Second Sunday of Advent (Year C)
“Aspects of Advent” // A Sermon by Fr. Sammy L. Wood
Baruch 5.1-9
Psalm 126
Philippians 1.1-11
Luke 3.1-6

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

        Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

That’s the first line of my favorite Advent book, Watch for the Light. Advent is waiting for light in the dark. We light our wreaths; candles in our windows, on our mantles. In the northern hemisphere, even the sun and earth cooperate — the nights grow longer until the solstice, almost the exact day we celebrate Christmas, when St. John says “the true light, which enlightens every man” came into the world. (John 1.9)

        Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

If there’s a better description of Christian mission, I’d like to hear it. But today I want to look not just at mission, but at 4 features or “Aspects of Advent”: (1) The Gospel of Advent; (2) the Warning of Advent; (3) the Project of Advent; and then, finally, (4) the Mission of Advent.

The first Aspect of Advent: The Gospel. If “gospel” is “good news,” then what’s gospel about Advent? That’s easy — the Nativity, when the light of the world descended into our darkness. God took on flesh and blood, came into our world in Bethlehem. And here’s why it’s good news: It was the first move in what I call God’s Great Reversal. We couldn’t ascend to God, so he descended to us. He emptied himself to fill us. Died so we could live. Was lost for us to be found. Reversal.

Luci Shaw, in a poem called Mary’s Song, described the Reversal through the eyes of the blessed virgin holding her newborn son in her arms:

Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to see my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended,
I must see him torn.

God — blind in Mary’s womb to end our darkness. Torn to see us mended. That’s the Great Reversal, the Gospel of Advent.

The second “Aspect of Advent” is: Warning. Jesus came first as a child; he will come again as a king to judge. Maybe you noticed the readings for the first two Sundays of Advent actually focus more on the Parousia, the second Advent at the end of history than the first Advent. That’s to warn us: Be ready! When he comes again it won’t be the light of a star illuminating his birth, it’ll be the light of the world to come illuminating the record of all our deeds, good and bad.

In an essay called “The World’s Last Night,” C. S. Lewis wrote this:

Precisely because we cannot predict the moment, we must be ready at all moments . . . . We can, perhaps, train ourselves to ask more and more often how the thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at each moment will look when the irresistible light streams in upon it; that light which is so different from the light of this world — and yet, even now, we know just enough of it to take it into account. Women sometimes have the problem of trying to judge by artificial light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for the electric lights of the present world but for the daylight of the next. The good dress is the one that will face that light. For that light will last longer.

Advent is a warning. What we do in this life matters, so we must start to change. John’s baptism was of repentance (Luke 3.3), and more than just contrition for sin and going to confession — true repentance means change, turning down a new path.

2014061428baptizer_300Which is the third aspect of Advent — the project. God says: If you believe the gospel, and you’ve heard the warning, here’s a project. Remember St. Luke’s words about John the Baptist (Luke 3.4-7):

        Every valley shall be filled,
        and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
        and the crooked shall become straight,
        and the rough places shall become level ways . . . .

Know what that is? I grew up in the country, so I’ve seen it — that’s how you build a road. It make come as a shock to us on Beacon Hill, but people do build roads. Smooth ones, with no potholes, and no frost heaves, no obstacles. Advent is a time when we can start work on the project of building a road for Jesus in our own hearts.

Someone, I don’t know who, sent me this book in the mail. It’s called Catechesis, a compilation of sermons by Fr. Andy Mead, former rector of this parish, who recently retired after 18 years as rector of St. Thomas 5th Ave. in New York. I’ve read most of the sermons now, and it occurs to me that some thoughtful parishioner may have sent me this book precisely because Fr. Mead’s sermons are short. But I did want to share this little passage from a sermon for the beginning of Advent:

[In Advent] The Lord has afforded us time: time to prepare, to repent, to watch and pray; he gives us time to redeem with acts of love.

Advent gives us time to to start the project — to prepare, to repent, to watch and to pray. Time to start building the roads in our own hearts so Jesus can come. Time to fill in the potholes — to fill up the gaps where we lack discipline and virtue. Time to grade all the mountains down — take every habit that seems so huge in your life, and grind it down to be more like Jesus. Time to make the crooked straight — do go to confession and let go of your sins, remove every obstacle, avoid every detour, anything that might hinder the arrival of God in your life. That’s our project.

One last point: The 4th Aspect of Advent. When we’ve heard the gospel of the first Advent and the warning about the last Advent; when we’ve begun the project of repentance and discipline and love, then the strangest thing happens: God makes us lights.

That’s the Mission of Advent. Each of us is called to carry light into whatever darkness God leads us to. Now, precisely where you’re called to be light, I really can’t say for sure. Remember these words: Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are. A man named Alfred Delp wrote them. Alfred Delp was a priest, a Jesuit in Germany during WWII. He joined the the German resistance effort and became a conspirator in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler (sometimes called Operation Valkyrie) in July 1944. Delp was executed on 2 February 1945 at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin. Like Bonhoeffer, he lost his life because of what he felt love for God and love for his fellow man compelled him to do.

Ours are different missions than Delp’s. Where are you called to take the light of Christ into the dark? Where will Christ arrive because you’ve made his road ready? Will we say “Yes, Lord,” and meet him in his coming? Extend your hands when he comes under bread and wine. Welcome him into the work of your own sanctification, of changing your own heart. Then take him into the world, to wherever there’s darkness.

        Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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