Our collect this morning, this first Sunday of Advent, speaks of the twofold nature of the season. Listen again to its words, “Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor 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.”
Here we pray for the grace to cast away the works of darkness, a theme related to penitence, and to put on the armor of light, hinting at the anticipated future we are to share in Jesus. The connection between casting off the works of darkness and clothing ourselves with the light of Christ teaches a basic Christian message, namely a follower of Christ is to be holy as He is holy. Since this is not part of our fallen human nature and since it is a state that must be obtained for eternal life, Jesus came into the world to restore what has been lost, what we had squandered, not only in the sin of Adam and Eve, but also in our individual actual sin. Thus, we must prepare ourselves to receive Christ and to live in His kingdom.
The words of the prophet Isaiah ring out with excitement and anticipation today just as they did when they were first spoken, “Come let us go unto the house of the Lord.” This is the invitation of our heavenly Father. Though the invitation is open and available to all, one just cannot stroll into the Father’s house as is; once the invitation is accepted, the proper attire is required—one must be clothed in holiness. Advent is a time of preparation—to prepare ourselves for entering the Lord’s house. Indeed, our whole life should be ordered toward that goal. There seems to be a bit of irony in the way in which we obtain our goal; as we prepare to ascend to the house of the Lord, we do so by accepting into our hearts the one who descended to us, both in His first visitation and in His future coming. In and through the descended one, we ascend into His presence and into His house.
As has been the case since the Resurrection, the danger for the follower of Christ is to become complacent; we doubt the Lord’s second coming will occur during our lifetime; thus just like the Hebrew people in the Scriptures, we begin to assimilate into our local culture. In other words, we accept the ways of the world into our lives as being the norm.
St. Paul warns us against such complacency saying, “Brethren: 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.” We need to note two things here: The hour of judgement is closer now than it was yesterday (or even what it was an hour or minute ago), and we need to wake up from our sleep.
Sleep is an interesting concept, it is closely related to death—when asleep we are oblivious as to what is going on around us, thus the term “you were dead to the world.” That is some good sleeping right there. The real problem with sleeping is that we do not know we are asleep—and thus oblivious to what is going on—until we wake up. When we are sleeping, we can have really vivid dreams, but they are not reality. We need to awake from our spiritual sleeping. St. Paul goes on to say we need to cast off the works of darkness: reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, and quarreling and jealousy. We are not to make provisions for the flesh; instead we are to put on the armor of light. Now is the time to get ourselves ready for entry into the house of the Lord; we must not put it off for tomorrow. We cannot depend on tomorrow, as our life may be demanded of us this day, thus the urgency to be prepared.
Jesus teaches this in our Gospel today. Only Noah and his family prepared for the day of destruction. They prepared the craft according to God’s Word, which would carry them to new life. In contrast those around them continued to eat, drink, and go on with life as if the end would never come. We too do not know when the dark clouds of this life will come, but this we know: they will come, and we are safe in this ark if we remain in the ark. This is why is it vitally important for us to learn the faith of the Church, always learning and always growing.
If we always keep the goal of eternal life in Jesus before us, then we will begin to order all our life toward that goal and be governed by it, thus be better prepared to enter the House of the Lord. Conversely, if we dilute the life of Christ in us with the ways of the world, we are less prepared for the Lord’s coming. On that great day of His coming we simply cannot afford to be found as being complacent or having been lured into sleep. We must be found wide awake, with our eyes and wills firmly fixed upon the one who descended to us so as to ascend with him to glory.
Jesus said, “Therefore, you must be ready.” May we always be guided in this life, by our ultimate goal of living eternally in Jesus.
-Homily for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Fr. Mark Lewis