The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, December 11, 2006


Father Carl's Advent I sermon:

It is entirely possible, though I do not know for certain, that the secular practice of making a resolution on the first day of the calendar year came from the Christian idea, on the first day of the Church year, today, of consecrating the entire year ahead to more devoted and faithful service to God and our fellow people. It is even possible that this Christian idea of renewed hope and promise at the new year came from an earlier Jewish tradition.

Just as those who have clinked their glasses at the fading notes of Auld Lang Syne tend to forget rapidly any such resolutions made under the influence of self-administered fortification, we should ask ourselves if we fare any better year by year. Indeed, with the multi-faceted themes in Advent of: preparing for the annual celebration of our Lord’s Nativity, preparing for His promised Second Coming with the attendant four last things of Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell, the idea of a renewed personal dedication of ourselves, our souls and bodies to God, may get shunted aside altogether without even a thought.

However, in terms of the overall Advent theme of preparation, a renewed personal commitment should be for most of us, at the very top of the list, as such a commitment, devoutly made and kept is very much also a preparation, one that is of eternal importance to each of us when we look ahead to our Lord’s return and the Judgement that follows. In our readings today it is very easy to come away thinking only of the primary Advent theme of our Lord’s Coming; however, all of the readings today place before us this secondary theme of personal preparedness almost as strongly.

The exhortation that we just heard read reminds us of it at both the beginning and the end, “all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup.” We are then reminded of the purpose of such an exercise in terms of having “penitent hearts” and “true faith,” else we are in grave danger if we presume to receive the Sacrament unworthily. Intensely personal reparation. Then at the end of the exhortation, “submitting ourselves [completely] to His holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve Him in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” Personal preparation and resolution.
The well known Collect for Advent Sunday, which we repeat daily until Christmas, uses contrasting images to underscore the theme of preparation: darkness and armour of light; mortal life and life immortal; humility and glorious Majesty. And while the prayer is worded in the first person plural, as are all Collects, the gist of it is intensely personal. Perhaps in our personal prayers at home we might even venture occasionally to read it in the first person singular, “Almighty God, give me grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon me the armour of light.”
In the Epistle, St. Paul lays before us the essential nature of the Law as regards our behaviour towards our fellow pilgrims in this earthly life. But then he quite abruptly launches into the profoundly important need for personal alertness and preparation as we all approach “the day.” He too uses contrasts just as we heard in the Collect: wakefulness vs. sleep; night vs. day; darkness vs. armour of light; rioting, drunkenness, chambering, wantonness, strife and envying vs. honesty; and, most importantly, wearing, as it were, the lusts of the flesh vs. “putting on” our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
In passing we might correctly observe that this particular Epistle for Advent Sunday more strongly emphasizes this need for personal sanctification than it does the theme of our Lord’s Coming, which is only somewhat abstractly mentioned by St. Paul when he says, “our salvation is nearer than when we believed.”
On the other hand, a reading of the Gospel might, at first glance, lead us to conclude the opposite in terms the emphasis. The great Palm Sunday procession of our Lord into Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.” The Advent of our Lord.
But rather than logically ending at the crowds proclaiming, “Hosanna in the highest,” as we do on Palm Sunday when we read this passage as the Gospel of the Palms, the Advent Sunday reading continues right through the episode of the cleansing of the Temple. So graphic is that scene that we tend to ponder it only so deeply as the face value of the zeal of our Lord for His Temple in Jerusalem, and we might not pause to consider any message otherwise.
Think, if you will, of St. Paul’s comments in Chapter 3 of his first letter to the Church in Corinth, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God … If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3, 16 -17).
Now I don’t know about any of the rest of us here, but I should much prefer to invite my Lord into this temple - me - and I should like very much to be a willing participant in the cleansing of my soul and spirit. Much to be preferred I should think that to have Him burst in uninvited, throwing over tables as it were.
Perhaps many of us here don’t feel that such a cleansing, such preparation is necessary. If anyone has attained to a sufficient measure of personal sanctification and holiness that they deserve to admitted into the nearer presence of God, then we should all rejoice for that person. However, I suspect that most, if not all of us, are very far indeed from having advanced to such an exalted degree of purity of mind, soul and spirit.
Think, if you will, of St. Paul, again using contrasts, just a bit earlier in the same Chapter 3 of his first letter to the Church in Corinth. In making the contrast of spiritual maturity against those, like so many of us who need much cleansing, he states, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal … For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor. 3. 1, 3).
Perhaps many of us, hopefully most of us, are not engaged, either within the parish or in our contacts outside, in “envying, strife and divisions”; but it must honestly be observed that such does occur from time to time. Or consider: being swift to anger and slow to forgive; gossiping about others; lack of faith, hope and charity; criticism; abuse of food; lust; envy; jealousy; hard words spoken in hastiness or passion; failure of self-control; greed; unworthy or defiling thoughts, resulting in our being unwilling even to speak to certain other members of the parish; complaining; lack of thankfulness; and the list goes on.
In terms of such “spots” on our souls where they involve other people, it is a good thing that most of our people can acknowledge such faults with true contrition, seeking forgiveness both from God and, if transgressions have been committed against others, also seeking forgiveness from those whom they might have wronged. But it is still a great struggle for most of us to expunge whatever besetting tendency that we might have - let us say, for example, flashes of anger when caught unpleasantly by surprise. We may have been praying for healing from such behaviour for many years without any apparent progress.
Without spoiling what is coming up next Saturday on our Quiet Day, I would encourage any and all who have been making a genuine attempt at ridding themselves of habitual sins, but without success, to come and learn about Mental Prayer. I cannot guarantee that learning about Mental Prayer and practising it will magically cleanse us from besetting sins; however, when practised faithfully and diligently, most people will make significant progress in that regard.
As has been observed by spiritual writers throughout Christian history, it is those who feel that they need such help the most who actually are further along in terms of spiritual progress - sanctification - and those who don’t feel that they need such help who actually do need it most. One of the particular benefits of Mental Prayer is that, practised honestly, our meditations will strip off our normally self-centred way of thinking about ourselves, rather encouraging us to see ourselves as God sees us, and in so doing, to be more highly motivated in seeking to cleanse our minds and souls, our temples.
The chosen topic of Mental Prayer is quite appropriate to Advent, as it deals with our spiritual progress, which is to say, our preparation. In terms of a Church New Year’s resolution, ideally, any who come will make Mental Prayer a regular part of their prayer life throughout the year. After all, our Lord did say that His return, His Second Advent will be like a thief in the night and that we should watch and pray at all times - be prepared.
May we bow our heads. “O eternal God, make my body and soul to be an holy temple, purified for the habitation of Thy Holy Spirit. Cast out of it, O Lord, all worldly affections, all covetous desires; let it be a place of prayer and holy meditation; of pure intentions, and zealous desires of pleasing Thee; so that, loving Thee above all the world, and worshipping Thee continually in humblest adoration, I may be prepared to glorify Thee to all eternity in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen. (Jeremy Taylor [ 1613-1667)