Thus ends the last reading of the first week of the church’s new year – with a caution from Jesus to the disciples about the end-times. What about hope? What about joy? What about prosperity? What about the positive wishes for the new year?
The other readings for Advent 1, Year A are no less stern. The first reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) speaks of the time of judgement; the Epistle (Romans 13:11-14) is a sobering call from Paul to the Roman believers to ‘lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’ (verse 12), and in so doing, make no provision for the flesh (verse 14). The Gospel verse quoted is from this week’s reading, Matthew 24:36-44.
Now, if the message of Christ is one of hope and victory, as featured in last week’s piece, Victory, why should the note of hope on which we ended last week now be betrayed by the note of darkness that seems to be sounded in this week’s readings? My friends, the message of Christ is hardly ever about the ultimate victory of darkness and, therefore, if this is what the readings seem to suggest, we need to return to the readings, and reflect upon them further. You see, on the contrary, the readings this week are about the light. In the opening prayer (the Collect) we ask, ‘Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light’. The reading from Isaiah ends ‘let us walk in the light of the Lord!’. Strains of the Epistle are heard in the Collect. Finally, the Gospel reading sums it all up by highlighting that what we are being called to do is to be ready…ready to go to the house of the Lord, as celebrated in the psalm, Psalm 122.
In sync with the message of Advent, this week’s readings are urging us to get ready. That process involves a change of attire: we don the armour of light, and in so doing, we ready ourselves for battle. Effectively, we are receiving a rallying cry. Armour is about protection; armour is also about battle. But why are we protecting ourselves? Why are we readying ourselves for battle? Simply, we are being called into the field of battle. No longer are we students, sitting in the classroom absorbing the lesson that has been being taught. No! Now, we are being called to put into practice what we have been learning over the past years. We have spent much time in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in the simulation room even. Now, it’s time to go out into the thick of things, to engage in real battle for we have been well prepared.
What does this mean? It means we have been made fit for purpose – we have been well schooled – we have been HEWn. Now that the unwanted elements have been removed, our new clothes, our armour of light, can be donned so that we can fight as soldiers in the army of the Lord.
So, far from what we might have been inclined to presume because of the end-times, the apocalyptic references, the readings are bolstering and holding up all hope. This week, in this new year, we are being encouraged to toss out the old (the works of the flesh – revelling, drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy [taking cue from Paul]) and to take up the new: the armour of God, to put on the armour of light, to put on Jesus Christ.
Friends, this is such an undeniable message of hope. Remember, Jesus Christ is the Way. Who better to follow as we seek to attain our purpose – the will of God? It was Jesus Christ who said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ (John 14:9). Therefore, when we put on the armour of light, when we put on Jesus Christ, we are sure to walk in the Light of Christ and in the way that leads to the Father. And, if so, we are sure to be walking in purpose. Now, on that note, I say we celebrate in love, peace and joy!
Blessings to you and happy new year!
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