The Sunday Sermon – Advent I – “The Meaning of Advent: Watch!”
+In the name of God: Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Of all the several denominations of Christians, no one does Advent and Christmas as well as us Anglicans. The Pentecostals are fantastic with Pentecost; the Roman Catholics are wonderful with holy Week; and the Eastern Orthodox brilliant with Easter. On a certain level, Advent and Christmas are synonymous with Anglicanism. These two seasons are just in our bones, so to speak. We go through them with such beauty and grace, through our worship, with our hymns and our festivals of lessons and carols. Even the theological interests, over the longer arc of the history of Anglicanism/Episcopalianism, have tended to be strongly grounded in the Incarnation.
And so, today, we enter into that Season which you and I are supposed to be so good at: That time of preparation before the celebration of the Feast of Christmas.
But what’s unique about Advent, really, is that our focus, until, really, Christmas Day, isn’t directly on the Incarnation of our Lord. We don’t talk about the Birth of Christ until the Fourth Sunday of Advent, in the Gospel, when we read the Gospel of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel visits the Blessed Virgin Mary to tell her that she is to bear Emmanuel, God with us.
Now, in all honesty, it took me a long time to figure out that Advent, that preparation for the Celebration of Christmas, had really little to do with that event. Sure, we read a lot of passages from Isaiah, whom in the Feast of Lessons and Carols, which we Anglicans gave as a gift to the world, is called “The Prophet of the Advent”. That is, the first coming of Christ.
Advent is really about you and I being prepared for the time when Christ shall come again in the Glory of his Father, with the Holy Angels. This Season of Advent, then, is filled with themes that relate to that coming. It is filled with lessons and admonitions to be ready, ready for when, in the fulfillment of his promise to you and to me, Christ shall return, and we shall be with him always.
And so our theme this morning, might best be found in our Gospel, in the words from our Lord’s own mouth, which I quote, not from our Translation we read this morning, but from the Revised Standard Version, which is closer to that well known, King James translation:
Our Lord says:
Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning — lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”
Watch!: that’s our theme for this morning.
Now since, I said that we Anglicans are pretty good at doing the “Churchy” thing when it comes to Advent and Christmas, I want to tie this in this morning to a little lesson on our Worship, especially here at Holy Cross.
Now, when I first came here to Holy Cross, three years ago (can you believe it’s been that long?), I remember my first thought was, I don’t like that big cross over the altar. Maybe someday I’ll be able to get to put a nice crucifix on the altar.
Now, I wanted to do that, because that’s what I’d grown up with, that’s what I’d seen at most of the Churches I’d been in that I liked, and that’s what I thought was supposed to be there.
But, we all are called to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, and so through the course of my studies and readings, I’ve come to appreciate and to like that cross on the altar.
Our earliest ancestors in faith, gathered in homes for worship. But soon, even in those homes they began to set apart special rooms for worship. This would be the only thing done in that one room. Kind of like, what we have here. We don’t use this room for anything but the worship of God. In a sense, we set apart this room for that one purpose. And for good reason: we’re supposed to be all about giving glory and worship and praise to God. Everything else, is just a footnote, secondary to that purpose.
Now, scholars who study these things have found that when those early Christians gathered together, the put a large cross on the East wall of the room. That cross served as a focal point, a common place for everyone to look at. And when they worshipped, everyone faced East, towards that Cross.
Now many of you know that it became popular to have the priest celebrate the Eucharist facing the people back in the 70’s. It was even done here, in fact, until the late 80’s or so. We can actually move that altar out from the wall.
In our worship now, though, some have remarked: “Father, why do you celebrate mass facing away from us?”
Well, the real answer is, “IT’s not that I’m facing away from you, it’s that I’m facing with you.”
When you and I face a common direction in our worship, what you and I are doing is living into the reality that the worship of our Heavenly Father has cosmic dimensions.
Our worship of God has local importance, yes. That’s why we face each other as we listen to the Word of God proclaimed. We signify that God has called you and I here to this place to hear and learn from the Word, in the reading of Scripture, the proclamation of the Gospel, and in the preaching of the word. But when all that is finished, we all turn and face one common direction. We turn and face East.
In Matthew 24:27, our Lord tells us
“For as the lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man.”
And so, when you and I gather at the Altar, to worship God, facing East, we look to that Cross, not with the crucified and dying lord, but with the risen Lord, the Lord who has entered into the Sanctuary and made propitiation for our Sin, wearing the priestly garb and it is a reminder to us that in our worship, we are to be watching for the coming of the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
So as we enter into this Season of Advent, God calls us to watch for the coming of Christ in Glory.
And as we watch for that time when he shall come among us again, we must be careful not to miss the times that he comes among us, even now. He promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
And so he does come among us: In the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, and the prisoner, and the naked.
And he comes among us, in Word, heard and proclaimed, and he comes among us, too, under the sacramental signs of bread and wine.
Ever coming to us, to bless us with his presence, that we may rejoice in the life which he came into this world to give to us.
So let us be aware of all the ways in which Christ comes to us, even now. Let us be mindful not to miss them, and let us give thanks for all those ways he comes to us, and is with us until that Day, when he shall come again in Glory.
Watch, for you do not know when the master of the house will come.