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.
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
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
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