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.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13
‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Sermon on Advent Sunday
“The season has begun” the announcer said this morning when she said it was the first Sunday of Advent. And I wondered what she meant. Advent is a season secular society does not understand at all. Everyone around us here in Church sees these four weeks as a time of parties up until the day. We, however, are in a time of expectation, awaiting the coming of Christ into our lives. The Church understands these four Sundays as the preparation for Christmass, traditionally a time of fasting just like Lent as we prepare for the mystery of Easter, but in Advent we are preparing for the feast of the Incarnation and, I especially, look forward to the twelve days of Christmass. Then there is the extended Christmass season which stretches from Christmass Day to Candlemass when we should really party.
I have digressed and I have not even started thinking of the first Sunday of Advent. There are a number of ways Advent has been structured. The first took the four last things as the focus for each of the Sundays; the more usual amongst us Anglicans is the focus on the patriarchs, the prophets, John and Mary; then there is a more abstract scheme which sees the four candles of the Advent wreath as candles of Hope, Love, Peace and Joy. These ways of looking at the season is so very different from the radio announcer’s declaration of opening the second window of the Advent calendar to reveal an angel and the tinkling of a bell marking an angelus. So I have been confused about just how we should celebrate Advent.
I wonder if anyone, apart from St Paul, has ever said to themselves about another person or group – “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” Who could make us stand before our God and open our hearts in joyful thanksgiving? – I have always hoped my family and friends would give me that power to be able to stand tall and thankfully before anyone everywhere, but especially to give me the courage to kneel in the presence of my God, the source and goal for all things.
Who does this for you? Is there a third party in your life who inspires you to thankfulness and joy? Do you ever cry out in those exquisite groanings which Paul calls prayer? What theological imperative forces Paul into this rhetoric of his letter?
Paul is expressing his joy at knowing these faithful people who are the harvest of the seeds he has sown. They buoy him up because of their lives together in Christ within that young community. “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.” Paul wants to give them something because of their very existence which has floated his world amongst all care and despair.
Don’t we do the same when we think of those people who have encouraged us? Don’t we say to them, “Whatever I can do for you, please ask”? Don’t we say this to our family – wherever we are in the world, we are willing to go home for mother, father, son or daughter, perhaps we would do this for our godparents or godchildren, or at a stretch maybe cousins. We can understand this overwhelming desire to share our riches because of that deep bond, that bond which makes us rejoice at our memory of them. We understand why Paul wants to drop everything for them. — We all know this overwhelming urge to give and not to count the cost – especially as we have traversed through the season of remembrance. We all want to return something for the joy we have received. We want to give to those from whom we received the seeds of love which blossom in us.
I think the theological imperative which impels Paul here is caritas – the basis of the christian life, the only command issued to us by our Lord, our Master, Jesus Christ. Why is caritas a theological imperative?
Nowadays, we say, love is merely an emotion. It surely has nothing to do with how I think about life, the universe and everything. – caritas may have something to do with my God, but how? We moderns have learned a lot about how people are made up through so many secular studies of humanity, and I think one of the primary lessons is the notion of the wholeness of the person, the Gestalt. – We are more than the sum of our parts. We have realised that emotions do ground us in experience and our intellect helps us understand just what it is we have undergone. Paul is right, saying to his friends in Thessalonica that their bond founded in Christ and developed in their tending one another in their fields of experience has brought this profound joy to him and he must give them back something, and if anything is missing in their faith which they developed together, then he is the first to make amends. He obviously feels that he is obliged to make their joy complete as they have done for him. What can give more profound joy than faith?
I have coined the phrase “theological imperative” from the philosopher in part. He uses “imperative” in terms of moral action, the basis of ethics. My phrase points to the very basis of our lives, something even deeper than our quest to lead the philosopher’s moral life. I think the theological imperative compels us through the whole of life, that ultimately everything stems from it. It determines just what we are because we are always responding to it.
How well we do is another story. “If we say we have no sin, …” as the evangelist John warns in his first epistle. The more aware we are of our failure, our sin, our guilt, the more we are engaged in our lives, that fullness of life Jesus promised. Hence Paul writes as he does to the Thessalonians and each and every letter we write (whether it is putting pen to paper or finger to ipad screen) should reflect this. We live very differently from the secular world as our understanding of Advent shows. The whole point of our lives is about the love we share, not the deals we do. Paul prays that God will strengthen their hearts in holiness. That blamelessness is a very different thing for Paul than for the people who are outside of the community. Paul’s blameless heart is pure – it is holy – a quality the world does not recognise, but we have to be ever vigilant to ensure.
This vigilance is the task of Advent – to be found prepared and waiting like the wise virgins at the door waiting for their master to arrive. We are expecting the second coming, aren’t we? I hope we expect the powerful presence of the Lord in the very next minute of our love.