A sermon for 1st Advent, 1 December 2019 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
The First Sunday in Advent
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour 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 the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. (Matt 4:16)
Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalms 1:1)
What a joyous time of the church Year! In reality, Advent is much like a pre-Christmas celebration. But Advent, like Christmas, has a double, or even triple, application. Adventum Domini (the Latin term for this Season) was originally intended to commemorate the fullness of the Christmas incarnation of Christ, since Christ literally ‘came at Christmas in the form of a man-child.’ The Sundays before the Nativity were originally called simply the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, et al. Sunday before the Nativity of Christ. But where the double or triple meaning of Advent? Christ came from eternity past to save us. He came to Abraham in pre-Incarnate form, and to others of the Old Testament Church, and He comes to us visibly in that Church of the New Testament. They were saved by faith in looking (with spiritual eyes) to the redemption which would be made available in Christ at His first Incarnation at Bethlehem. But that pre-Incarnate advent was not the only advent of Christ. Christmas was surely the most spectacular Advent of all up until now. But Christ made an advent into your heart at the moment of your election in God, and He will come with great power and judgment at His final Advent as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Advent and Christmas Season is very like that outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace received at Baptism and Holy Communion. It is a season of joy and warmth.
In the dim past of the Church Fathers, the Church year did not begin with Advent or Christmas, but with Easter. This date would be more consistent with the Old Testament New Year still observed by the Jews and even the Moslems. It is the time of Passover and freedom, and it is also the time of the Resurrection of Christ and the New Spiritual Creation of Salvation. In Iran, while we lived there, that day was called No Rooz (New Years). It is also the day of Noah’s Ark landing on Ararat to begin the new physical creation.
But there is strong purpose also in beginning the Church Year with Advent, for without the Advent of Christ, there would have been no Easter. The birth of Christ is commemorated all over the world by their calendar date of 2019 Anno Domini (whether they wish to acknowledge that birth 2,000 years ago, or not). This COLLECT was composed by Cranmer in 1549.
It is such an inspiration for me to study the Scriptures and discover the unchanging love and Providence of God throughout His Word. He truly is the same yesterday, today and forever! You may look at the Scriptural references provided at the beginning of this devotion and believe the first two to say exactly the same thing, but they are different in a certain manner. Can you read those two verses from Isaiah and Matthew and discover the main difference in them? And what does the first verse, of the first Psalm, have to do with these two verses? If you read that first verse of Psalm 1, you will immediately discover the difference between Matthew 4:16 and John 8:12. The difference is one of POSITION! From the Fall of Adam, eastward in Eden, the heart of man has grown progressively Godless. There have been periods of revival and reform, but these are only punctuations along a path of downward decline ….until the birth of Christ!
The people of the Old Testament of Isaiah’s time were walking a very dark path. They were headed for ruin. Isaiah warned them to no avail. They continued their ungodly walk until, like Lot in Sodom, they sat down and made their home in sin. Blessed is the man that WALKETH not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor SITTETH in the seat of the scornful. On their WALK toward sin(in Isaiah), the nation was taken away in bondage and stood with the sinners of Babylon, God sent them back to rebuild the fallen walls of Jerusalem and the Temple, yet they still sinned and finally, at the time of Christ, had made themselves at home in hypocrisy, sin, and deceit. They were sitting among the occupying power as at home with them. Christ came in the FULLNESS of time to redeem a world of profligate sinners. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Gal 4:4-5) The Advent of Christ, in bodily form, came at the very moment of our greatest need for mercy- the very fullness of God’s timing.
1st line of the Collect: ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light – A wonderful and meaningful petition for an unmerited righteousness that comes simply by the grace of God. What does this mean? It means that we cannot EARN salvation by righteousness for we are NOT righteous. The only righteousness we can lay claim to is that righteousness of Christ – and that righteousness is not innate but imputed. Light ALWAYS dispels darkness for darkness lacks any properties of force against light – it must flee from a single lit candle. Pray tell, how does darkness even approach that armor of light. Can the deep ark f winter penetrate the light of a single street light? Light is the very best armor against darkness and its Prince.
“…….now in the time of this mortal life.” If we go not into that dark night of death without the light, we shall not find it in the grave. We must carry the light as a torch to uphold our souls in the resurrection. Like the five hapless virgins, of the ten, who had not oil for their lamps, we cannot purchase that oil in death. Now is the hour for salvation while life remains!
“…..in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.” Yes the Incarnation of Christ was humble and without fanfare, yet His birth was greeted by Choirs of Angels on the hills overlooking Bethlehem, and visitation of kings and wise men. He lay in a bed made of the same wood upon which He would later be crucified! He came to be unjustly judged of Rome at the instigation of His own people.
“…..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 the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.” At the Second Advent, Christ does not come as a little child in a humble manger. Instead of coming in a crude wooden manger, the fruit of the earth, He shall come in the grandeur of the skies, and that sky shall be filled with the hosts of Heaven. He comes as a Judge and a Rewarded of His people. Who are the quick and the dead? Quick, as used here, means the living! The dead are not necessarily only those who sleep in the dust, but sleep in their fleshly bodies and walk about as sinners. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) (Eph 2:1,4-5) Did you earn that grace, or was it a gift of God? Don’t be caught walking around ‘dead’ on that second Advent! Will you?
THE HOLY GOSPEL
St. Luke 1:5-25
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office before God in the order of his course, 9 According to the custom of the priest’s office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11 And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21 And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22 And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23 And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.24 And after those days his wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months, saying, 25 Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.
The Gospel, and, in fact, the entire Bible, is like a beautiful rosebud unfolding before the eyes of the beholder. Petal by petal reveals more of the inherent beauty and fragrance of the rose (and of the Scriptures). Christ is featured from the beginning verse of Genesis to the final verse of Revelations. He is typified by the innocent animal whose life God took to provide skins to cover the nakedness (sin) of our first parents; the Ark also is a type of Christ into which God called Noah, his family, and the elect animals; Isaac foreshadowed, in both his miraculous birth and his presumed sacrifice, the only begotten Son of God who was sacrificed from the foundation of the worlds; and, now, John the Baptist, as the herald of His coming, pictures the same eternity of God’s purpose in his own miraculous birth – a mild example of that greater miracle of the virgin conceiving and bearing a child.
ADVENT and CHRISTMAS are the most wonderful seasons of the year. The whole world seems to fall under the spell of friendly greetings and warm affection during these seasons – even those who have no earthly idea of the meaning of the two seasons, or the cause for the outpouring of near-filial love. It seems that the clouds are parted to reveal a glorious Sunrise, and that is most particularly what the season is all about – the Coming of the Light and Life of Man, our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Dayspring from on High to which the prophet, Zacharias, refers in the leading text above. Even in lands where the Gospel has received little acceptance, the Christmas décor is obvious everywhere. Unfortunately, they have learned the materialistic side of Christmas and not of the One behind the Season. The Jesus Christ of Christmas has not been learned well in the outer frontiers of Christianity, and, tragically, has been forgotten in heartlands once so bold in preaching the Gospel that men willingly surrendered their lives for the privilege of Christ.
The first great Advent morning was the beginning of days at Creation. “1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Gen 1:1-2 (KJV) There had existed a night of eternity on this earthen sphere until that first night in which The Spirit of God “moved upon the face of the waters.” This, insofar as mortal man can comprehend, was the BEGINNING – at least the beginning of all that we can see, hear, and feel. Genesis 1 & 2 describe the first night upon the earth. But then what did God do? “3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Gen 1:3-5 (KJV)
We can see from this text that God began His Creation in darkness – it began with the first night. Then God, by the power of His Word, spoke Light into being upon the earth. First, there was darkness, then light! What was the source of this Light? It was not the sun, moon, or stars, for they were not created until the fourth day. God Himself was the Light. Our Lord Jesus Christ was the Master Artist who set the world to life and Light. “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” John 1:1-4 (KJV)
We do not often relate the Advent and Christmas story to the Gospel of St. John, chapter 1, but it is the heart and soul of John’s entire Gospel. “9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:9-14 (KJV)
Observe that the ‘evening’ and the ‘morning’ were the first day. In biblical times, and still in the computations of the Jewish religion, day begins in darkness and ends in light. So is every work of God. Can you imagine the ambient Light emanating from our Lord on that first day? There could have been NOTHING hidden from that Light. Every day of Creation began in darkness, and ended with Light. Our lives are the same.
So our Lord is the Source and Generator of Light – the “Dayspring from on High.” The source of energy of the Sun is tremendous and beyond our understanding, but it all descends from the Maker of Light and Life Itself. “19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:19 (KJV)
It is true that the foreordained Will of God has been working from before the first dawn of light on a darkened world; but so has His promise of a Redeemer been steadily moving to fulfillment beyond the veil of time since eternity for He is the Lamb of God without spot or blemish sacrificed from before the Creation of the World. That Light that first shed its beams on a world without form and immersed in steep darkness is now available to be shed upon the souls of men on new mornings of personal salvation in Christ.
Just as the day breaks to the singing of birds and droplets of dew on the roses, so the Holy Singing of the Heavenly Choir resounded from the remote reaches of the Universe at the words of Zacharias as his lips echoed the prophecies of the ages: “. . . . whereby the DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.”
Light itself has peculiar qualities about which we have studied before. For one thing, Light is constant and absolute. If Einstein is correct, Light is the only absolute known to man traveling precisely at 186,000 miles per second regardless the vantage point of the observer. Light does not bend, but travels always in a straight line – a quality characteristic of its Maker, the Lord. Light reveals both beauty and danger. It reveals to us the dangers in the way, and the pleasant lanes of life that are good and wholesome to our souls. Natural light contains the seven colors in the rainbow; but joined together, white is the product. Light, like the Spirit of God, cannot be seen with the naked eye – only the objects it reveals to our eyes.
A tiny light is more powerful than a whole house of darkness. A tiny candle can disperse the darkness in the room from every corner. Sin is the tool of Satan but, like the snail, sin cannot tolerate light. The snail hurries to the shelter of a rock at the first hint of sunrise. During the cover of darkness, the snail devours the garden labors of others, but disappears with coming light. Neither can sin, or its Devil, tolerate the slightest hint of light. This is why dictators are so adamant to destroy any vestiges of free speech. But “He who is in you is stronger than he who is in the world.” (1 John 1:5)
The world was NOTHING until the Light of God appeared upon it. He is not only Light, but Life as well. But the Light is what gives force to our faith! “5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 (KJV)
Before the coming of Emmanuel, men had hope and promise for Light upon which to hang their faith; but now, we have the Light itself to lighten our path. As the great old minister, Alexander MacLaren describes it: “Now darkness, all the world over, is the emblem of three things — ignorance, impurity, sorrow. And all men who are rent away from Jesus Christ, or on whom His beams have not yet fallen, this text tells us, have that triple curse lying upon them.” May I be so bold as to claim that ignorance of things Holy and righteous has never been so prevalent in the land that I love as today. Men will believe anything that a pretentious man says and nothing that God has said. To admit the veracity and applicability of the Word of God requires a certain change in outlook on life. This, the detractors do not desire to see. They prefer to believe that they themselves are the captains of their souls and masters of their fate instead of an Almighty God.
I may claim the same is true of impurity of life, manners, and common decency in America. Sex, drugs, infidelity in marriage, lying for advantage, dishonesty – all of these hold a tighter rein today on the American society than Christian morality has forever held up until the last four generations.
The latter point, SORROW, speaks for itself. The joy of life and accomplishment that once marked the vibrant youth of America has turned to drugs, alcohol, depression, perversions, misery, and shiftlessness.
The answer to our modern dilemma is as close as the Bible in the lower drawer of most men’s bedroom dressers. Reach for it! Blow the dust from its covers! Read it! Digest it! And let its health-giving Words become the nourishment for every cell in your spiritual body and the greater nation as a whole!