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The First Sunday in Advent

D. G. Phillips

Holy Communion

West Dublin, Cherry Hill, Petite Riviere – November 30, AD 2008

Romans 13:8-14     Matthew 21:1-13

 

Now it is high time to awake out of sleep…

 

It is the new Christian year beginning today.  And our readings this morning come to us as a kind of splash of cold water on the face.  Advent is a smaller lent,  a time to prepare ourselves for the great feast of Christmas.

 

Our collect reminds us that Jesus will come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead. It is a teaching that we repeat Sunday by Sunday (and day by day, if we say Morning and Evening Prayer) when we recite the Creeds.

 

There is no escaping the judgement that we will one day face for our every action and inaction, for our every word, for our every thought.  And this would terrify us, but for our faith in Christ and our knowledge of the just judge and His love for us, who, desireth not the death of a sinner, but that me may turn from his wickedness and live..

 

As Christians we do not live a life avoiding this fact of final judgement, but we face it head on, not avoiding but contemplating our own death, reflecting on our actions day by day and Sunday by Sunday as we prepare ourselves for confession, so that we might not be walking around burdened with guilt, but lightening our load, casting our cares, our every sin, on our Lord, that His once for all sacrifice of Himself might relieve us, might allow us to live anew.

 

We reflect on our actions, but how do we know if they are right or wrong? 

 

We know we can fool ourselves into thinking we are acting in love. We test something out that we were always told was wrong, often we don’t see any immediate consequence – not realizing that God is patiently awaiting our repentance.  The continual repetition of the act can erase any sense that we are violating what used to be a matter of our conscience.  Then we begin to justify ourselves, and then we must approve when others do the same or even something similar or worse.  Our moral compass is blurred.  We walk around in a daze, spiritually asleep.  We no longer draw near to Jesus in our prayer, he seems so distant and unconcerned.

 

St. Paul recalls us to the moral law, which is summarized in the great commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.  OWE no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.  For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 

 

We are called upon to review our lives, judging ourselves, by looking at our outward actions towards others, that is a start – am I murdering, committing adultery, stealing, lying, coveting – notice these commandments appear to move from outward actions – murder, adultery, stealing – to words – lying – to thoughts – coveting.  But Jesus reminds us that the call not to murder or commit adultery is not just about prohibiting the outward acts but also the thoughts of our hearts – holding anger inwardly, lusting after another person in our hearts – these are the committing of murder and adultery – and we will face judgement for them, if we do not repent.  These actions and thoughts harden our hearts and worketh ill to our neighbours.  [Matt 5]

 

Jesus says elsewhere, And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, … and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but… it rained fire…from heaven, and destroyed them all.

Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.  [Luke 17:26-30]

 

What we want is not to be asleep and distracted, but rather ready for judgement at any moment that God may choose to take us from this world. 

 

We can rest at peace trusting continually in the mercy of Jesus Christ shown us on the Cross.  But we want something more.  If we are only looking at our outward actions and trying to restrain them, we find we are continually stamping out fires.  [Last Spring, I lit a fire to burn some brush just a little too late in the season, and I found myself running around putting out little fires from sparks in the grass – I soon realized I needed to put out the fire from which it all sprang.]  What we want is to attend to our hearts, we want new hearts, so that we stop hurting one another – now in the time of this mortal life.

 

So we are called to look at ourselves.  And in this process of self reflection – we discover that thoughts are continually arising within us – the battle with sin is in our hearts.  Not everything that we desire is loving our neighbours as ourselves.  Something is amiss in our souls, in the soul of every human being.  How will our hearts be changed even now?

 

The Gospel today reminds us of the judgement that happened when Jesus came into Jerusalem all those years ago, riding humbly on an ass.  As he approached the Royal City, people spread their garments in the way, others cut down branches and strawed them in the way.  And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.  And all the city was moved…And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple; and overturned 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 a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Jesus’ arrival in the city brought judgement, and he went immediately to the heart of the matter, to the temple, a symbol of the heart.

 

We can wait for the final day of judgement, or we can bring this judgement upon ourselves even now in the time of this mortal life.  We do this, not that we might be condemned but that we might be saved.

 

We bring judgement on ourselves Sunday by Sunday in our worship.  Today’s Gospel is a kind of parable of what we do in our Communion service.  We bring ourselves here and offer hymns of praise – and as we do this, we spread our garments, in Jesus way, that is, we bring before Him our lives, what we have done outwardly – our garments that are imperfect, spotted.  And Jesus walks upon them and cleanses them, restores them, He makes us white as snow – this is our confession and absolution.

 

We cut down branches and spread them before Him – that is, we offer back to God the things He has given to us as an offering and he accepts them as we acknowledge that all things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee – this is what we do in the offertory

 

And our souls are moved inwardly as we hear Jesus’ words read and preached and we continue to sing – our faith is restored, our hopes are renewed, our love is rekindled.  We prepare ourselves for Holy Communion, we say the very same words they did in our Gospel, Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!  Our hearts are made ready for union with God.  Jesus draws near us through the offering of Himself for us once for all on Calvary.  And as he enters our souls, he cleanses the thoughts of our hearts and renews a right spirit within us.  It is in this deep friendship with God through Jesus Christ, that the judgement, the confrontation between our earthly lusts and God’s heavenly love happens within us, and His love overwhelms, His love perfects our loves, His love triumphs – the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcometh it not.

 

So today we ask God to give us grace to restrain our outward actions and, even more importantly, to make us pure within… knowing the time, that now it is high time [for us] to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.  … 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 [let us] put...on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Amen.

 

 

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