Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

The theme of this First Sunday in Advent is based upon the Latin word adventus, "coming, arrival, approach." The collect, epistle and gospel selection all reflect this theme in different ways, and throughout this season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, we focus on the various ways Christ comes to us. We think of the prophets who prepared the Hebrew people for His first coming. We also look to His second and final coming to complete earthly history and render judgment. And we think of His various comings into our lives.

Today's Epistle from Romans 13 ties together some of this ways that Christ comes to us. In Romans 13:11-12, the Apostle Paul writes, "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our 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."

Earthly history and human life move on. So the time of salvation for the faithful keeps drawing closer. Anticipation of Christ's final coming means that we must wake up in a spiritual sense. We must cast off our old fallen dark ways and put on the gracious goodness already offered by Christ, the armor of light. Or as Romans 13:14 says, "...put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ...."

Putting on Christ is another way of speaking of allowing Christ to come in, permeate and cover our moral and spiritual lives. The only way for us to prepare for Christ's final coming is to have Him already have come into our hearts, minds and souls many times to transform us into His likeness. Advent is a time on the church calendar when we try to be more aware of our need to have Christ come into our lives in a more profound manner, a time to rouse ourselves from spiritual lethargy and allow Christ to clothe us with His presence in new and deeper ways.

For last year's comment on Advent I, see

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

The theme for the day is admirably summarized in the Epistle from St. James 1: 17-
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights....

All human beings should give thanks for what God our Creator has provided in nature: food, shelter, clothing, human fellowship, etc. Christians have even more reason to give thanks because of the supernatural grace offered through Jesus Christ. The giving of thanks, Eucharist, is at the heart of Christian worship and community.

The Collect
O most merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For a different treatment of the theme, see last year's post:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sunday next before Advent

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and there have been various ways of dealing with it. Sometimes it has not been given special attention; some modern calendars have invented new observances such as the feast of Christ the King. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer went back to the Sarum tradition for the name of the day and for the collect and lessons. A popular medieval English name was "Stir up Sunday." This nickname comes from the opening words of the collect which says:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We see a similar theme in the liturgical epistle which is actually a selection from the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah 23:5 looks to the day when the LORD will raise up a new king to lead His people in justice and righteousness. Thus, both the collect and epistle point to the need for a new beginning.

As long as this world endures, human beings will always need new beginnings. Because of our fallen and sinful condition, we need for God to stir us up. We need to look to Christ our King to lead us into greater righteousness. We need His grace to renew in us those good works which are the fruits of faith.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle this Sunday is another in the series from Ephesians. In Ephesians 6:10-20, we have the famous imagery of the "whole armour of God." Although the details of the armor are interesting and important in themselves, the key issue is to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." There is no other source of spiritual power. The armor that defends the faithful is not some human construction or accomplishment; it is a divine gift through Jesus Christ. And that divine origin is the reason that we can have confidence in our deliverance. No matter how well-intentioned they may be, those who try to depend upon merely human virtue are fighting a loosing battle. Only divine strength can withstand the ferocious spiritual attacks of the devil and his allies. Thus, the ultimate offensive weapon always remains "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." This word is found in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ, our living Lord.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle from Ephesians 5:15-21 is part of a series of selections from this letter during this part of the Trinity season. In general, all of these selections have a two-pronged emphasis: sound doctrine about Christ and His Church and a Christian way of life. These two points are not separate because as the Apostle teaches repeatedly, a truly Christian way of life is a result of basic beliefs about God's redeeming work in Christ.

Ephesians 5:15 says, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise...." Here St. Paul begins an emphasis on wisdom. This is similar to certain points in Colossians (4:5 and 3:16-17). This is not some generic wisdom; it is the wisdom of the Christian walk or way of life. It stands in contrast to the general wisdom of the pagan world, which is really foolishness. The Christian wisdom that the Apostle promotes is based on the divine wisdom manifested in Jesus Christ.

Walking in such wisdom, Christians will be "redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). The world is fallen and corrupt, and Christians are to make the best use of the time. So in Ephesians 5:17, Paul exhorts,"Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is." The way to true wisdom is not through some pagan philosophy or some mysterious cult; the way to true wisdom is to know and follow God's will revealed in Scripture and most especially in Jesus Christ.

In Ephesians 5:18-20, the Apostle points out a few specific ways that wisdom is manifested: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;..." In 5:18, the reference to drunkenness may be more than a practical warning against the dangers of too much alcohol; it may be a contrast with the popular religious cult of the wine god, Bacchus or Dionysus. In any case, Christians are to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the channel of true wisdom. And they are not to be singing degraded worldly songs of pagans and drunks but holy songs praising God. Furthermore, their lives are to be characterized by giving thanks to God. Even the bad things in life can become opportunities through divine grace.

Finally in Ephesians 5:21, we see that following Christian wisdom means "submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God". This stands in contrast to worldly wisdom where any form of submission to others is a sign of weakness. And there are forms of submission that are results of moral weakness. We can't always "go with the flow" of a fallen world and a corrupt society. Christians must be strong in the Lord and refuse to endorse evil. Christ certainly exemplifies such strength. At the same time however, Christ also shows us how to submit to others in love. He humbled Himself to become a servant in order to offer salvation. Likewise, Christians must humble themselves in love in ways that contribute to the salvation of family, friends, neighbors and any others they encounter. A life characterized by such Christian submission to one another is a life filled with the highest wisdom.