A Homily for Advent I, Year A, 2010
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 13:11-14
“You know what time it is.”
What time is it?
Like the Christians of Paul’s day, we live between the times. We live in a reality in which Christ has been revealed to us, a reality in which we have tasted the goodness of God, in which we have caught a glimpse of the resurrection of his Christ, in which we have begun to experience his healing and saving grace. But we also live in a reality in which there is still much pain and much brokenness. We live in a world in which we still experience sickness. And we live in a world in which we are all still prone to make terrible mistakes. It is a confusing time in which we await the consummation of the love we have tasted.
Advent is a time between the times. While the world around us sings carols (and indeed, when we leave this place we may go home and listen to some ourselves), we enter the church and we sing hymns of expectation, and speak words of Christ’s imminent arrival, but we resist the urge to sing the carols that belong properly to his arrival on Christmas Eve. Advent is a time to hold in tension the polarities of this confusing double-mindedness, and see if there is anything we can learn “living between the times.”
A couple of weeks ago I preached that I did not mind hearing the carols so early in the shopping malls and on the radio because they are a witness to the world of the reality that we proclaim; namely, that Christ is with us and in the world, restoring it from brokenness to glory. And yet, I have asked, as Anglican tradition has long dictated, that during Advent, in church at least, that we hold back on the carols, that we cease our Alleluias and glorias for a few weeks. So you might be asking, “what gives?” If God is present, if the act of salvation has been won, if death has been defeated in the Resurrection, why do we need to put the brakes on as we approach the wonderful celebration of our Lord’s nativity?
The answer, I think, is that we are a “work in progress.” Yes, it is true that God has acted decisively in Jesus of Nazareth and won for us our salvation and victory over death. Yet, day-by-day, the fruits of that redemption are still being uncovered, and they exist in tension with the unfinished work of the restoration of all things. As I have stated, there is much that is still broken, still hurting, and still evil in this world. God is indeed at work, and he will bring that work to completion; but part of that work involves drawing you and me into the divine life, and into the divine work. The coming of our Lord amongst us in Jesus of Nazareth was the decisive act in which the beauty of God’s plan of restoration and redemption was inaugurated and revealed to and amongst us. The Incarnation of the Lord changed things. And what it changed most was us.
This is why St. Paul tells the Romans -- and yes, these are words that echo across the age to us as well -- to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Cloth yourself in the Lord and be a sign to the world of the redemption won in Christ Jesus. We stand before the powers of this age that refuse to believe that God is alive and active and transforming the world, and we say “no” to evil, “no” to power structures that dehumanize God’s creatures, and “no” to the unhealthy desires that draw us away from God. We put on Christ and we say “yes” to the beauty of all that is Good, “yes” to the hope that the world can be transformed for the building up of the Kingdom of God, and “yes” to the best of human longing and desire for intimacy with each other and with God.
What time is it?
It is a time of decision. The time between the times is a time for choices and a time for decision-making. It is a time in which we ask ourselves if we really and truly believe that the appearance of Jesus began a new era that is working its way to the completion in God. And if our answer is “yes”, it is a time in which we ask ourselves if we want to be a part of that journey. It is a time in which we pray to God as a community and as individuals and ask him to reveal to us the unique vocation we have as a community and as individuals as we participate in the unfolding of his Kingdom.
What time is it?
It is a time to wake up. St. Paul says, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from your sleep.” The liturgical pulling-back that we do in Advent, the reservation of Alleluias and glorias, the change to the colour blue for our hangings and paraments, the lighting of successive candles in anticipation, and finally the singing of hymns and the reading of Scriptures that speak of both the birth of Jesus in a stable and his awesome and great appearance at the end of days, all serve to offer us a sort of wake-up call. They jar us to a moment of awakening and moment of decision. These things remind us that we do indeed “know what time it is!” This jarring change of colour and mood, mingled with restraint in our Christmas excitement and anticipation unveil to us the reality that the “day of the Lord is drawing nigh,” and as St. Paul once again says, “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers!”
The wake-up call that we are given is one that reminds us that history is on the move, and in history, God is on the move. As he acted in the creation of the world, in the story of the Hebrew people, in the Christ-event known to us as Jesus of Nazareth, in sending his Spirit upon the Church, and as he has acted through the saints of old, so he continues to act in the church and in the world, today. His voice is calling us to be a part of this movement toward the redemption of the cosmos.
What time is it?
It’s time to put on Christ Jesus and live what we believe, for the salvation we have tasted is at hand, nearer than when we first believed.
c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves