting in the hours for our faith sometimes takes a backseat to more worldly concerns since they just don’t seem as pressing. When Paul exhorts us in the Epistle for today to, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” he does mean the temptations to sin we can often give into, but I think he also likely means all of those things which we do and buy and eat to gratify our bodies rather than our souls – even turkey, fruitcake and presents.


But then how do we prepare not just for Christmas but for Christ’s ultimate return?


Well the good news is that all through Advent we are going to be told.


The readings we will hear, particularly in the Epistle and Gospel readings, are the readings which have shaped the church’s understanding of Advent for about 1500 years. And that preparation began, in some sense, last week when in our collect we asked God to stir up our wills, that is, make us alive, Lord, to your coming, your presence, your Love.


And now this week the call to prepare is most beautifully summed up in the Advent collect which we will hear every week from now until Christmas, in which we pray that God might empower us to cast out the works of darkness and to put upon the armour of light.


The message here, one that we all inherently know, is that living up to the kind of Christ-like righteousness, the kind of living to which we are called, is harder than it is easier. Even in children we know that sharing is something that must be taught, and we can identify in certain adults those who were taught it as a child, and those who weren’t. Our natural inclinations are more often towards selfishness than generosity.


In the Gospel reading, Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a King come to claim his throne, and when he goes to the temple he finds that it is not a place of prayer and worship, but rather a place of commerce and business. There is something deeply disordered about this, the same kind of disorder we might find if we arrived next Sunday to find a bank of VLT machines at the back of the church.


But the temple, in the case of this Gospel reading, is not just the temple in Jerusalem, but it is a symbol of ourselves, our souls, our minds, and our hearts which so often are deeply disordered, more preoccupied with the concerns of the world than the concerns of faith. Just as the temple is a house that Jesus enters to get in order, so too are our hearts – temples of the Holy Spirit – houses that Jesus is coming to get into order.


Paul’s call to walk in the clear light of the day and not in the darkness of the night is also not just a call to resist the behaviours that separate us from God, but it’s the same kind of thing that the collect from last week prayed for – wake up our souls, wake up our hearts, help us to see, to know, to love clearly as in the day and not in the dark.


Advent is a journey of the heart that begins in darkness, as I said weeks ago, in the darkest time of the year. It begins with the recognition, as we heard all Fall, that our hearts need re-orientation, that they need to be put in order, cleansed, cleaned out, and woken up. Advent, as a season of preparation, reminds us that there is no time like the present since the end could come at any moment, and to find ourselves at that end un-prepared, or even lacking at all in living the fullest life that God has promised us would be a very sad thing.


So as we begin this journey, however brief, through Advent, it is with this kind of self-examination that we must start – how am I asleep and in need of waking? Slothful, and in need of stirring up? Disordered and in need of order? Unloving and in need of love? In darkness, and in need of light?

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”

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