The Advent season is of course a time to consider God’s coming
to his people: to look backward to the first coming of Jesus;
a time to look forward to the second coming, the consummation of history
in the return of Christ as Judge; but, primarily, it is about looking for
God’s coming now in our souls by grace, to encourage our awareness of His
presence here and now.
The Advent lections in the Book of Common Prayer are the same pattern
used since the 5th century (St. Jerome refers to them). The only
change is that Cranmer altered the Advent 1 lections by adding a few verses
to the beginning of the Epistle and a few verses to the end of the Gospel
to heighten in the lections the aspect of divine judgement at Christ’s
The Epistle and Gospel each Sunday are combined so that the Bible is
used to interpret the Bible. There is a logical development in the
four Sunday lections – each Sunday builds on the previous Sunday and points
to the next (something that can be discovered in the cycle of lections
for each of the special seasons of the Church year). The Epistle
reading on each Sunday during Lent particularly emphasizes or brings out
from the Gospel the present coming of Christ to our souls.
Advent 1 – the awakening and cleansing of the soul by the coming
of the Word
The Gospel chosen is the same as used on Palm Sunday, but it was chosen
by the Fathers because it is a dramatic parable for Advent. God comes
to claim the throne of His kingdom. His coming brought with it and
will bring with it divine judgement – and brings with it now judgement
as he comes to our hearts. The true business of the city (the Church)
and the Temple (the individual soul) is prayer – willing God’s will, which
is love. Anything short of that is counterfeit, thievery. His
cleansing of the Temple is the purgation, the refocusing of our loves.
The Epistle of course complements this – “owe no man anything but love”.
Our only debt to one another is love. This is the only true business
of our souls. Fr. Crouse went on to describe what love is not – sentiment,
emotion, affection – although these very rightly can accompany and support
love, in and of themselves are not love. Love is to will the good
of the other. Fr Crouse quoted Austin Farrer who describes the Advent
of the Word in the soul as Love judging us but redeeming us, that our love
might be something better than vanity. Paul makes an urgent call
that we awake, knowing the time, casting off darkness and putting on the
Advent 2 – the eternal indwelling Word in the soul is the ground
of our hope in a passing world
Often referred to as “Bible Sunday” yet Fr. Crouse believes the focus
should be more on the indwelling Word than the word written. The
Gospel highlights the end of the world, the prophesy of destruction not
just of the historical Jerusalem but the end of all things. It is
about the devastation of worldly hopes, replaced by the hope of Christ
in glory. But it is not just about end times, but every moment has
a kind of finality to it, at every moment God’s coming to our souls places
us under the judgement of God’s Word. Our business now is to live
every moment under that judgement. In the failings of this world,
now, our redemption draws near. In our insufficiency in this world,
now, He comes in power and glory! The Kingdom of heaven is at hand,
now all earthly things are passing. But the indwelling Word of God
in the believing soul is eternal, He is our hope.
The Epistle calls on us to abound in that hope because of the indwelling
Word in our soul and in our Christian community.
Advent 3 – witnessing to the world of that indwelling Word, the hope
In the Gospel, John the Baptist is in prison looking for signs.
He is the great example of watching and waiting for the present coming
of the Word. Our watching and openness to the coming of Christ is
not just about his second coming but His present coming to us in the Christian
soul. In our souls right now we are to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
As John was a faithful minister and steward of the mystery of God in
Christ so the Apostles were faithful stewards of this mystery and so are
each of us (not just clergy) as God’s ministers to be stewards of the mysteries
of Christ. Paul says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. As
we prepare to rejoice in the midst of fancies and fads of this world, under
it all, behind it all, through it all is the revelation of God with us,
of God’s kingdom within us. Happy are those servants, who no matter
what time the master returns, finds them faithful.
Advent 4 – recognizing the Word of God and rejoicing in His coming.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist is pointing to the Lamb of God.
John preaches an absolute and impossible righteousness – no compromises.
The Pharisees, who want to continually moderate the law to make it attainable,
ask John, “Are you the Messiah?”. He tells them he is not, rather,
he is the one who preaches the straight path and he can only baptize with
water. Human effort always falls short. If we are to attain
the righteousness of God, only grace and mercy (the Lamb sacrificed for
us) can do that. John is preaching a liberation from the Law.
But it is necessary for us in our lives right now to realize we cannot
attain it by our own effort, and only when this happens is opened to us
the new covenant of grace.
God’s Word dwelling in us now is cause for rejoicing. Paul says,
“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” Rejoice in
the presence of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
In sum, (1) God’s temple, our souls, are awakened and cleansed by the
coming of the indwelling Word (2) that indwelling Word is the ground of
our hope in a passing world (3) we are to bear witness to that hope to
the world and (4) our hope is fulfilled in our rejoicing in the Lamb!