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Advent Sunday

Collect

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.

(or)

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Readings

Old Testament

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

   so that the mountains would quake at your presence –

as when fire kindles brushwood

   and the fire causes water to boil –

to make your name known to your adversaries,

   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard,

   no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

   who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right,

   those who remember you in your ways.

But you were angry, and we sinned;

   because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean,

   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf,

   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name,

   or attempts to take hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us,

   and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

   we are the clay, and you are our potter;

   we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,

   and do not remember iniquity for ever.

   Now consider, we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:1–9

Psalm

1  Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, •

   you that led Joseph like a flock;

2  Shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim, •

   before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.

3  Stir up your mighty strength •

   and come to our salvation.

4  Turn us again, O God; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

5  O Lord God of hosts, •

   how long will you be angry at your people’s prayer?

6  You feed them with the bread of tears; •

   you give them abundance of tears to drink.

7  You have made us the derision of our neighbours, •

   and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

8  Turn us again, O God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

18  Let your hand be upon the man at your right hand, •

   the son of man you made so strong for yourself.

19  And so will we not go back from you; •

   give us life, and we shall call upon your name.

20  Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; •

   show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Psalm 80

Epistle

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:3–9

Gospel

‘But in those days, after that suffering,

 the sun will be darkened,

   and the moon will not give its light,

 and the stars will be falling from heaven,

   and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Mark 13:24–37

Sermon on Advent Sunday

Advent has been the time we traditionally consider the four last things – death, heaven, hell and judgement. In fact our collect for today elicits these thoughts, if we were to consider the prayer carefully.

… that on the last day, when the Lord shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal …

I wonder if we have ever thought about the four last things as part of our Advent preparation for Christmass. Advent is supposed to be like Lent – a period of preparation for the great feast of the Church during which we celebrate the mystery of Jesus Christ – that is why we use purple for both seasons’ colour. Advent and Lent.are purple times; we are supposed to be making ready for the Christ in our lives, here and now, a very present help in the troubles of our own times. We prepare in Advent for the Incarnation and in Lent we prepare for the Resurrection, the two events which define our salvation.

Advent is our preparation for the very real presence of Christ in the world, at the centre of time and space in the saving act of the Incarnation – as St Athanasius wrote, “God became a man, so that men might become godlike.” The collect prayer today points us to the εσχατον, the last moment in time, which St John’s book of Revelations describes, when the world will be overturned and Christ will walk the earth in the glory he is, while in his earthly ministry he only hinted at that glory. He did so through his ministry of teaching, healing and miracles.

The collect prayer is our collective meditation on the point of our faith, our relation with the divine through the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In Advent we concentrate on the incarnation, the coming into the world of God in the form of a human being – the very real historicity of the divine, that God is with us, no longer a remote abstraction with no connection to the lives we really live.

I would say the feast of the incarnation reflects our ownmost possibility, if those words of Athanasius explain Christmass, if those words of Athanasius explain the purpose of incarnation. The incarnation is the reciprocal relation between God and human being, that God has come down for us so that we can go up for God, as that saying in the letter of Hebrews says, and that we sing in carol.

Incarnation is something we don’t really take very seriously in the West. Our culture is the expression of mind over matter without realising that the world around us is one of matter in which we find ourselves.

The philosophers following Plato and Aristotle elevated the spiritual – the mind – over the flesh, and much of the Church’s thought followed that intellectual path. This idealism is the background to much of the New Testament as well as the patristic and medieval periods of the Church.

This trajectory of thought has brought so much of the history of the Church with it. We live in this world of dualism where body and soul, flesh and spirit, are sharply defined and one is despised while the other is lifted high into the sky. That ethereal realm is far from the everyday with which we deal – the nitty-gritty of recalcitrant matter, the grey area of life with others (our lovers and our enemies), the very knotty problems of ethics.

However, we have lost that world-view, haven’t we? We admit that we do live in a world where other people dwell with us. Since we have established our connectedness with all things, we become incarnate. We become grounded in our selves which are both material and spiritual at the same time in the same space.

This is a very different message from that of the Church traditionally. The Church in the West sees the spirit as the goal, the essence of human being. I would rather see the spirit as the completion of the flesh. This is the union of flesh and spirit into a whole, what I have called our “ownmost possibility”.

All of our prayers have a focus, in the case of our Collect for today, our ownmost possibility; this focus is the focus for our Advent preparations. How do I become precisely what only I can become? This ownmost possibility is what we here in this building call “redemption”, “forgiveness”, “salvation”. The whole point of my life is this very summation, my ownmost possibility.

Don’t think that this is my own idea – I am merely repeating what the philosopher has talked about – something I have overheard and, in the classic manner of the schools, have repeated in my own words, if only to use the philosopher’s phrase, “ownmost possibility”.

Wherever that phrase comes from, I can only hope that it helps us understand what Advent preparation is all about. Undoubtedly, I will come back to this theme throughout Advent. I hope that it starts us all on our preparation for the celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. The most important part of our preparation is prayer, the focus of our very selves on the ground and end of our lives.

Prayer can take many forms. Meditation, intercession, confession, are some types of prayer. Sometimes, like Paul, we pray with incoherent groanings, when the very heart of life cries out unintelligibly but with the utmost of meaning. Sometimes, with the Carthusians, our prayer is silent.

Prayers connect us with our ownmost possibility when it is sincere and true. When we pray with all our heart, don’t we choke up with tears? Don’t our bodies come to the fore when our spirit opens itself to its final form? So I would like to suggest that we can pray our collects week by week in this manner – with our whole selves.

The alternative collect for today is this:

Almighty God, as your kingdom dawns, turn us from the darkness of sin to the light of holiness, that we may be ready to meet you in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Let’s use this collect as a starting point in our Advent preparation. This can be used throughout Advent, not just on this, the first Sunday of Advent.

Collects are prayers which prepare us for the worship ahead – they guide us into the theme of the particular worship we attend to. However, they also point us to a very real future for each and every one of us. We should take our collects into the whole of our lives, because they force us to confront our ownmost possibilities.

Let us pray fervently through Advent using our public Collects and our private prayers to attain the ownmost possibility for each and every one of us, to move ourselves closer to that Kingdom to which we aspire.

Amen

 

This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.