The season of Advent has often been called Little Lent, for it is a penitential season, a time to examine our hearts and minds to see if we are ready to receive the Savior of the World among us.
Over the years I have used this time to memorize or re-memorize the Collect for today, an opening prayer that is repeated throughout Advent. And so as I listened to the prayer prayed before the altar this morning, collecting us together, the familiar words sang to me:
“Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to life immortal…” BCP 90
If I do nothing else this Advent, I shall endeavor to repeat this prayer daily, to forge the words into my heart and mind, my memory a golden home for these words, food for my soul.
For today we begin to think about judgment, law, and love. Paul writes to the church in Rome in the Epistle (Romans 13:8+) about how the law leads to love. “We owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” But there is more; it is not that simple. He goes on to list the commandments, for the commandments are the law of love, commandments against adultery, killing, stealing, lying, and coveting, all which harm others. How do we measure up against this standard given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, burned into tablets of stone?
And so we have our instructions for Advent: to examine, confess, and repent; to clean out our hearts.
Paul writes one of his most beautiful exhortations to his church in Rome, making his words appealing and encouraging, even beautiful:
“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. Let us walk honestly, as in the 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.”
It startled me anew, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ becomes a garment worn over our souls. It is a garment of light and love, and also law. Christ himself is our armour of light. We wear him.
We don the holy, the sacred, the eternal. And by wearing Christ, a holy light of discernment, we see our way in the darkness of this world. He hallows us, covering our body and soul, protecting us from harm, from the dark.
I will admit, confess, that chambering and wantonness, rioting and drunkenness, are not my usual temptations. But I see them all around me, in our towns, in our schools, in our elections, in our lack of law and order, in the everyday shootings and lootings and chaos nearby. But strife and envying are always hovering, tempting, for it is easy to desire to be someone else, or covet what they have, to be ungrateful for blessings given, for life itself. So I admit to these sins that encourage the darkness and dispel the light, making it more difficult to “walk honestly.”
Tradition appoints four themes, the “last four things,” to be addressed on the four Sundays in Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell, themes of darkness and light. For we all shall die and we all shall face judgment and our final destination. Considering these last things leads us to our means of salvation, Christ himself, born in Bethlehem. Considering these events, we cast our hope on this Child in the manger, the One who will carry us into eternity.
For if we don Jesus Christ, if we cover our souls with his armor of law and love, we need not fear the encroaching dark. We can see the morning light through the trees, as we follow the path through the forest, through the woods of the Cross, and to the river that runs by the throne of God.
In Angel Mountain I was glad to describe some of these events in our own end-times, our own lives on this earth. I was glad to echo the words of Paul and the words of the Prayer Book’s Collect for the First Sunday in Advent. I was glad to glimpse the glowing dawn of his glorious majesty when He judges us, when we rise to the life immortal.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.