Preached December 2, 2012
St. Matthew 21:1-13
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the beginning of a new Church Year, the beginning of the season of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation in which we prepare to meet our Saviour, Jesus Christ. There are actually two aspects to this preparation. The first is what we call the Incarnation, when we consider the First Coming of Christ as He came to us some 2000 years ago as God made man in the small town of Bethlehem in Judea. We know that His life, subsequent death on the Cross for our sins, resurrection, and ascension, are the reason we have the expectation of forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with God. This is a miraculous event, without precedent in history, nor is it found in any other religion.
But there is also the other side, the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time, when we know that he will come in power and majesty, to judge the world, striking us with awe and fear. We must prepare to receiver our Lord in both His First and Second Comings, because we will experience them both.
The lessons set forth for Mass according to the Book of Common Prayer today are very nearly the same as those that have been read by the Church since the 5th century, although the lessons for Advent 1 have been slightly extended beyond their original length to show more of the divine judgement.
For each Sunday, there is appointed both an Epistle lesson and a Gospel lesson, and the two work together to convey the message of the day, so that the Bible is used to interpret the Bible. As we move through the four Sundays of the season, there is a logical progression, with each succeeding Sunday building on the ground work of the previous Sunday and pointing on to the one that follows next.
When we listen to the Gospel lesson for today, the first thought that likely strikes our minds is that there has been a mistake; this sounds like a Palm Sunday Gospel. It is the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, beginning at Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, and continuing on through to the cleansing of the Temple and Jesus driving out of the money changers. But there has been no mistake. This Gospel text was chosen for this Sunday by the Church Fathers as a dramatic illustration of God, in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, coming to claim the throne of His Kingdom. Jesus’ triumphal entry was indeed just that, the entry of a King, even though the crowds would soon turn upon Him. For the moment, the people were treating Him as a true King, they were singing His praises, and He was riding in royal splendor into Jerusalem, the city of God. Of course, when He comes into His Kingdom, He brings judgement, and His first act is the cleansing of the Temple. He drives out the merchants and the money changers who are defiling the grounds of the Temple. This is not because there is anything evil about commerce, but simply because commerce has no place in the House of God, the great Temple in Jerusalem. He will not tolerate it, and He drives them out with a fierce, righteous judgement that cannot be resisted. The things of the world cannot coexist with the things of God, so let us not fool ourselves.
In a parallel way, the true vocation of each person is prayer, the searching for God’s will, that it may be done. We know, of course, that God’s will is love, but often we must search for the form that His will is to take in our lives, day by day. In the same way, the purpose of the Church is also to seek God’s will, that it may be done here on earth. If we as individuals, or the Church as a whole, do anything less, our effort is a fraud, stealing from God our Father. When Jesus comes into our lives, even as He came into the Temple to cleanse it, His purpose is to radically reorder our lives, to shift our thinking in order to make our way of life pure and holy, and thus acceptable to Him. This is what happens when the Word of God truly comes into our lives.
And then we return to consider the Epistle lesson, Romans 13:8 Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law. When we exercise our true vocation to seek God’s will, we find that it is that we love one another. St. Paul tells us here that we ought not owe any man any debt other than love. It is important that we talk a bit about what love is, and what it is not, because the common usage of the word love is not what is meant here. To love another person is to will and to seek for them to know God. It does not mean that we have to like them, it does not mean that we have to be friendly with them, it does not mean that we have to be warm and fuzzy with them. It does mean, that by whatever we do, we must show them the face of God. Think about the implications of that for a moment. We must want them to know God, and we must act in such a way as to promote their coming to God. This may involve sentiment, emotion, affection, sympathy, but these things are not love, and are not essential to love.
Continuing in the Epistle lesson, Romans 13:11 And this, knowing the season, that already it is time for you to awake out of sleep: for now is salvation nearer to us than when we first believed. Here is the call to “wake up,” to recognize that the coming of the Lord is much nearer at hand than we realize. Too many go through life thinking that they will attend to their spiritual life later on, when they get older. For the present time, they are too young to worry about such things. They never consider that any of them may die at any moment due to an accident at work, or on the road, or by some other means, any of which would mean that they will instantly be called upon to stand before the Lord Jesus to account for their life. This problem is rampant today; people simply cannot be bothered, for the most part, to worry about the things eternal when there is so much of interest in the temporal world, this transient, passing life. What fools they are! Soon, very soon, it will all be taken from them, and they will face the judgement with fear and trembling. The word now in this passage urges us to wake up NOW, make corrections to our lives NOW, and be ready to receive the Lord Jesus Christ NOW.
And what corrections do we need to make? Romans 13:12 The night is far spent, and the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. It is time for us to cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. We must each look at our own lives and see what this phrase means for us. What is it about your life that constitutes the works of darkness? Only you can really answer that question definitively, because in this life, only you know your inner most secrets. But you must identify them, and cast them off, quite literally. These are the things that hold you back from fully committing your life to Christ. Until you are able to abandon them completely, they will continue to control you and separate you from Him. Once you can push them away, then they must be replaced with the armor of light, the power of Christ to defend you. You may recall the story, related in both St. Matthew, chapter 12, and St. Luke, chapter 11, about the demon who brings back seven demons worse than himself when he returns to the house he was thought to have left. Your life must be filled with the things of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, so that there is no room there for the evil things to return to bedevil you. This is the armor of light.
St. Paul’s final word’s in this reading wrap up what we need to do in our preparations when he says: Romans 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. It is Jesus Christ that must be the center of our lives, the focus of all that we do. We must no longer live and work to build our careers, our fortunes, our legacies, but rather be focused simply on following Christ. Everything else that we need will be provided, one way or another, but the most important thing, always, is Jesus Christ. With Him as our Goal, everything else is really of little or no importance.
With this in mind, let us pray again the Advent Collect:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ 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 life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.