The First Sunday of Advent (Year A)
2 December 2007
A Sermon Preached by the Rev'd Dr Andrew C. Blume
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now on the time of this mortal life in which 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 life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I have been an Harry Potter fan for quite some time. Up through the sixth book, I had a sneaking suspicion that the self-proclaimed Scottish Episcopalian author of the series consciously or sub-consciously embedded a number of foundational Christian conceptions in her novels. After reading the seventh book, I have a hard time keeping myself from drawing out Christian parables.
In the seventh and final book, the great quest that leads to the final encounter between Harry and Lord Voldemort begins at a wedding feast. While the wizarding world is in the midst of a life-and-death struggle with the forces of evil, which the non-magical population recognises only dimly, those people who believe in the power of love and trust, those people whose community is made up of outcasts and sinners—thieves, eccentrics, werewolves, and mudbloods—gather to celebrate the marriage of two of their own, the now battle scarred Bill Weasley and the beautiful Fleur Delacourt. In the midst of a world at war, in the midst of a world turned upside down by fear and violence, these people celebrate, what Harry calls “one last golden day of peace” (HBP, 607).
While the party is in full swing, while people are eating the wonderful food, dancing to the beautiful music, talking with friends, without any advance warning, a message comes through that Lord Voldemort’s forces have overthrown the government and that his supporters are headed straight for the wedding. The attack follows almost immediately and in an instant the world changes. In an instant a new reality dawns and Harry knows he has to locate his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, which he does. They turn on the spot and make their escape, for it is Harry for whom they have come.
When they land in a busy London street, dressed in their wizarding best, Ron and Harry think they are done for. They believe that they are completely unprepared, that they have nothing with them, no clothes, no money, nothing. But in fact, this is not the case. Hermione has with her a special bag, that she has been carefully preparing for weeks. She has her little beaded bag that contains everything that they need for their journey and she had it with her at the wedding. She had it with her at all times so she would be prepared for the instant in which the world changed, when they had to flee, when they had to embark upon a new journey, a new quest, that would lead them to an encounter with evil itself and bring them face-to-face with death so that Love might triumph and show how it is truly stronger than death.
In the Gospel of Matthew we read:
Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Clearly Hermione understood this principle. Clearly Hermione knew that the hour was at hand, clearly Hermione knew that
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.
And this is the message of the First Sunday of Advent.
We here at Saint Ignatius have been feasting for several weeks now, and not—if I may say so myself—without good reason. Since I arrived on the 21st of October, we have celebrated our Patronal Feast, All Saints Day (at least twice), baptised four children, celebrated the restoration of our beautiful festal altar frontal, and marked in the company of our bishop the official institution of my rectorship. We have listened to beautiful music, marched in procession, and shared wonderful food and drink in the parish hall.
Now the season has changed. Now the world looks different once again. Our feasting has been interrupted by the signs of the times. Advent has come upon us and we are called into a period of watchfulness, a period of greater austerity, a period in which we simplify our lives and prepare ourselves so we might be ready for the moment when God in Christ calls us to account, when God in Christ is with us once again and the power and brightness of His kingdom shine forth. In this season we are waiting and looking and watching not only for our annual celebration of the Incarnation, but we are looking for signs of Christ’s presence in the world around us, we are looking for signs that he is near.
In this season of Advent, we sing different music and we will not hear the great hymn of praise, Gloria in excelsis until we celebrate the feast of the Incarnation. In this season of Advent we wear simpler vestments (you will notice that the Deacon and Subdeacon do not wear the dalmatic and tuncile) and we wear the royal purple colour of the king for whom we wait in the midst of troubled times. Indeed, this is a king like no other. This is the king who is born in a stable, the king who is an itinerant preacher preaching reconciliation and repentance, who heals and reconciles, this is the king who is nailed to a tree, this is the king who shows us that love is stronger than death. But unlike Lent, Advent does not take us, clothed in sack cloth and ashes, to the foot of the Cross before showing us the joy of the Resurrection. Advent brings us to the manger, Advent brings us to the realisation that the child in the Manger, the vulnerable infant is also the King, brings us to the realisation that the historical Incarnation in first-century Judea and the continuing Incarnations of God in Christ in the Love we see enacted in the world, happen in surprising places and in the work of improbable people.
So while we wait and watch the signs and “for what its signs of promise are.” We prepare ourselves, in the words of today’s collect and Epistle, by, with the grace of God “cast[ing] away the works of darkness, and put[ting] upon us the armour of light, now on the time of this mortal life in which Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.” And in our preparations we do not merely hunker down, but we are “to wake from sleep,” practice our faith out in the world, and fulfill the law. As Paul wrote, “ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” We are to look for the Love of God in all the unusual places, look for the Love of God in the faces and actions of the stranger and in each encounter we have out there in God’s creation.
Advent calls us to be like Hermione Granger, ready at a moment’s notice to embark upon the journey that will bring us along on the path to the triumph of Love over death. I pray that we all may wake from our slumber, turn from our revelry, and focus upon the Emmanuel, God with us.
Andrew Charles Blume+
Nicholas Ferrar, 1 December 2007
©2007 Andrew Charles Blume