Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent Sunday

Year C
Jeremiah 33: 14-16; I Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21: 25-36

Good morning.  Grace and peace. And as we anticipated last week, to say now with much joy, and perhaps in our imaginations hearing the wonderful Guy Lombardo Orchestra ringing in the background and watching as the great ball descends to Time Square, that we turn the page now on our Church Calendar to the first morning of a New Year. 

Advent Sunday.  Moving from Year B and the focus on St. Mark’s Gospel, in our three-year Eucharistic lectionary, to Year C, and the focus on St. Luke.   For those of us who follow the devotional reading of our Daily Office lectionary the move from Year Two to Year One and for the next few months our mornings will be shaped by a wonderful series of readings through a long stretch of the Prophet Isaiah.  A new year.  Turning the page.

And as we are guided once again this week and this season by what I have always believed to be the most beautiful and theologically rich of all the beautiful and theologically rich collects prepared under the hand of Thomas Cranmer for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  Beginning with the New Year’s Resolution of all New Year’s Resolutions.  Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness.  Say that quietly to yourself.  Offer it as a prayer every morning this Advent.  Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness.

Picture that.  Casting them away with a giant sweep of your arm.  Perhaps the image, such a compelling and meaningful one, of what we heard last Sunday morning, Christ the King Sunday, as Pippa Marmorstein stood by this font with her mom and sister and grandparents and a whole cheering section and answered in our presence the questions that prepare each one of us for that immersion, to die with Christ, and to rise with him: Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  Do your renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?  Questions that can give you goosebumps.  And I know we prayed our own answers in the quiet of our own hearts, as Pippa spoke for all of us.  I renounce them.  I renounce them.  I renounce them.  I cast them away.

A New Year, Lord.  Give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness.  Of which there are plenty.  We don’t have to look far.  Sometimes the front page of the newspaper is enough to curl your hair. War, hatred, violence, theft, lies and betrayals.  The full expression of distorted values and behavior.   Sometimes we only have to look as far as the bathroom mirror to see the whole bad business.  But he will give us strength to get those words out, even if they are sometimes so hard and so costly. Even painful:  I renounce them, I renounce them, I renounce them.

But New Year’s Day, Advent Sunday, and we add a prayer to our New Year’s Resolution, moving on in Archbishop Cranmer’s collect.  Give us grace that we might cast away the works of darkness . . . and put upon us the armor of light.

Put upon us that gift and shield of your protection.  Otherwise all that “casting away” is going to be an empty gesture.  Fill us with strength and courage and singleness of heart, to hear the good news, to claim it and believe it for ourselves, to share it with our families, our friends and neighbors, near and far.  Because it is a story that changes everything.  That scatters the darkness.  The Dayspring from on High, visiting us.  Now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.  Angels, Shepherds, Magi, Joseph, our blessed Mother Mary, the Baby resting in the Manger.  A story that changes everything.  A story that can and will change us from the inside, out, if we will let it. If we will say the same “yes” that Mary said.  Let it be to me according to thy will.

Good News for Advent and the New Year.  Put that garment on as a new garment for the new year.  As a shield.  A bullet-proof vest!  The armor of light.  To know what that is.  Who that is.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  Shining with the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  Put upon us the armor of Light.  Dress us in the Lord Jesus, God from God, light from light, very God of very God.

If the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah sounded a little familiar this morning, perhaps it is because I quoted it in my sermon last Sunday.  (I knew you were paying attention!)  The reading in this year’s lectionary for Advent Sunday the same as the reading in the old Prayer Book for the Twenty Fifth Sunday after Trinity, the Sunday next Before Advent.  As the world of the Prophet is almost literally falling apart, the City in chaos, the enemy at the gates, the old order upended, the king in chains, the flower of a generation lying dead in a field of bones on the battlefield beyond the walls: exile, defeat, darkness.  As Israel would curse God and die. Then Jeremiah: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 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.”  To use a familiar phrase, that’s how we get into the “spirit of the season.”

Give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness.  Put upon us, O Lord—put upon us the armor of light.

So this little bit of a prayer in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians.  All about casting away the works of darkness, being dressed instead by God in the armor of light:  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . 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.

A New Year’s Resolution, in the name of the one who was born for us in Bethlehem, and who died for us on the Cross:  To increase and abound in love for one another and for all; to be strengthened in holiness; to be cleansed from sin; to cast away the works of darkness, and so to be blameless before him when he comes.

As Jesus says, there will be signs.  Sun, moon, stars, and on the earth.  Distress among nations.  The roaring of the waves of the sea.  And people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  

But the old year is passing away.  The new year is upon us.  Advent Sunday.  And there is good news out there—for us to hear, for us to tell.  And to live.  Which is why I don’t mind when I hear the old carols playing in the department store—whether it’s the weekend after Thanksgiving or as it sometimes seems, the weekend after Labor Day.  From my point of view we can sing them 24/7/365.  Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing: come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.  Gloria in Excelsis Deo.  Good news.  Sing it around the bonfire.  At Church, at home, while driving in the car or folding the laundry.   And brightly colored lights, beautiful trees, holy songs, acts of kindness, gifts of love. 

Happy New Year to all.  Hark the glad sound, the Savior comes!  Ready or not!   They may not have been quite ready for him when he came to Bethlehem, but may there be a place prepared for him now, this new year, in our hearts and our minds and in our lives.  A New Year’s Resolution to have in mind as we come forward to meet him at the Communion Rail this morning, and as we go forth into the world in his name.

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.

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