Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the First Sunday of Advent (Year B), 2017.
The season of Advent began to take shape near the end of the fourth century. Its purpose then remains its purpose for us today: to prepare our hearts to receive the boundless significance of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Nativity of the Word of God as a child—to prepare our hearts to receive Our King with joy. As the prophet Isaiah teaches us: God meets him, that joyfully works righteousness. So Advent, not so much a transition but extension of the celebration of Christ the King, is a time of joy. Our Savior reigns, not only our hearts, but He reigns over all of nature, over all creatures.
This is why the Church wants us to hear the teaching of our loving Lord Jesus as captured in the thirteenth chapter of Saint Mark’s Gospel. Our Master is coming again into our hearts, but we do not know the hour, the day, the moment when He will come. So we are taught by Jesus to watch. That He will come, we can be assured by the teaching of the Church. You will find him, we are taught in the book of Deuteronomy, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. You will find Him because He comes to those who love Him, who call upon His holy Name. The King of all Creation comes to those who pray—fervently to be sure, but even more so, those who pray regularly, that is to say, daily. Advent is a time to commit and recommit ourselves to daily prayer, and the Book of Common Prayer provides all the resources one needs, save the Bible, for daily prayer.
That His disciples should always be watching was, by this time in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, not a hard sell. Jesus was so new and different to the world around Him that Mark tells us time and time again in the beginning of the Gospel how astounded people were at His ministry. When He performed the first miracle recorded by Mark, the rebuking of the unclean spirit in a man who came to Jesus as He was teaching in the synagogue, Mark says, “They all were amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching!’” Elsewhere Mark tells us the reaction of people to Jesus was that of “ecstacy,” which in the biblical context means being thrown into a deeper state of consciousness, a state of wonder, awe, and uncertainty in the face of new possibility.
The Church, then, with the season of Advent, intends to prepare us for the wonder, awe and new possibility. We have asked in our Collect for the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. The world that does not know Jesus Christ is filled with darkness of spirit, because only Jesus is the true light that enlightens every man. We must ask God for the grace to be witnesses to the light of Christ. The good news is that God will give us this grace, if we ask from a true heart that sings of the wonders of His love.
God wants us to be witnesses to the Light in Tazewell County. That, in the deepest sense, is why we are here. This is the purpose for our existence in Tazewell County, indeed the purpose for our two churches. God wants people to see us, hear us, get to know us, and in so doing, God wants those people to perceive a light in us that is new, that is joyful, that is peaceful, that even fills them with wonder, and fills them with love. Our Mission is a mission of joy and light. This is a light that sanctifies us and sets us free from all sin so that we are better able to spread the light of Christ to those around us.
So let us prepare Him room. Heaven and nature are always singing, and our singing joins with the heavenly choir of angels who unceasingly sing, Holy, holy, holy. Let us prepare Him the way Jesus’s mother prepared room for Him: by saying Yes to God: in our minds, in our hearts, in our words, in our actions, in who we are. We prepare room for Jesus each time we say Yes to Him. In the words of seventeenth-century Anglican Bishop Jeremy Taylor, let us pray:
O Holy and ever blessed Spirit, who did overshadow the Holy Virgin-Mother of our Lord, and caused her to conceive by a miraculous and mysterious manner; be pleased to overshadow our souls, and enlighten our spirits, that we may conceive the holy Jesus in our hearts, and may bear him in our minds, and may grow up to the fullness of the statue of Christ, to be a perfect person in Christ Jesus. Amen.