Today, my brothers and sisters, let us consider Advent…the period of time leading up to the Feast of the Nativity and encompassing four Sundays…
The first season in the Church’s year…the time of the Jesse Tree and the Advent Wreath…the season that is all but lost and forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
But before we can contemplate the season of Advent, we must understand one thing about Christmas…one thing about the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ…the Christmas event…has everything to do with our Salvation.
That is to say that Christmas is just as important…equal to Easter and the Resurrection in matters of the Salvation of mankind.
The Church has affirmed this since the beginning and we say so in the Nicene Creed each and every Sunday:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man:[i]
And for our Salvation…was made man. Christmas has everything to do with our Salvation because God became man in Jesus Christ. Christ took our human flesh and made it His own…
Christ became man and in taking our flesh and blood as His own…redeemed humanity. Christ rejoined God and man.
God came to earth and in His becoming man…redeemed man…made it possible for man to reconcile with God and have salvation.
So Advent is an event that helps us prepare for salvation….Advent is a season that helps us prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ…both in His Nativity and when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
The collect for the day tells us much about the season of Advent…what it is about and what is asked of us.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal… through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.[ii]
In the collect, we ask God to give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. That is to say, we ask God for grace, during this season, to rid our souls of sins and distortions…of ways and actions that are not of God…
We ask God to give us grace and the armor of light…of righteousness…so that on the Last Day, we may receive a favorable judgment and rise to the life immortal.
The season of Advent is very much akin to the New Year’s Resolution. We start the Church’s year trying to become better people…throw off bad habits…start spiritual exercises…regain what had been lost and discarded in the previous year.
During Lent…the forty-day season that leads up to Easter…there are a goodly amount of rules and devotions. There is fasting and abstinence…many of the faithful will give something up…there is an increase in prayers and devotions…and many parishes have the equivalent of revivals during this time.
Advent has many of these same devotions and undertakings. Even though it is a penitential season…a season of fasting and abstinence…with many of the same rules and devotions…it has a different feel to it than Lent.
During Lent, the faithful seek to separate themselves from the world…to follow the advice of the Blessed Apostle Paul:
for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.[iii]
There is also during Lent the aim to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ…and in that uniting, to come closer…to join ourselves more completely with Jesus.
The purpose of Advent is a different. The purpose of Advent is to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus Christ…to prepare ourselves and make room for God in our life and in our death.
So, Advent is about waiting…is about watching…is about preparing our hearts, souls and our homes for the coming of Christ.
In that way the season of Advent parallels the preparations of our homes for Christmas and the guests we will receive.
Many of us will begin very soon, if we have not already, to prepare our homes for Christmas. There will be a tremendous amount of cleaning…of straightening up…there will be much decorating…many of us will spend untold hours adorning our homes and making them splendid and lovely.
Many of us will spend great amounts of time making our homes fitting and welcoming and beautiful for Christmas.
We will cook special meals and treats…we will go out of our way to prepare special foods to show our family and friends our heartfelt love and gratitude.
We will spend much time finding and buying gifts for those we love…we will try our best to express our love and gratitude to those who mean much to us.
Most of us will spend untold hours transforming our homes into magical places…full of wonderful treats…whimsically adorned…full of presents and gifts…
But Advent forces us to ask the question…but what of our souls? But what of our families? But what of our wonderful homes? Are they prepared for the coming of Christ and judgment?
Just as we do all this decorating and cooking and gift buying…just as we spend these untold hours on preparing…we should first and foremost spend our time preparing our hearts and souls…our families and our homes for the coming of Christ.
Having our homes arrayed with the finest things will not help us one bit when Christ returns if our hearts and our souls are not arrayed with the things of God.
The world during this time of year is filled with busyness and temptations. It is all too easy to forget about the things of God and the things that help us in our quest for Salvation.
So, as we busy ourselves with decorating and cooking and gift buying and holiday parties…let us not forget what Christmas is about…the coming of Jesus Christ and the salvation of our souls.
So before we deck the halls…before we begin our feasts…before we buy things for the ones we love…let us prepare our souls for the coming of the Christ in His Nativity and in His coming again to judge the world.
Let us fast and unite ourselves to Jesus Christ…let us commit ourselves to prayer and devotion…let us rid our hearts and minds of the things that are not of God…
Let us take on the armor of the light of God and make our souls and our homes fitting abodes for the light and love of God in Jesus Christ.
Let us commit ourselves to good works…to caring for the poor and the needy…let us pray without ceasing and love without holding back…
Let us use this Advent to prepare for the coming of Christ so that on Christmas day the season will have not ended, but just begun…and we, instead of being burned out, will be on fire with the light and love of God and ready to receive Christ when He comes in glory.
[i] The Book of Common Prayer, p.328
[ii] Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, from The Book of Common Prayer, p.211
[iii] Romans 8.13