"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to
awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the
works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light" (Romans 13:11-12).
Today is Advent Sunday, the beginning of the season of Advent and the
starting point of the new ecclesiastical year. What makes today different
from the secular New Year’s Day is that there is little of the typical
"out with the old, in with the new" that attends that holiday.
If anything, our Christian Advent is a promise of "more of the same."
We plan to read the same lessons and to say the same prayers in this new
year that we did in the year past, and for almost two thousand years before
that. Even our "New Year’s resolutions," found in this morning’s excerpt
from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, are the "same old" resolutions that
Christians have made every year since that glorious year so long ago when
our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into
We are not in a rut, however. By the standards of the "secular world"
(which means literally, "the world of this age"), we lack imagination and
our religious observances are boring because we have no plans to change
what we believe and what we hope for from year to year. But "the world
of this age" functions on the basis of an unexamined fantasy—namely, that
the material world and the human race have an infinite supply of years
ahead of them. And if this world were "the world without end," the eternal
reality from which all subordinate realities proceed, they would be right.
Advent, however, tells us otherwise. The name itself is a play on words,
since the Latin "Adventus" means simply "a coming," but the Church uses
it to refer to two comings of the same Divine Person: our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On Advent Sunday we look back to the climax
of history, as far as the purposes of God are concerned, to the conception
and birth of the Son of God, made man by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.
When Jesus Christ shed his Blood on the Cross and offered his life before
his Father’s throne, all sins were redeemed—completely bought and paid
for. The victory of God in Christ over the world, the flesh, and the devil
was accomplished once and for all, and all anybody had to do, then, now,
or a thousand years from now (if God gives the world that much time), to
share in that victory, was to confess his sins and to submit to the merciful
rule of the Lord God in Jesus Christ his Son.
That was the First Coming of Jesus Christ. The fate of this world was
fixed under God’s judgment, and the terms of the salvation of mankind were
made as clear as they could possibly be. All the history that has followed
that First Coming, however grand or terrible to us, is from the perspective
of God much like the final chapter of a novel or the final five minutes
of a movie that wrap up the loose ends after the main event has occurred.
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ, then, when he comes in glory to judge
the world, is the time when he declares in the Name of his Father what
happened to all of the other "characters" in the human story. The Second
Coming represents no change in plans on the part of God, no surprise ending,
no "new thing" at all, except that Jesus Christ will announce "The End"
of human struggles and the beginning of eternal blessedness for the resurrected
and redeemed, who in God’s grace and mercy will do even better than living
"happily ever after." This is the true "world without end"—the eternal
reality of a changeless God whose mercy never fails and whose rule cannot
The tragedy of our times is that so many people have been duped into
trusting this world’s fantasy of never-ending years, at the cost of their
losing the real hope of Jesus Christ’s Second Coming to finish what he
began at his First Advent. It is a pure waste of time and life to govern
ourselves by dreams and vapors while ignoring the one consistent reality
that can save us now and forever.
Perhaps the best remedy for this error is to try to recover in our minds
the mind of the first Christians, full of the Holy Ghost and the most realistic
people who have ever lived. Let us begin with something Our Lord said about
himself: "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk
in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).
We have to understand that the first Christians took this saying as
more than a nice bit of poetry. They understood the difference between
life with Jesus and life without Jesus as the difference between day and
night, and they lived in a world without electric lights in which the night
was dark indeed and a time of hidden crime and terror. Thus, St. Paul could
write, as we heard earlier, "…now it is high time to awake out of
sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we [first] believed.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the
works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light."
The coming of Jesus Christ is as the coming of the sun to bring a new
day. He is the sunrise of the day of the Lord, in whose light all the decent
things of human life have their proper place and opportunity. For this
reason, St. Paul continued, "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in
rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife
and envying" (Romans 13:13). Some things belong in the darkness because
they belong to the darkness: carousing, illicit affairs and wrong actions
of all kinds, sitting around griping about others, or lying in our beds
sleepless because of our envy of what other people have or because of our
plotting against them. Christians, on the other hand, should live right
now as if the light were completely come again on the final day.
The first Christians saw the history of the whole world from the fall
of man until the coming of Christ as one long night of death, danger, and
temptation. But it was still a night of promise, since God had promised
his Son. We know these things as facts, since they are stated in one of
the first prayers of the New Testament, the prophecy that the Holy Ghost
gave to Zacharias at the birth of his son John the Baptist. We still say
this prayer as the Canticle Benedictus in the Morning Office:
And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest: for
thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give
knowledge of salvation unto his people for the remission of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring from on high
hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the
shadow of death (BCP 14).
That old word "day-spring" means "the dawn," and the first coming of
Jesus Christ was the dawn of salvation upon the world. The Second Coming,
likewise, is no sunset, but the second dawn that puts an end to the night
of waiting for the details to be sorted out and brings with it nothing
but light forever. Those who love that light and wish to live in it will
join in Christ’s light forever. Those who love the secret and deadly things
of the darkness will have their own place, too, with the devil and his
angels in that darkest of places, hell.
The Coming of Christ was as real to the first Christians as the sunrise,
and they looked for the day of the Lord on the final day as the best day
of their lives, as the dawn of the eternal day of their life with God.
Those Christians were so sure of this they even began the custom of aligning
churches so that we face the East, where the altar and pulpit are, as the
place where the sun will rise.
We need to be as sure of the same sunrise of the Light of Christ, the
Light of the world. That time will come as God wills, but in the meantime,
God’s Church reminds us every year of the reality and trustworthiness of
the promise of light in Advent. The Light has come. The Light will come
again. And when that light comes, we must belong to it or endure an eternal
darkness. We begin, then, with our new Church year, the lessons, prayers,
and discipline that will prepare us for light eternal.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish
to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St.
Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.
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