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The First Sunday in Advent

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West LaHave, Crousetown, Vogler’s Cove – December 2, AD 2007

Romans 13:8-14     Matthew 21:1-13

 

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another:

for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law..

 

Today we begin the Church year anew.  Advent, which begins today, is a season of spiritual preparation for Christmas.

 

We remember that Jesus has come to us in the flesh; we remember that He will come again some day in glory; and we are grateful that He comes to us even now.  And whenever Jesus comes, His coming bring judgement.

 

Now the choice of this Gospel today with this Epistle, is perhaps, a bit of a divine comedy, or a joke – but we’ll get to that later.

 

In our Gospel we are reminded of how when Jesus appeared in Jerusalem, the city was moved – they took note of this remarkable man.  And with his appearing in the Temple was a proclamation of judgement against a religion that had become perverse:

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.

 

We’re not so familiar with talk of judgement these days.  When we think of our modern world and our Western societies we’re more apt to think of tolerance and inclusiveness – which are good words in themselves – but how can we also talk of judgement?

 

We say in our Creed – and He shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead.  Did the Early Church, who put together this Creed from passages of Scripture, need the more enlightened understanding that we have today?  But you would have to remove a lot of passages from the Bible, including the Gospels for the coming weeks, if you want to conclude somehow that there will not be a final judgement.

 

What will be the basis of that judgement?

 

Strangely, St. Paul speaks as if we are judged by the Law…

OWE no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 

Then he speaks of the Ten Commandments which relate to love of our neighbour and says…

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.           

 

The moral law of the Old Covenant is what loving our neighbour is – don’t covet, steal, bear false witness, commit adultery, kill.   The moral law helps us to see all the ways that our love is imperfect and in need of reform.  It doesn’t save us, but is a mirror to show us that we need help.  The Law is not opposed to the Gospel, the Law is not replaced by the Gospel, but the Law can only be fulfilled as we unite ourselves with the One who fulfills it perfectly for us and who gives us the grace to conform our lives with the Law of love – that is, to make our love perfect.

 

So we can’t say, let’s stop moralizing, let’s stop being concerned with peoples’ private lives, and just get on with loving others.  The moral law is precisely what it is to love our neighbour.  We should be concerned very much about what other people are doing in their private lives – almost as much as we should be concerned about what we do in our private lives.  Certainly Jesus is concerned, because he wants us to be able to see Him and so love Him having had our hearts made pure and able to love others in the world.

 

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep:  St. Paul describes our state in this world as a kind of sleeping.  So long as we are confused about what love is – simply following our every desire or passion or lust we are spiritually asleep.  And to be sleeping is to not even be conscious really about what we are doing. 

The night is far spent – that is, the time of sleeping – the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.  Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But …make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

The flesh, is not just bodily desires, but also carnal thinking that results from fulfilling these desires.  We get ourselves all wrapped up or tied up and stuck – our love twisted, turned back on itself – not able to love of our neighbour at all – but filled with strife and envy and so on…

 

But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

 

Our salvation comes through putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, and restraining our flesh.

 

St. Francis understood how the flesh could become a distraction from love of God and neighbour – he called his body, and his fleshy desires – Brother Ass.  Maybe because of its stubbornness, its willfulness, its impeding and resisting his desire to love rightly.  He treated his body harshly through strict ascetic practices, like the Italian peasants of his day who often beat their animals.  Later in his life he spoke of it lovingly, asking for its forgiveness for having treated it so harshly.

 

But it was always clear to him, that Brother Ass needed a ruler.

 

So maybe this is the comedy I spoke of.  In the Gospel today, Jesus says to the disciples,

Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.  And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 

 

Do we find ourselves tied up in the village that is really, in truth, against us – trying to conform with the world and the flesh – and finding no peace, not really in love, but stuck, and asleep there?  Will we live out our days enslaved by the flesh, led here and there by Brother Ass?

 

And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them; and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. 

 

St. Paul says, Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. 

 

And Jesus led the donkey into the heart of the city and to the Temple, while the people sang Hosanna.

 

This morning, we have put Jesus on our backs, we have allowed Him to guide us here, stubborn as we are, to offer our praises.

 

And as we keep submitting ourselves, our lives, to His rule outwardly, we see suddenly a great commotion, a battle that opens up.

And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? 

 

When Jesus rules our outer lives, we begin to wonder inwardly – that inner city is moved – who is this?  His coming to rule our lives outwardly, brings judgement inwardly, something of a battle within.  Inwardly we are still thinking in a fleshy way and that too must change.  And it is Jesus who will bring this change about within us.  His rule and His judgement will come upon us to cleanse us.

 

So let us welcome Him even now, outwardly and inwardly, for it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.

 

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 the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.  Amen.

 

 

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