This is a basic copy of today’s sermon at Grace Anglican Church. The readings are Micah 4:1-7, Psalm 25:1-9, Romans 13:8-14, and Matthew 21:1-13.
Advent is here! Jesus is coming! Liturgically, this means that we’re preparing for Christmas, which is the celebration of his first arrival on this earth. (Advent is Latin for “arrival.”) But theologically, Advent is a season that points us to the return of Christ. The collect of the day today doubles as the theme collect for the entire season of Advent:
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us 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 forever.
The epistle reading sounds the clarion call summarized in the Collect: wake up, the night is nearly over! Put on the armor of light and prepare for the morning when the morning star rises – the return of Christ! God invites us to cleanse ourselves in preparation for his arrival; and as the Psalm and Old Testament reading assure us, he will teach and guide us in that process. And as Jesus cleansed the Temple of the moneychangers and other shameful goings-on, we too must rid our bodies, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, from sin before Christ’s triumphal return to this world to judge the living and the dead.
It may seem overwhelming at first to have all these different metaphors running at the same time. We’ve already mixed them together by interspersing the opening hymn (focusing on waking up and getting ready) around the Litany and Ten Commandments (focusing on putting on spiritual armor). What does waking up in the morning have to do with putting on spiritual armor? Let’s put these two groups of metaphors together now.
The key to this is the line in the Collect (quoting Romans 13:12), “put on the armor of light.” What is the armor of light? Think about it, this sounds a little silly. Normally, armor is put on to keep things out – things like arrows and spears and swords. So you want armor made of leather or metal, not light. So we have to ask, what is it that light does? It makes visible that which is invisible. The armor of light, it turns out, is not about protecting us from getting hurt or protecting us from falling into sin. After all, “he who says he is without sin is a liar.” We all sin, and there’s no magic antidote or armor to stop us from sinning. And so we have armor made of light instead. Light uncovers all things. Nothing is hidden in light.
What I’m getting at is this: putting on the armor of light is a sort of spiritual discipline; it’s an act or process of publishing everything that comes in and out of ourselves. Sin is inevitable; we can’t always avoid it. And so forcing it to pass through the armor of light is our way of making our sins known. This is, quite simply, about confession, bringing our sins into the light where it can be dealt with. Think of sin like a mold or fungus. If you leave it hidden away in the dark, where nobody can see it, it’ll grow. But if you open up the door and let the sun shine on it, it won’t grow so well. And, being able to see it, you’ll be more apt to scrub it off and clean the cupboard. That is what confessing our sins is about – not handing Jesus the laundry list of your wrong-doings, but going through that list with him openly and honestly, with the intent of trying to clean it up. When we keep our sins hidden away, we’re acting as if we can take care of it ourselves.
Now sometimes we write off a sin as “just a bad habit.” But I want to share with you a story someone shared at Synod. There was a group of people who were talking about anything and everything. They were having a grand old time. But one man in that group felt a little left out – he didn’t have much to say. So, in order to make himself feel a bit better and look a bit cooler to his peers, he made up a little story about something that happened to him. It wasn’t a huge lie, just a little one, and it helped him feel like he fit in. Nobody knew any better, and at the end of the evening it didn’t matter one way or the other. But all that night and next morning, the Holy Spirit kept him awake and his feeling of guilt grew. Nobody was suspicious and putting pressure on him, this was entirely of God. Finally, the next day as they were preparing to teach and minister to people at a church they were visiting, God forced him to confess his little white lie sin. And so, very embarrassed, he took someone aside and brought that little sin into the light. And later that day he confessed it to the rest the group as well. The lesson this man shared with us at Synod was this: no sin is too small to confess. For, just like a bit of mold in a dark cupboard, a little sin left unchecked can grow into something huge. In that sense, the little sins are the ones we should uncover and fight the hardest, because they can be easier to nip in the bud, so to speak.
So, this Advent season, let us especially remember and heed the words of St. Paul when he said “it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”