Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility; that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
O Lord our God, make us watchful and keep us faithful as we await the coming of your Son our Lord; that, when he shall appear, he may not find us sleeping in sin but active in his service and joyful in his praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
1 I was glad when they said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’
2 And now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem;
3 Jerusalem, built as a city
that is at unity in itself.
4 Thither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
as is decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there are set the thrones of judgement,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 O pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
‘May they prosper who love you.
7 ‘Peace be within your walls
and tranquillity within your palaces.’
8 For my kindred and companions’ sake,
I will pray that peace be with you.
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek to do you good.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Sermon on The First Sunday of Advent
“It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Don’t we hear this all around us? Haven’t our leaders been saying this to us for many years now? Our political leaders have talked of nothing else than everyone accepting their own positions in order to see what is in our best interests. Our religious leaders have always asked us to awake from the same sleep from which Paul asked the Romans to shake themselves.We have been accused of slumbering under the torpor of the everyday. So how can we wake ourselves up to the light of day, the light of goodness and mercy, the torch of righteousness?
Unfortunately, Paul does not tell us how to wake up – he only describes the life of a person who no longer dreams in the darkness of despair. Paul only gives an exhortation to the the characteristics of someone who lives in the light. “Let us live honourably as in the day,” Paul writes to the Romans. Paul is using language which we don’t use nowadays. What friend has asked us about honour lately? What political leader has demanded honour in the bear pit of the House of Commons? What bishop has castigated the population by using honour as his cudgel? I am not sure that any have – what about you?
Here we are at the beginning of Advent, when we should be looking forward – toward the future of the King, who has a pedigree like no other, who speaks with authority and who has performed what no man has done – miracles. All of this is the past, the past which should teach us about our future.
Paul decries everything which we do in our sleepwalking – he condemns “revelling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy.” I don’t blame him for condemning the everyday world where these seem to be standard behaviour.
We only need to pay attention to the news and its coverage of the election campaign in order to see “quarrelling and jealousy”. If we look further, where private lives are exposed, we can see “debauchery and licentiousness”, can’t we? And then to find “revelling and drunkenness” – I think we need only look at advertisements for supplying everything for Christmass Day, all the food and drink we need for that big party, whether it is for the family or all those friends we have. We are cajoled into getting all the best food and drink, in other words to indulge ourselves.
Do we really think we are innocent of the sinfulness with which Paul accuses the world? Haven’t we all fallen into that abyss of heinous behaviour at some point in our lives? I know that I have – I remember having had too much to drink on occasion, I confess my love of the table and my snacking is well known by my wife who tries to curb my gluttony. However, I hope I have been innocent of jealousy and quarrelling, though I am guilty of a sharp tongue all too often.
However, Paul is right, isn’t he? We do spiral down into sinfulness from time to time. That is why Jesus bids us to be ever-watchful, to await the arrival of the Son of Man. We are asked in the Gospel reading to be vigilant, ready for the last day, that day when one is taken and the other is left, whether in the field or at work. What will the sum of our deeds be on that day when the judge weighs them up? Will we be found wanting? Will we have failed to do the good we ought to have done?
So, who will be left behind on that day Jesus warns about? – Who will take their place in the train following the Son of Man as he sweeps through on his world tour of judgement into the final resting place on the last day? Who will be left behind in the field alone, or indeed at the work-bench, on that terrible day, when only the grace of God will bear us up and away?
So, let us take Paul’s admonition seriously and keep our vigil by living honourably. Let us do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, keeping those instructions and commandments for which all the nations move to Jerusalem so as to understand as the psalmist says, “There are set the thrones of judgement,” and so we should “be glad when they say to us, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” Let us stand in the halls of our God “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” When we aspire to stand there, we will be able to keep vigil. That is when we find ourselves awake in this world. We will have learned about our duty to the ultimate source of life in the face of those ’round about us, those to whom we have shown our integrity.
Again we return to the reality of Paul’s words here, don’t we? – that we can live honourably amidst the evil that happens all around us. That is what marks our lives, in our acts the instruction of the Lord has been revealed, so that we are characterised as honourable. We have natures so very different from the everyday which shatters all around us. We have seen the promised land – we are now awake to what is real because it is so very different to the shadows we too often revere in what may be our less than honourable lives.
Paul speaks to us in a way that compels to a radically different life. This honourable life is sharply differentiated from that sinful life, isn’t it. The excessive behaviour of our everyday existence, those things we reckon as acceptable – for instance, the jealousies and quarrelling which are played out in the traditional media or in social media where the depths of quarrelling and jealousy are regularly plumbed. That has been forsaken for the good life of quiet peacefulness.
Paul is convinced that we can rise above such awful behaviour. He tells us we can act honourably, in spite of the fact that the crowd says the opposite. Sometimes, however, and in spite of itself, the crowd may say the right thing. For instance, when the they have said, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” There the lessons of the Lord can be learned, lessons so different from what the crowd wants us to learn, the lessons of honour. It is possible to accept the invitation of Isaiah, in spite of our base nature.
This advent, let us ponder the invitation of the psalmist and Isaiah, when he cries out, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Let us walk into that honourable future in the company of the saints. Let us process into the presence of the Lord, in the train of the Son of Man.