Matthew 21:1-9; Romans 13:8-14; Jeremiah 23:5-8
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
At this time of the year, situated as we are in the northern hemisphere, the prevalence of darkness and the scarcity of light can, at times, be oppressive, depressive, and draining. And, if you are one of the millions of Americans, like myself, who are negatively affected by the absence of sunlight, you know what I’m talking about; and, if you are not so affected, perhaps you can sympathize with us as we march day by day toward the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
That our Advent preparations fall during this time of the year fortuitously serves as a powerful symbol of the oppressive darkness of our sin and death in which we live, a darkness from which we need deliverance and encouragement to not give in to. In fact, this very deliverance we prayed for but moments ago in our Collect for the Day, “Stir up You power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance….” For, struggling, as we are, in the darkness of sin and death, we are in peril: We are in peril of not seeing our sins as perilous. We are in peril of drowning, perishing, and suffocating in the hopeless darkness of sin and death.
Part of our Advent preparation, then, is to hold out a beacon of hope, a guiding light in the darkness to lighten our path. That hope is that the night will soon be ending, that the darkness will soon withdraw and pass away. Now, worldly speaking, each day, we move closer to December 21, the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. That day is coming, a day of deep darkness that we all must pass through. But, after that day, the days will progressively grow longer as light increases, so that’s something for us to look forward to, something that gives us comfort and hope. Now, spiritually speaking, though we continue to walk in the darkness of sin and death, and though we see that much darkness is all around us, we are comforted in the remembrance that the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, has come. And, we wait, in hopeful expectation, for His coming again to take us out of the darkness forever. Further, we are comforted and hopeful that even now He comes amongst us, so that, even as we dwell in darkness, we are not of the darkness, but we are children of the Light.
Rescue is coming. Rescue has come. And, rescue comes to you now. But, it’s not the Marines, it’s not the FBI, it’s not even your favorite political party that is coming to your rescue. There is no great war horse, tank or armored truck, there is no powerful political sway, might, or power as men count might and power. Those things are too obvious to our fallen flesh, too easy to place our trust in, they don’t demand anything of us in the way of change. But, your Savior came in humility, “mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” He comes to you now through veiled means: His Word preached and read, prayed and sung; common water; tasteless bread and simple wine. But, He is coming on the clouds, with power and great might that no flesh can imagine, and the darkness of sin and death will pass away forever.
It is this three-fold “coming” of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, that we reflect upon during Advent: He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. But, do you see how the coming of Christ enfolds and permeates your entire life and existence? Christ came before you. Christ comes to you now. And, Christ is coming again for you, to receive you to Himself. Do you believe that He came as the Babe of Bethlehem, born of the Virgin Mary? Then you can believe that He will come again just as He has said. Do you believe that He will come again at some time in the future? Then you can believe that He is present with you now just as He has said. Christ has come. Christ comes. And, Christ is coming. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and He is everything in between. He is your life, for He has laid down His life in exchange for yours. Thus, He promises you that if you remain in Him, He will remain in you and that you are not a slave, but a son of God, and if a son, then also an heir with Him of the kingdom that He brings, then, now, and for eternity.
Still, we dwell in darkness, for a time. But, “the hour has come for you to awake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” St. Paul warns you against a litany of sinful behaviors that make most of us squirm uncomfortably in our seats: Things like orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality. It’s pretty easy for us to justify ourselves and feel a little self-righteous because we don’t participate in such dark and seedy behaviors. But, notice how Paul concludes that list with quarreling and jealousy. Quarreling and jealousy, for Paul, are every bit as sinful and dangerous for you as are the other sinful and immoral behaviors.
These works of darkness are dangerous because they serve to separate you from the body of Christ, the true Vine that enlivens and fortifies the branches. They are the fruits of unbelief in the coming of the Christ past, present, and future. Cast off these works of darkness. Do not dwell in them or be tempted to by them to become drowsy as you watch and wait for the coming of the Lord. Cast off those works of darkness and replace them with good works? No, the works of darkness are not replaced by other works, but the Apostle writes instead, put on the defensive armor of light, the light of Christ.
For, you have been called to change your ways and to no longer walk in darkness, for you have been changed by baptism and faith from a child of darkness to a child of light. So that, you are not darkness, but you are light, therefore, walk in the light of Christ and do not return and submit yourself to works of darkness.
From where we stand today, the New Year is just around the corner. After the Solstice, when the days begin slowly to grow longer, the New Year begins. The New Year is a time that people have chosen to reflect upon the blessings, challenges, and failings of the past year and to make resolutions for change in the New Year to come. Well, The First Sunday in Advent is New Year’s Day for the Church of Christ. It is a time for God’s people to reflect upon another year past lived in the grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness of God our Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. We may be tempted to believe that nothing has changed, that everything continues just as it has before. But, one thing has certainly changed: You have lived one more year and you have one less year left to live when the New Year comes along. Truth be told, you are never the same again. When a year has passed, it has done something to you – you have either come closer to God through faith in Christ Jesus or you have drifted farther away. So, as you begin this New Year, ask yourself, “Has your faith grown, or has it withered?” Have your words and deeds served your brothers and sisters in Christ so that their faith might grow and increase, or have your words and deeds inflicted injury upon others so that their faith is damaged or that they might fall away from the Church and from the Lord?
If you have done these things or any others, do not despair, there is Good News for you! Your Rescuer is here, now. In fact, today your salvation is nearer to you than when you first believed. Happy New Year! A New Year in God’s grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness begins for you today! Repent, cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Walk as in the daytime, not in darkness, drunkenness, or slumber. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. For the Lord has come. He is coming. And, He comes to you now to rescue you from the threatening perils of your sins and to save you by His mighty deliverance.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.