Summary: Sermon for Advent 4
We are here at the last feast day in our march to the celebration of Christ’s nativity. We stand on the precipice of an event that literally reordered the entire creation, the coming of the Christ. It is easy, particularly in this western world of plenty, to see the coming of Christmas as just another routine part of celebrating how great life is as a Canadian. Christmas becomes an opportunity to fill ourselves up with ever more “good” things, stuffing an already overflowing bag with even more. It is also easy to fall into the routine of the cycle of days…oh yes, it is once again Christmas (or Easter), where is my to-do list?
It is important to recognize the lesson of our church calendar in seasons such as this, as the sequence of the days carries a teaching. Immediately after the Feast of the Nativity, we have the feast day of St Stephen, a martyr for the faith. Shortly thereafter we have the Feast of the Holy Innocents, marking the death of the baby boys in Bethlehem at the hand of Herod. This tension between joy and despair, light and darkness is intentional. Even our Psalm today contains a very un-Christmassy “he will feed them the bread of tears”. The reason for this tension is because this is the story of our lives, and if you’ve lived for more than a few years you have probably learned that after each episode of joy there is one of sadness. The Scriptures reflect the reality of our lives in this broken world. This too is missed if you are not attentive to the cycle of the days.
By contrast, the call of Advent is the call to become empty to the noise of this world, so that we can be prepared for the in-filling that the coming of Christ brings to each of us. As long as our hands are already full, God cannot fill them with the things he has for us (CS Lewis, The Problem with Pain). The invitation in each holy season is to come and encounter the Messiah anew, again. Each holy season a bidding to walk the path of personal renewal and re-conversion. People sometimes speak of their conversion moment, when they became a Christian…but rather than a moment, our lives are a series of re-conversions, with each moment conforming you more to Christ. Faith is not an event, but a process.
An old Christian tradition in the last part of Advent are known as the ‘O Antiphons’, a series of phrases naming the coming Messiah brought out of the words of the Prophet Isaiah. These sayings would be used in response to the reading of The Magnificat. In response to Mary’s canticle of joy all God’s people respond with the promises foretelling the coming of Christ. Since we’ve read the Magnificat today, we will walk through the antiphons as we consider the mystery of this holy season.
O Wisdom, Which camest forth out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (Wisdom 8:1, 9:4, 9, 10; Proverbs 8:22; Hebrews 1:1; John 1:3; Ecclesiasticus 34:3)