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Readings: 1st Sunday of Advent

22 November 2013


1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2.1-5; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44

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. Amen. 

THE readings in Advent have a different flavour in each of the three liturgical years. Last year, with Luke as the controlling Gospel, we entered Advent with hope and joy, as promises were being realised. The first reading began: "The days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise I made." Next year, Advent opens with Isaiah's cry: "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down," as Mark roars on to the scene like the lion that is his gospel symbol, disrupting any complacency about the status quo.

This year, as we look forward to a year in Matthew's company, the first spoken words we hear come from Isaiah: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, that he may teach us his paths and that we may walk in his paths."

There is a determined steadiness about this, compared with the other two openings to Advent. To be walking, by definition, we have to have at least one foot on the ground at all times. Otherwise, we are not walking, but running, which we will come to next week (before the following week, we come to being unable to do either).

Walking involves keeping on keeping on, covering the ground steadily and rhythmically, staying in touch with the world. No wonder it functions as a metaphor for discipleship.

Advent this year will keep taking us back to our discipleship, drawing us to be attentive; first to God, and then to the way we live. We begin with Isaiah, who asks his hearers to come to the Lord, to learn from him, to walk with him. Then Paul exhorts Roman Christians, who were living at the heart of the pagan empire, and thus very conscious of their vulnerability, to wake from sleep, lay aside the works of darkness, put on the armour of light, and live honourably.

Jesus, speaking to his disciples of cataclysmic and cosmic events when the Son of Man comes, couched his warning in domestic terms - working in the field, grinding meal, securing the house against a thief. This is down-to-earth stuff.

In all three readings, the cosmic and the ordinary belong in the same sentence. On the one hand, God is at work on the large scale, sending instruction out of Zion, judging the nations, arbitrating for many peoples - not just for the people of Israel. Salvation is nearer than at any time in the past. The Son of Man is coming, and life as we know it will be swept away.

On the other hand, we are part of this story, too. It matters that we learn God's ways and walk in his paths; that we live honourably, not gratifying the desires of the flesh, keeping awake, and being ready for the Lord's coming. Abandoning weapons of war and turning them into farm implements for food production is a vivid image: in war, the opposite usually happens, but under God's sway, nations will stop learning war, and we will live peacefully with one another.

Just what do we do, day by day, to live as people of Advent hope? Our task is to work out how to live as it the Lord is coming soon. There are nearly 100 references in the Bible to what is to be "put on". Many of them refer to the clothing of the Aaron and the priests, which was the public expression of their vocation; others refer to the people of God as putting on the garments of salvation or sackcloth for repentance.

What we put on signifies our purpose in life. This week, as people of Advent hope, we are told to put on two things: the armour of light (hints of Ephesians 6) and the Lord Jesus.

The collect is an essential prayer with which to begin Advent. We need God's grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. There is no escaping the connection between glorious Advent hope, and how we live, day by day. Walking steadily in the ways of the Lord, one foot on the ground, appropriately dressed, and equipped for our vocation - this is the way to begin.


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