Home      Back to Advent 1




Sermon XXIV:  The Advent Collects I.  THE WARNING CALL
by John Keble
(From four sermons on the collects summing up catechizing after the 2nd lesson at the Evening Service.)
found in
Sermons for the Christian Year
Advent to Christmas Eve
R0M. xiii. 12.
“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.”

I DO not know that we can well find a more profitable subject for our meditations on the four Fridays of this Advent, than the four collects appointed by the Church for the four several weeks. The first of them, which we have now been using for nearly a week, is appointed also, as you know, to be repeated during the whole season: being in fact a prayer. that we may use that season aright. For the petition which we here ask of God is, that we may cast away all evil works, and clothe ourselves in all good works, before it is too late: and the very purpose of the season of Advent is, to remind us that it will soon be too late. Let us try, for a short time, to think earnestly of these things; for indeed they are more to us than any thing else can be.

First of all, we prayed God this morning, and we shall presently pray Him again, that He would give us grace to “cast away the works of darkness.” What are “the works of darkness?” Evidently such works as men commonly choose to do in darkness, i. e. wicked works. For as our Lord says in another place, " Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” (S. John iii. 20.) Sloth, for instance, and drunkenness are works of darkness; for it is written, “ They that sleep, sleep in the night, and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night.” (1 Thess. v. 7.) Thieving is a work of darkness; for "in the dark they dig through houses, which they had marked to themselves for robbery in the day time.” (Job xxiv. 16.) Adultery and sinful lusts are works of darkness; we know how people, who are not grown utterly shameless, labour to hide their transgressions in that kind. “The eye of the adulterer,” saith Job, "waiteth for the twilight, saying, no eye shall see me, and disguiseth his face.” (Job. xxiv. 15.) These then are the works of darkness; and even as, when the day breaks, men are forced for a time to give over such doings as these, so much more, when Advent comes, the token of His arising, Who is the true light, it is high time to put off all these things, once and for ever.

And you may observe that the Apostle’s word is, not simply “put off” but, “cast away.” We are to cast and throw from us all such wicked and shameful doings, with disdain and abhorrence, as though we could not hate them enough: just as if any person had taken up a serpent, or any other loathsome and venemous reptile in his hand, he would presently shake it out, and cast it from him with disgust.

And we are not only told to rid and purge ourselves of these, but also to provide and keep the contrary virtues. “Let us cast away the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light.” As if, when the light is just about to shine forth in the morning, some friend should come to the room where a man is sleeping, and stir him up, to prepare himself and be ready to set about his day’s work; so does the Apostle, in this and every Advent, knock at the door of our hearts. He cries aloud to us in our Saviour’s Name, and if we are not very dead asleep, very dull and hard-hearted indeed, we can hardly help starting up and attending to him. What is his cry? “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” This time of ours on earth, which is in comparison but a night, not shewing things as they really are, full of temptations and hindrances to the doing of God’s work, this our earthly time is far spent; the day, the open and clear day of the other world, is at hand. The darkness of the evil world will soon pass, and Jesus Christ, the true light, will shine forth, and wake us all up, whether we be willing or no: well for those whom He, when He comes, shall find watching; already awake, and dressed, and with their prayers said, and ready to be employed in any work which He may set them.

And as persons when they are called, and arise in the morning, presently begin to put on their clothes, so the Apostle invites us, and we pray in the Church for help, to put on the armour of light: the clothes which are proper to be worn in the day time, while we are about our work, and the full light is shining upon us. And these clothes are called “armour,” because our condition in this world is a warfare, a continual war against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and our calling is that of soldiers; and has been so ever since that time, when we were sealed “with the sign of the Cross, in token that we were to fight under Christ’s banner, and to continue His faithful soldiers.” Now what this Christian clothing, or armour of light is, we know from other places of Holy writ. There is “the shield of faith;” entire belief in the great things out of sight. There is “the helmet of salvation;” hope, that through Christ we may be saved, on our true repentance and dutiful obedience. There is the “breastplate of love” and true charity, to guard our hearts from evil and selfish desires. There is “the sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God;” His holy commandments, deeply fixed in our heart, and always ready for our use, that by the remembrance of them we may put away proud, unkind, impure, foolish imaginations. This is the armour of light: these are the portions of a Christian man’s armour, which lie, as it were, by his bedside, when he awakes in the morning, and which Christ expects him to put on, as he would his clothing, to prepare himself for the duties of the day. How is he to put it all on? By good thoughts and good resolutions; considering beforehand what he will have to do that day; what temptations he is likely to meet with, and how he may best prepare against them. And this cannot be, without earnest prayer; therefore the Christian warrior will be very punctual and very attentive in his morning prayers.

And when this time of Advent comes, which is so far like the morning, in that it is a new beginning, the Church opening her new year, we shall, if we are wise, be yet more diligent than usual in attending to our Lord’s call, throwing aside all encumbrances, girding on our armour, and saying our prayers. Too much reason have we, most of us, to look upon the time past as a night, wherein we have been either asleep, or doing what we were ashamed of. Yet, if we will so use it, this Advent may prove to us a blessed morning; we may, if we will, wake up at the call of our Saviour, and begin dressing ourselves, and doing His work.

But we know how it often happens, when people are “lying down, loving to slumber,” and the morning comes suddenly upon them, and some one cries out, “Awake, thou that sleepest.” Many are obstinate in their sleepiness, and refuse to hear the voice; they turn on the other side, and say, Why am I disturbed? I will seek my slumber again. Or if they are awakened, they are content to lie awake, thinking of getting up and dressing and doing their work, and so time passes, they little think how much, and very likely, it becomes too late for their task to be done at all that day; or at any rate, they cannot do so much, nor so well, as if they had started up at once. So it is, still more commonly alas! in the great work of answering Christ’s call, preparing for judgement, and saving our souls. How many of us never quite open their ears to the morning invitations, the Advent calls of our Saviour! We are aware, we cannot deny it to ourselves, that He is really there, that He is standing at our door and knocking; but we are content to have a very dim, unreal and ineffectual consciousness of His Presence: we go on slumbering in our sins and carelessness, and think, perhaps, now and then, of getting up by and by; and in the mean time the hours pass away, and it may no more be said to us, “The night is far spent, the Day is at hand,” but rather, alas! “The day is far spent,” the day of your trial here as a Christian; and the night, the night in which “no man can work,” the night of death and judgement is hard at hand, and what have you done? what are you doing now? Can it be at all said that you are preparing for it? How fearful is this danger! how inexcusable this trifling with our God, and with our souls! Only give ear again to the Church’s collect. It prays that we may do what ought to be done, “now in the time of this mortal life,” “that in the last day, we may rise to the life immortal.” Thus our two lives are set one against the other: one very short, the other as long as Eternity: the one coming presently to the grave and gate of death, the other never coming to any end at all. And yet the two are so wonderfully connected, that the life to come shall depend entirely on this life, and by the proper or improper employment of our brief moments here, it will be determined, how we shall pass the never-ending ages, that are to come after death. You think it a trifle, perhaps, how you pass this or that hour, what words you say, what thoughts you indulge, how you behave yourself in this or that business or amusement. Believe me, dearly beloved, it is no trifle: it will tell, for good or for evil, upon your soul for ever; though it be but an idle word, you will have to give account of it.

And if all this seems too high and strange for you, as if your minds could not at all take it in, nor think how such poor weak beings and their ways should be of so much consequence, remember once more the teaching of the collect; remember that to visit and save us, and such as we are, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came once in great humility: that, to try and judge such as we are, He will soon be here again in His glorious Majesty. Surely what He cares so much for, must be great and serious, and worth our caring for, how simple and trifling soever it may seem to us.

I entreat you, therefore, for God’s sake, do not stay considering, whether it is really worth your while to set about holy duties, such as prayer and Communion, but, having been called, awake and bestir yourselves at once. The night of our world is far spent; the day of God’s world is at hand. You may hide your eyes and stop your ears, and try to bury yourself again in your sinful slumbers; but none of all this will prolong your time, or stay the coming of your Lord one moment, any more than your shrinking under the bed clothes will keep the sun back from rising. In His own time He will be here: even now He stands at the door and knocks, and very soon lie will be in the room. What would you wish to be found doing when He comes in? Drinking, and rioting, and making merry? Practising unclean ways, and gazing and longing after evil things? Striving and quarrelling and grudging against one another? Surely not, my brethren: you would not wish to be so found of Him: nor yet that, coming suddenly, He should find you sleeping. Rather you would desire, that He may find you kneeling on your knees, in fervent prayer, confessing your many sins: or waiting on some of those whom He calls His brethren, busy about some work of mercy: or patiently enduring His chastisements: or, at least, honestly and religiously going on with the task which His Providence orders for you. This is how we would wish to be found. Let us not only wish, but pray and strive, and by His grace we shall be found so doing indeed.