Sermon: Advent Sunday, Year A
Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:26-44
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
New year. New Church Season. Advent Sunday marks the next phase in the Church’s life. After last week’s triumphant proclamation of Christ the King resplendent in Glory, we turn to an altogether darker and foreboding season. The mood of Advent is reflected in the purple vestments and the loss of flowers in Church. They say that it is darkest before the dawn: this tone can only make the glory of the incarnation all the more potent.
Our Scriptures today therefore demand careful study: indeed, you might want to have the texts to hand as we reflect together on God’s Holy Word.
Firstly, in the prophet Isaiah, we read about a political cataclysm in the 8th Century BC, when the kings of Israel had offered to pay tribute for protection from invaders. Isaiah proclaims the vision of a new Israel where tribute will be no more because all kingdoms will come to the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” The time of humiliation will be no more.
And then Isaiah proclaims the vision of universal peace where “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” No one will learn war anymore. Anyone reading a daily newspaper would agree we are far from that vision today. But this vision has given people hope. A few years ago one organization provided people with lapel badges made of metal from a scrapped bomber, moulded into the shape of a ploughshare as a reminder of that vision from Isaiah.
In order of time, the next passage we need to focus on is the Gospel, an apocalyptic pericope from Matthew where Jesus addresses people’s concerns about the end. He does this, incidentally, from the Mount of Olives where he is about to begin his own arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Jesus was certainly aware of what might happen to him as he spoke. We have a suggestion here of how universal that end will be—it will affect everyone, believer and non-believer alike. People engaged in work, and people partying are two extremes of those who will be caught up in the coming of the Son of Man. We might want to ask ourselves whether we want to be taken or left behind – there is no indication in the text as to which one is better: all we know is that there will be a difference.
Just as now, Our Lord’s audience wanted to know when, who, and what they had to do to be saved. The Saviour doesn’t answer these questions directly. He wants people to live a different way, not be afraid of living altogether.
Now we come to the last written passage that was today’s second lesson from Romans. In it Paul, who also senses the immediacy of Jesus’ return, focuses not on when it will be or what it will be like, but how we should live as expectant people: it is process not outcome that concerns him.
Paul tells us to be awake, lay aside works of darkness, put on the armour of light, and live honourably. He doesn’t have any interest in doomsayers or seers predicting destruction. Paul wants people to behave like disciples, like followers of Christ.
Being a disciple is always a life of tension. Paul says we are supposed to honour the civil authority but not be subject to it when it threatens our freedom. Earlier in Romans he has taught us that we are responsible for the new humanity, a new moral order. But it’s not a morality of just being pure as the driven snow. No, this is a gutsy morality that stands against oppression, injustice, and the diktats of the state. Treating others with respect and dignity is a part of it. Actively seeking peace and justice and refusing to participate in actions that lead to violence are the rest.
Can we, then, as responsible disciples bring in the Kingdom? Can we make the vision of Isaiah come true? No, not if we think we are the only people who can. Rather, our job in Advent is to break down barriers that separate us from others, to find in others, including those not of our faith, the potential new humanity.
Some people think Advent is a time of quiet waiting. It should be a time of active searching! Searching for the spark of Christ in others, repairing and polishing our own armour of light, and looking for hope when people say there isn’t any.
Advent is not about getting ready for Christmas, either. It is a separate, intense season of looking for, and listening for, the hope planted by God within each of us. It is a time of shutting out darkness, refusing to accept it as part of life. Even though it is the darkest part of the year Advent is a time to light the lamps and scatter the darkness, not brood over it.
Every Morning Office – Morning Prayer, or for the doggedly traditional ‘Mattins’ – contains the words of the Benedictus, that great canticle of hope spoken by Zechariah about his Son, John the Baptist and the Messiah he would foretell. In it, Zechariah speaks of the “day that shall dawn from on high, to light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:78-79) and each time I say it, I am drawn to glance up the window, at the approaching dawn (more resonant when I was at Mirfield and we said Mattins at 7am each morning), observe the coming day and welcome the light of Christ which dispels the darkness of sin and despair.
There are many references in the Scriptures to “the day.” “Day” should be thought of as floods of light banishing the lies we tell ourselves that keep us from the truth.
• Day should be thought of as light scattering the darkness from before us.
• Day should be thought of as energy, morality, and joy.
• Day should be lived as new behaviour, casting away the works of darkness and finding wonderful things that disciples have always known were there.
• Day should mean letting the light shine into your soul and revealing the things you’ve been hiding there, the things you know displease God and keep you from living as a person of light.
• Day can be cleansing as well are revealing.
The light from Christ’s birth, death and resurrection surrounds us all. This Advent walk in it, live with it and behave in response to it, and your Advent will be one to remember.