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A Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent 
By Dr. Robert Crouse 

"Owe no man anything, but to love one another (Romans 13.8). 

Once more, the season of Advent is upon us. In some ways, it is a solemn, even a sombre season. As the world around us prepares for holiday, and brings out all the trappings of festivity, the Church calls us to thoughtful repentance, and utters dire prophecies about the end of earthly joys. We exchange the green vestments symbolic of growth for the solemn purple of penitence. 

And yet, Advent is a strangely thrilling season. As nature prepares herself for the long and frozen sleep of winter, the Church calls the spirit to awake. As the days grow darker, and the light fails, the Church calls us to open our eyes to the rising of a new and glorious sun. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." (Romans 13.12) 

Wake, O Wake, for night is flying, 
The watchmen on the heights are crying, 
Awake, Jerusalem, arise. 
Sion hears the watchmen singing, 
Her heart with deep delight is springing, 
She wakes, she rises from her gloom. 
Forth her bridegroom comes, all glorious, 
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious, 
Her star is risen, her light is come. 
(Hymn by P. Nicolai 1556-1608) 
"The night is far spent, the day is at hand." "Tell ye the daughter of Sion; Behold thy King cometh unto thee." (Matthew 21.5) 

The Epistle for today echoes precisely the spirit of the season, with its urgent and simple prescription: "Owe no man anything, but to love one another. Cast off the works of darkness," - all the confusion of perverse desires, and worldly calculation and compromise. Judgement is upon us: "walk honestly, as in the clear light of day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." "Owe no man anything, but to love one another." 

It's a clear and urgent and simple prescription: nothing but love. And surely it's a prescription which must strike a chord in the heart of every one of us. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we could all just love one another? A great idea, certainly, but what is it except naive idealism and wishful thinking? We have trouble enough loving our friends, let alone our enemies, and all those hoards of anonymous people we know nothing about. Even within the community of the Church, there are plenty of perverse and wrong-headed people, difficult, and sometimes even malicious, and how can we love them? Even within our own families, and sometimes perhaps especially there, it seems altogether improbable. 

Nothing but love, says St. Paul, and all the world must applaud his marvelous idealism. If only we could ignore the rigmarole of doctrine and laws and regulations and social structures, and just express our feelings, unbothered by all those restrictions, then maybe we'd be better off. But do you really think that's so? The modern world, after all, has done quite a lot of experimenting in that direction: in education, in the arts, in social relations, and so on. All is self-expression, and it turns out that our feelings are not always what we might have hoped, and that the value of self-expression depends largely on the quality of the self being expressed. All too often, it turns out that what we express is not so much love as it is what St. Paul calls the works of darkness and the lusts of the flesh. 

But when St. Paul prescribes love, he's not talking about the free expression of our feelings. "Love," he says, "is the fulfilling of the law," and "worketh no ill to his neighbour". He's not talking about feelings, about likes and dislikes; our feelings are often against God's law, and all too often they do work ill to our neighbour. When he speaks of love, he's not talking about those feelings; he's talking about willing the good: willing the good as revealed in Jesus Christ. And to love one another means to will the good of one another in those terms. It's not a question of superficial feelings; it's a question of steadfast will. It's not a matter of self-expression; it's a matter of learning and knowing what the good is, and disciplining our intentions according to that knowledge. 

St. Paul is no naive idealist, and what he urges upon us is profoundly practical. We can, and to some extent we do, know what the good is. The divine law instructs us in the good; and in Jesus Christ, we see that good incarnate in human life. By the grace of God, we can will that good for ourselves and for one another. We can and must discipline our desires and fantasies accordingly: "make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." We often fail, but we can repent, and our salvation is near at hand. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." 

So, when we read today in the Gospel about Christ's arrival in Jerusalem and of his anger upon finding his temple made into a den of thieves, let us think of ourselves. Have we ordered the desires and ambitions of our life in such a way as will allow us to recognize the good that Christ brings, to know his truth, and to live his life? Or is our life as disordered as the money-changers, who perverted the use of the temple and who were therefore cast out by Christ? Listen, then, to St. Paul's message: "It is now high time to awake out of sleep." The joy of his coming, the joy of Advent, belongs to those who will the good which Christ is, and which he brings. Amen. + 

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