Come, true light. Come, eternal life. Come, hidden mystery. Come, nameless treasure. Come, ineffable reality. Come, inconceivable person. Come, endless bliss. Come, non-setting sun. Come, infallible expectation of all those who must be saved. Come, awakening of those who are asleep.
(Mystical Prayer of St. Simeon)
It is hard to believe, but Advent has arrived once again. Advent means coming and for Christians it means specifically the coming of Jesus Christ. His coming, for most people, means what he did two thousand years ago in ancient Israel. That was his first coming, rooted in past experience. To others it means also his second coming, when he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. This refers to his future coming, what is promised in his judgment at the end of all time. And between the two there is the now, time present, in which the Church reminds us that Jesus Christ is always coming to us, constantly addressing and challenging our present lives. In Advent we prepare for an approaching coming, His birth, the birth of Emmanuel, God with us and for us. This is not merely a past birth, but a present event whose celebration will be either another occasion for spiritual death or a fresh invitation into new life. St. Paul tells us this morning that now it is high time to wake out of sleep, and that now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed, (Rom. Xiii. 11). So in time present we might want to think about this; for time is always running out.
Time is always running out. Christ is always coming and we need to be ready for Him. He comes into our world to offer His new birth at Christmas. He comes to prepare for that birth now in Advent. That birth will not be easy to endure. His birth will be as hard and painful as any other. We anticipate it with premature enthusiasm. The coming of new life strikes us as one thing, and it turns out to be another. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (St. Luke xxi. 25-28) The Church’s Tradition teaches us that Advent is a season of penitential preparation. Advent is all about the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Our King is coming in order to discover where we are spiritually. His birth will call us into death, a death to all else so that His coming to us may yield new life. His birth will judge us, that we might awaken out of sinful sleep in order to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of Light. (Collect) Should we embrace His light and be born again from the above through it, we shall wend our way to His Heavenly Kingdom. Should we refuse to embrace His light and choose rather to live in the darkness then nothing better than Hell awaits us.
According to the Church’s Tradition Advent has nothing to do with the secular world or with any Hallmark Card’s version of Christmas. Mother Church has no time for a syrupy sentimentality that forsakes the spiritual preparation that must welcome Christ’s birth. Mother Church teaches us that the birth we which anticipate can have lasting meaning and significance only if we struggle to die to world, the flesh, the devil, and ourselves. This birth will take place far from the palaces of earthly kings, removed even from any moderate comfort or ease, concealed and hidden from the eyes of earthly men. There was no room for Him in the inn then. But we must prepare for this coming by making room for His coming in the inn of our souls now. So we pray in today’s Collect: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life. (Collect, Advent Sunday) Here and now, in time present, we are called to cast off and banish the sinful darkness of all ungodly desire from our souls. St. Paul writes, Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. (Romans xii. 11) Sleep-walking Christians end up in hell. We are called to wake up, smell the spiritual coffee and know that belief is never enough. God calls for action. And action means abandoning that spiritual darkness that has saturated our souls. Our urgent prayer should be to eliminate and expunge from our lives whatever does not reveal and manifest our desire for the light of Christ, and the light’s coming birth and growth in our lives. So our first wake-up call exhorts us to take ourselves each day into a quiet space, far removed from worldly world, into an inconspicuous and hidden space in order to ask the Lord to give us a new desire, a fresh longing for His coming light. To do so effectively, we must separate ourselves from other people, places, and situations. Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law, (Romans xiii. 8) St. Paul insists. The temple of our souls cannot become places of divine desire if we are busybodies in other men’s affairs. We cannot be healed inwardly and spiritually if we are stirred up and moved by the sins of other people. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Romans xiii. 9). Time is always running out.
Only then can we be fit enough to ask the Lord to cast away and bring to death the works of darkness from our own lives. We must, in other words, be purged and cleansed of all evil habits. How do we do this? To be sure, this is no easy task. But we begin by beginning, with small steps in short intervals of time. We begin by setting aside an interruption and interval to our common course in life in order to make a moral inventory our sins. We need to turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone and to tune into ourselves in relation to God. Sunday morning service isn’t enough. God wants our time and a specific account of our dealings and doings –an acknowledgment of our struggle with the sins that so easily beset us and sorrow and contrition over the evil and vice that seem to entrap and define us. Our sins might be material and tangible. To escape stress, anxiety, worry, and even fear, perhaps we drink too much red wine or overeat. Or perhaps we seek release through the sinful lusts of the flesh. Then again we might become spiritually lazy and slothful, and thus tend to overcompensate with idle curiosity and gossip. The subtler sins of wrath and rage, resentment and bitterness, and vengeance and retribution might then fuel our passion and appetite. Perhaps we are jealous and envious or proud and hard-hearted. Whatever our sins might be, and it is probably includes some combination of them all, if we are like most people, they must be named and surrendered over to the Lord for death and destruction. Their elimination will not happen instantaneously. Like anything in human life, habits take time to form and then break. We must practice the art of claiming and confessing our sins with patience that all vice might be killed and all virtue brought to life. Time is always running out.
Some years ago Monsignor Ronald Know wrote these words about those who fail to take Advent’s warning seriously.
‘[Think about it:] Very few people feel sure that they are going to hell. Those who die in the faith, but without charity, mostly think, wouldn’t you say, that they are all right, they have just scraped through. And those who have lost the faith, or who die in sin outside the influence of faith, probably lay some flattering unction to their souls-it will be all right, they think, they will be given another chance. Up to the moment they are taken away, this world of creatures treats them no differently than any soul predestined to eternal life…So perfect is the illusion of security around them, that they forget God, and forget that they are forgetting him…And then, quite suddenly, the bottom falls out of that world…God, who gave that material world that he has come to all its reality, is now the only reality left; and with a great hunger of loneliness the heart that was made for him turns back to him-and God is not there. The sinful soul has created for itself, as it were, a godless universe.
Dear Friends in Christ, Jesus Christ has come into the world that we might inhabit not a godless but a God-filled universe. Jesus Christ has come into this world in order to help to remember and not forget that we are forgetting God. Perhaps today you are feeling that the bottom has fallen out of your world. If so, you are in good company. Welcome to the Christian Church! Every Christian has known this feeling at one time or another, and even when he is healed of it, if he loves his Lord, he feels it in the heart and soul of a brother or sister who has not yet found God. The good news is that God forever comes to us to make us new, to birth us again from above, and to fill us with that Grace that brings life out of death, light out of darkness, and love out of hate. Let us pray today as we begin our penitential season of Advent that we may see Christ’s coming light as that pure goodness that longs to enliven us, as that truth that strives to define us, and as that love that yearns to enflame our hearts with an incessant passion for Himself. Because time is always running out, let us awake out of sleep, cast away works of darkness, put upon us the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life, that the illuminating brilliance of Christ our love will not only be born in us, but through us will come alive in the hearts and souls of all other men, who though now walking through the valley of the shadow of death will be touched by the Light which loves them too… through us. Amen.