Sermon for Advent Sunday, December 3, 2017
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
IT IS THE OPENING of the Christian Year. That makes no sense in relation to the earth or the seasons. Autumn is really upon us, the leaves still falling and people bundle up for the cooler days and even cooler evenings. A little frost on the roof and the beginning of a California rain season. For a perfectly timed New Year, we would be best advised to choose the Spring Equinox, like the Persians, when buds are opening and all the world is new green. Or choose the moment when, in dead winter, the days begin once more to grow longer and hope is born.
But it is neither of these. Winter comes on, and with it the darkness grows about us. Why do we start our watch at this hour?
We anticipate. The two great feasts of our Christian time-keeping are Christmas and Easter. Easter does use the Spring to set its time by, starting at the Equinox and finding the next full moon, and then the Son of man dies, and then He rises again. For Christmas, the Church chose December 25th in order to obliterate the day once used for the birth of the sun above our heads, the old pagan celebration being December 25th, and also because in that hour the new dawn begins, the days do lengthen, and our hope comes with the birth of the Christ child. We abandon the worship of the sun in order to worship the Son of God.
How you approach such mysteries and how you appreciate such splendor depends on your preparation beforehand. For ages, the Church has taken a discipline of fasting before any feast, and fasting for weeks before the great feasts of Easter and Christmas. These days, we aren’t good at keeping fasts, or even understanding them, but we do make our sanctuaries austere with the violet color of a serious observance, and we remove flowers and the Gloria in Excelsis, restraining ourselves a little before the great explosion of joy at the high holy days to come.
Our Advent Candle is a way to count towards Christmas, as are the Advent calendars where little children open one window every day in December and measure toward that blessed night. The four candles lit at each successive Sunday signify the four last things. But why last things? Here is the mystery of Advent.
The four last things are death, judgment, heaven and hell. We will experience three of these. The pink candle is heaven. We don’t have to touch base on the fourth candle, but its presence sobers us sufficiently before the great day arrives and we forget all this purple in favor of gold and white.
Advent is a time of waiting and the name implies a coming event, a period of time before something notable. In this spirit, we remember the Jews’ long watch in dreamy anticipation of the coming Messiah. Messiah! How that longed for figure grew in their estimation: a king upon a war horse, a conqueror over the Romans, a judge to set down all wrong doers, and establish once more the reign of King David. In Israel’s hopeless plight in the many centuries of foreign oppression, they sought for the righteous one to come and set them free. They awaited Him, but when He came, they didn’t know Him.
Likewise, this is a time of waiting for Jesus, who is already our King, to return and finish the history of the planet and its inhabitants with a reign of true righteousness and a final reaping of the human race for a heaven of everlasting light and joy. The story of Jesus is not finished. We await Him still.
But His first coming and His second coming are distant past and unknown future times. How do we personally connect with the coming of Christ, past or future? We make his place ready. There is a throne room and it needs to be prepared. Every king who has left his kingdom on a long journey leaves a throne room behind where his faithful subjects keep it spotless, adorned, regal and ready for his return. As Jesus said: “of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only… Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come… Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all.” Matt 24:36ff
So we are preparing a room for Him, and shall we keep it dusted, gilded, filled with peacock feathers and servants in livery? This sanctuary here in this church is actually designed as a throne room and this altar is Christ’s throne on earth. The crown up there is a cue. But the seat of this Lord is closer to you than even this altar dais. Every human heart is empty. Every human soul feels the need. Every human spirit longs for what it was built for, and needs that presence to fulfill its purpose.
We are that temple, and He is that king who should come and be seated with great pageantry and ceremony, here in our hearts, our minds attending to His every desire. These are the thrones that can invite His Lordship, and He is the God who can come this year, and every year, and take His place on the altars of our hearts.
So we say, Enter, Lord!
And that is the wonder of Advent. At the darkening hour of the world’s northern hemisphere, a light is born and we are visited. It doesn’t wait for some mystic future time. He will enter today.
Have you invited Him?
Advent means waiting, but more than waiting. “It is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sensual promiscuity, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Rom 10:14
Jesus made the point that servants who await the return of their king have to be prepared at all times, not knowing when He will suddenly come. To let the place go to seed, figuring he’s yet a long way off, will only result in their being displaced, fired, cast away and found unworthy. We must prepare His place now.
And thus is the triumphal entry our Gospel at Advent’s first Mass. He entered into Jerusalem as its king the first time on a young colt—a donkey, no less. It was humble, not threatening, no political statement that they could discern. The Romans need not tremble. The priests and scribes complained about the noise and all the people’s clamor. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted. “Save us!” But would they be saved? Many of them called for His blood only five days later.
The entrance of Christ into this world is the most appropriate thing we might imagine, once we know Who He is. By Him were all the worlds made. It was for Him that the Father first imagined, and then did speak such a universe into being. It’s His, it is the Son’s own world. He’s not invading it. It’s His possession. We are His creatures and His possessions too. Yet, because it’s a fallen world, most of His creatures fail to recognize Him, fail to prepare for His entry, fail to acknowledge Him with their hearts and souls.
So comes Advent. A new beginning. It’s time to start over. Welcome Him in. You are His high chair, the throne where He loves to be seated, and your life is His temple, His palace, and all those you know and love can feel Him when He is seated in glory here.
Enter, Lord! We cry out. Take possession of that which is rightly yours. Hosannah to the Son of David! Save us today. We await the celebration of the Birth, as our world cools and darkens, anticipating what it cannot fully comprehend. We light the first candle, knowing life is brief on this globe, but awaiting that glorious day when He returns to claim it as His own.