THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT– Aspiciens a longe
First Mattins Responsory
Looking from afar, behold I see the Power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth: * Go ye out to meet him and say: * Tell us, if thou be he that should come: * Which same shall reign * among the people of Israel.
V. Ye inhabitants of the world and sons of men: rich and poor, one with another.
R. * Go ye out to meet him and say: Tell us, if thou be he that should come: Which same shall reign among the people of Israel.
V. Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel: thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep.
R. * Tell us, if thou be he that should come: Which same shall reign among the people of Israel.
V. Stir up thy strength and come, to save us.
R. * Which same shall reign: among the people of Israel.
V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
R. * Among the people of Israel.
Looking from afar, behold I see the Power of God coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth: Go ye out to meet him and say: Tell us, if thou be he that should come: Which same shall reign among the people of Israel.
Introit: (Ps 25) Unto thee will I lift up my soul: O my God, in thee have I trusted, let me not be confounded; neither let mine enemies triumph over me: for all they that look for thee shall not be ashamed. Ps. Shew me thy ways, O Lord: and teach me thy paths. Glory be … Unto thee …
Collect: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come: that by thy protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins, and saved by thy mighty deliverance; who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, throughout all ages world without end. Amen.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy 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 quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
OT Lesson: In the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever. In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. (Micah 4.1-7)
Gradual: (Ps 25) All they that look for thee shall not be ashamed, O Lord. V. Make known to me thy ways, O Lord: and teach me thy paths.
Epistle: Brethren: Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now isour salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. (Romans 13.8-14)
Alleluia. Shew us thy mercy, O Lord: and grant us thy salvation. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: When they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St Matthew 21.1-13)
Jesus came, the heavens adoring,
Came with peace from realms on high;
Jesus came for man’s redemption,
Lowly came on earth to die:
Came in deep humility.
Today we begin a new year according to the Church Calendar. Advent, which means “Coming,” is the season which encourages us to prepare, by prayer and meditation, fasting and almsgiving, for the coming of our Lord. But the Advent season is multi-dimensional. It looks back to the coming of Christ as the Babe of Bethlehem two thousand years ago; it looks forward to the consummation of all things in the coming of Christ as Judge; but there is yet another dimension of importance for our spiritual life: Advent looks about to Christ’s coming to us here and now. St Thomas Aquinas wrote of these three dimensions of Advent: the coming of the Son of God in carne—in the flesh, historically; his coming ad judicium—to judgement, at the end and as the end of history; and in mente—in our minds and souls, now, by grace. And in many ways, Advent is about this third dimension: Christ’s Advent in mente, the present coming of the Word of God in our hearts and lives. And if we consider the appointed lessons from that standpoint, we see how in each instance the Epistle lesson underlines this present dimension of the Gospel.
The selection of Epistles and Gospels for the four Sundays before Christmas, as they appear in the Book of Common Prayer, are precisely those appointed in the Sarum Missal of the mediaeval Church of England, which are in fact the same as those listed by St Jerome back in the Fifth Century. The only change was the addition, in 1549, of a few verses at the beginning of the Epistle reading and the end of the Gospel for this first Sunday in Advent. What we have, then, is not a random selection of readings, as in the newer lectionaries, but a coherent, thoughtful, and time-honoured series of lessons, in which Epistle and Gospel interpret and supplement each other.
Today’s Gospel, at first glance, would seem to have nothing to do with Advent. It is the Palm Sunday story of Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the time of His Passion, and we have difficulty getting beyond the literal sense of the text. But the ancient Fathers saw a deeper level of spiritual interpretation, according to which this story becomes a dramatic parable of Advent: A story of the coming of the Son of God as the Messianic King, as Judge, and Redeemer of the Holy City, as the multitudes cry, “Hosanna [Save us now!] to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.” The inclusion of the cleansing of the Temple dramatically sharpens the Advent theme of divine judgement. “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple…and said unto them, It is written, my house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” As Dr Robert Crouse observes:
The true business of the temple, the true business of the city, the true business of the soul, is prayer: willing God’s will; willing the eternal good which is God’s will. That is to say, the temple’s true business is the business of love. That is the city’s true commerce; that is the soul’s coinage; and anything short of that is thievery and counterfeit. Thus, the Advent message of the Gospel lesson is just this: The coming of the Son of God as Judge and Redeemer of the human city demands in the first place a “cleansing of the temple” – a purgation and refocusing of our loves.
This reading recounts an historical incident: the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem and His cleansing of the Temple. The Son of David enters God’s city and Temple, and His coming is a judgement upon that Temple. Thus the Gospel speaks of Christ’s Advent in carne and ad judicium. But on a deeper spiritual level, the Temple of God’s presence is the human soul, and Christ comes to the soul to awaken and purify it. It is that dimension of the Gospel that the Epistle illuminates: “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.” The Word of God approaches His temple: “the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light…put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” This is Christ’s Advent in mente.
Jesus comes again in mercy,
When our hearts are bowed with care;
Jesus comes again in answer
To an earnest, heartfelt prayer;
Comes to save us from despair.
Jesus comes to hearts rejoicing,
Bringing news of sins forgiven;
Jesus comes in sounds of gladness,
Leading souls redeemed to heaven;
Now the gate of death is riven.
Last Sunday, as we ended the Church Year, we noted that as followers of Christ, we live in the world, but we are not of the world. But that does not make His Kingdom any less real. As we make Christ our Lord and King, He changes our loyalties. He has given us new life, and yet the life we live here is just a foretaste of the Kingdom which is to come. When John the Baptist preached that the kingdom of God was at hand, it truly was. Jesus ushered in that kingdom when He came in the flesh at His First Advent. But His is not like any other kingdom. Earthly kingdoms are generally about conquest. Christ’s is a spiritual kingdom, and its purpose is redemption. And He establishes His Kingdom right alongside the world’s kingdoms until His Second Advent, when there will no more be two kingdoms side by side, but God’s Kingdom alone.
God’s Kingdom grows as His people share the good news—the Gospel—with the world around them, as they live it out in their lives and manifest the power of the Spirit to change hearts and loyalties, as they demonstrate what it truly means to live as God’s people. Today we are reminded not to be complacent in our faith or to take God’s grace for granted. This is truly what our celebration of Christmas—of Christ’s birth—is all about. As we stand before the manger, we are reminded of the reason for it all. The cradle and the cross cannot be separated. Those people who lined the road to welcome Jesus as King had heard His teaching and seen His miracles. They gave him praise and spread their garments and palm branches on the road before Him. But within the week they were crying out for His death. Are we like those people? Having once heard the Gospel, are we tied up and obsessed with life in the world’s darkness? The Gospel gives us a very stern warning in the example of the Temple—the very centre of God’s worship. The Lord entered the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers and chased out the people selling doves for the sacrifices—the merchants who were defrauding worshippers. “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” There are several times we see Jesus confront the self-righteous, but here we see divine wrath and judgement.
“Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” The Pharisees (and remember, St Paul had been a Pharisee) thought that if they kept the letter of the Law, they had fulfilled it. But Jesus points beyond the Law, to the Giver of the Law, and turned their world upside-down by teaching that everyone—even our enemies—are our neighbours, and deserving of love. God’s character is love; God’s justice is love. The Law was not simply a bunch of arbitrary rules; the Law defined justice and holiness—and holiness is defined by the very character of God Himself. It is not based on subjective relativism or on cultural standards that change from place to place or from time to time. Right and wrong, good and evil, are always absolute because God’s character defines them. God’s Kingdom is holy, and He calls His people to be holy.
When Christ enters our temples—our hearts and lives—what does He find? Worldly idols set up alongside His altar? Money-changers and usurers robbing people of the riches of God’s grace? Merchants and mercenaries hawking worldly fare? “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in immorality and lust, not in strife and jealousy. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
Yes, there is much darkness out there, but through Christ, we already live in the light. And He calls us to be lightto the world. But we often are so overcome with the things of this world that we forget the Kingdom and the light, and live still in the darkness. Instead of trusting in the King, we trust in princes and horses and chariots. We cease to be obedient to God’s commands, and soon we are so full of darkness that no one can even see our light. Advent is a season of preparation. Much of our Christmas preparation has to do with making provision for the flesh. But in the true spirit of the Season, let us try to make it more a matter of putting on the Lord Jesus Christ; more a matter of the cleansing of the temple, the purgation and refocussing of our lives and loves. May God give us grace to cast off the works of darkness, now; and to clothe ourselves with the armour of light.
Advent proclaims God’s three-fold coming: in carne, in mente, and ad judicium. And those three dimensions are always interconnected: Christ’s coming in the flesh—His atoning work—is the means of His coming to our souls in grace; and His coming in judgement is the final summation of all His comings in grace and what we have done with them. Let us use this Season to reorder our lives, that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Christ our King and Saviour.
Jesus comes on clouds triumphant,
When the heavens shall pass away.
Jesus comes again in glory;
Let us, then, our homage pay,
Alleluia! ever singing
Till the dawn of endless day.
Collect: O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by thy Holy Spirit that, being ever mindful of the end of all things, and the day of thy just judgement, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here, and dwell with thee forever hereafter; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, shine upon you and scatter the darkness from before your path, that you may be ready to meet him when he cometh again in glory: and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.
+AN ACT OF SPIRITUAL COMMUNION+
O most loving Jesus, O most blessed Saviour, come to me, I beseech thee, and unite me to thyself. Though I cannot now receive thee sacramentally, yet I believe that thou art able, even when received by faith and desire only, to heal, enrich, and sanctify me. Come thou spiritually into my heart. I desire to unite myself to thee, with all the affections of my soul. Possess me wholly; let the consuming fire of thy love absorb me, and thy presence abide so intimately in me, that it will be no longer I that live, but thou who livest in me. Amen.
May the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my body and soul unto everlasting life. Amen.