The First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
27 November 2016
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now on the time of this mortal life in which 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 life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
One of the ideas I explored last week was that acknowledging Christ’s kingship has consequences for how we live our lives and that we live in a moment in which this has never been more important. Christ is king over and above any secular ruler. Christ's kingship comes not from the powers that often inspire and guide those who take council for the nations of the earth. Christ’s kingship comes from God’s great power, the power of love, the power that defeats death. Christ’s kingship, the power that is unlike that of any king, or prime minister, or president, is the power of which Isaiah speaks:
For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This is the power of our king, this is the expectation of what the Kingdom of God looks like. This reality is not something that is morally neutral.
This reality changes things and if we are to participate in the community that accepts this reality as true, which we name as the Church, then we are called to a life of service to our king, to the service of love. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul states unequivocally our call:
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. The commandments ... are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
All the complex laws we find in Hebrew Scripture, everything that was laid out as appropriate for that culture in that time and in that place, have but one aim: to love God and love neighbour. We may have different ideas today about some of the specifics, we have learned a great deal about what it is to be human and live in relationship with each other and we may not be called to follow those specific injunctions, but we are still called to the work of love.
As followers of Christ the King, this is what we are called to do, every day, all the time. It isn’t easy, it is something we practice. We gather here so we may practice love and generosity and understanding so that when we are required to use those skills out in the world, when Good Friday slams us hard on a Monday morning on the One Train or when we experience Easter joy out on Broadway we can better understand what is happening and respond in productive and positive ways, respond with neighbour love. We gather so we can be equipped for the work of ministry to which each of us is called in our baptism and actually do the work that God has given us to do.
As we begin this new liturgical year, as we enter Advent, the season of watching and waiting, this challenging work of practising God and neighbour love comes into special focus, where preparation and watchfulness become particularly important. In this Advent time we begin to watch for the signs of God’s inbreaking, those moments, both big and small, when God comes and surprises us and calls us to action and to account. Advent sweeps in and reminds us that Christ our King is close, that Christ our King has come to change everything and that Christ our King will come again. Advent gives us a sense of urgency, that now more than ever is the moment to practice and enact that God and neighbour love. Paul puts it this way:
Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day ... [and] put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
We respond to what we see happening in the world with love, following the precepts of Christ our King because in doing this we are allowing God’s love to be incarnated into this very moment, we are providing an opening, making space for God to be manifested right here and right now. This is part of what is happening in Advent. For as we prepare to celebrate that first inbreaking of Christ the King as the child in the manger and as we await his return to reconcile all in all, we also meet Christ the King, incarnate, in every instance of love enacted in the present moment, and these moments are pregnant, imminent, possible in any moment, in any space.
In today’s gospel from Matthew, Jesus gives us instructions for Advent times and tells us:
Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched 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 hour you do not expect.
While Matthew, as well as those first disciples whom Jesus addressed, believed that this final reckoning was coming soon, these words still apply in our context, in which we take a longer view of the unfolding of the Kingdom of God. We do not know when God will come and overtake us in the moment. We do not know when we will be called up on to be givers or recipients of divine neighbour love. We do not know how and when Christ will break into this place and this time. But what we know from experience—and not just the experience of history, but our own lived experience, if we really think about it—that has already happened and will happen again.
So we watch and wait and practice love as we go about our lives. It is work that can bring us great joy and it is work that can sometimes be frustrating and difficult. Sometimes we may feel alone in this work, but we are strengthened knowing that we engage in this work in community, supported by many, many others. In and through it all we are called to "put on 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." Our hymn text asks,
Watchman, tell us of the night, For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveller, darkness takes its flight, Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease; Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveller, lo! the Prince of Peace, Lo! the Son of God is come!
We watch and wait for the Advent of our King. We watch and wait, wearing the armour of light, gathering to practise love. We watch and wait full knowing that God in Christ, Love’s very self, is coming and will come again and again to illuminate our way, and ultimately achieve the victory over all the forces that pull us, our neighbours and friends, and our leaders, from fully embracing the Kingdom that is to come.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Feria, 26 November 2016
© 2016 Andrew Charles Blume