Rev. Charles Hoffacker
A new church year begins today.
For the next several minutes let us look at the prayer we offered at the start of this service. It has much to tell us about this day, this new year, and the entirety of the Christian life. Whether it is familiar to you or not, hear again this single sentence known as the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent.
give us grace
that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which thy Son 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 the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth
with thee and the Holy Ghost,
now and for ever. Amen.
This collect initially appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the first English Prayer Book, and has been prayed by countless people over four and a half centuries. From 1662 until the current 1979 Prayer Book, it was repeated daily throughout Advent Season. Based in Scripture, this powerful prayer has exercised and continues to exercise an important influence upon God’s people.
Let us explore it in more detail. This collect amounts to a request, a plea, for what we need, and it is directed to God, who hears our prayers. We offer the collect through Christ, confident that our victorious brother Jesus, the eternal divine Son, now reigns as one God with the Father and the Spirit and will do so throughout eternity.
Give us grace, we ask, for two complementary tasks that lie before us. First, to cast away the works of darkness. Second, to put on the armor of light. We beg grace from God as we cannot accomplish these monumental tasks on our own; we do not have that strength.
But what are the works of darkness? What is the armor of light?
A passage in Paul’s Letter to the Romans which is foundational to this prayer specifies only some of the many works of darkness. They include “reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy.”1 It’s not hard to imagine others, but do not let them grasp your imagination here in this holy place.
1 Romans 13:13.
2 Ephesians 6:13-17.
What comprises the armor of light? Near the end of his Letter to the Ephesians,
Paul admonishes us in stirring terms to take up the entirety of God’s armor so that we can withstand every threat that comes upon us. This equipment includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that help communicate the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit.2
Cast away the works of darkness. Put on the armor of light. And when, with the help of God, are we to perform these two tasks? The answer is: NOW. Now in the time of this mortal life. Mortal life! That sounds like a contradiction. Yet that is where we are. Constantly we witness life interrupted by death, by mortality.
We need to cast off dark works and put on bright armor with God’s help. And we must do so now and in every new now that comes to us in the flow of time.
This collect not only identifies now as the time of mortal life, of death in life, but also identifies now as something else: as the time in which Jesus came to visit us, born for us, active among us, suffering for us. That time centuries ago is mortal life along with time present.
He came in humility then. He comes in humility today. Be alert. Do not miss his visit with us.
Pray to recognize it. Remember words from a popular Christmas carol:
“O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.”3
3 “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
4 Mark 13:24-25, 27.
Christ came in humility. Christ repeatedly comes in humility. What we must do is repeatedly open our hearts.
Now we move from the first half of this collect to the second half. We move from what has happened and does happen and can happen in this familiar life to what will happen when this life is finally exhausted and surrenders to something different. The word “that” is the pivot, the hinge. We ask for grace now, in this mortal life, that something may happen at the last day.
We beg for grace, hoping for the fulfillment of that grace. We dare to ask for what some call incredible: that we may rise, that we may resurrect, to a life as yet unknown to us, except as we encounter it in the resurrected Christ. We ask that by grace we may rise to this life immortal.
And when will our resurrection occur? When Jesus comes again. Once he arrived in humility. Then he will come in glorious majesty.
Today’s gospel announces that arrival, when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Christ “will send out his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”4
This language has been understood in ways cosmic, environmental, political, and in other ways. Often this language has been discarded rather than understood.
Should it be taken literally, whatever that means? This language is poetry, and poetry, which is language with many layers, should not be dismissed as “just poetry.” This language, this poetry is gospel proclamation. Whether taken literally or not, it needs, more importantly, to be taken seriously.
Our mortal life is finite. Our mortal world is finite. Although in a sense he has never left, Jesus is due to come back, when we do not know.
Stay awake. His coming will seem sudden. This final coming will be a tremendous event and not everyone will welcome it for it will constitute a judgment on all our human ways.
But like his earlier advent in humility, this later coming of Jesus in power and great glory will be an occasion of joy for those able to welcome him. Its promise is eternal life, sorrow replaced by joy.
So in this splendid collect, this long and single sentence, we have a map for Advent Season, for our lives, and for the entire human project. Only one part of it remains tentative, conditional. Will we accept the grace that God so readily bestows? Will we indeed cast away the works of darkness and put on ourselves the armor of light?
Allow me to offer this practical suggestion. Starting today and continuing through the Advent Season, each of us can practice casting away of the works of darkness by a focus on throwing out one sort of dark work. And starting today and continuing through the Advent Season, each of us can practice putting on the armor of light by a focus on taking up one piece of bright armor.
So I invite you, before you leave this place today, to determine what sort of dark work you will cast away, and what piece of bright armor you will put on.
Commit yourself to asking God’s help in all of this, even as today’s collect begs for divine grace.
The dark work and the bright armor you focus on may not be among those from the New Testament mentioned earlier. That is just fine. You can discern appropriate choices. Writing down these two items may make them more real to you.
If each of us does this, however imperfectly, throughout the Advent Season, then I have no doubt that Advent will be a season of transformation for us and gladness will shine a bit more brightly.
give us grace
to cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light.
Rev. Dominique Peridans
An-other unsettling parable.
Last week: the bridegroom rejects the five bridesmaids— foolish.
This week: the master rejects the slave who did not invest his
money— wicked and lazy.
Next week: the Son of Man rejects those who neglect the
Jesus seems to be on a rejection roll,
which doesn’t square with the Jesus that I know.
What is Jesus really saying?
Applying this parable literally would lead to the conclusion
that God is a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
Some of us perhaps sometimes go there in our heads!
“Oh my, how I have wasted the talents; I am doomed!”
Upon first reading, this parable is an unsettling story.
A rich man entrusts his property—his money.
A talent is a measure of money equivalent to 6000 denarii.
One denarius was a day’s wage.
And so, the man entrusts 99 years worth to servant #1,
33 years worth to servant #2 and 16 ½ years worth to servant #3.
An outrageous amount of money—without any instructions.
Now, the average person
would probably simply do his/her best to keep the money safe.
He/she would not risk investment.
Consequently, the choice of the third servant seems to be the wise
—especially given the known harshness of the rich man!
And so what happens?
He is thoroughly excoriated:
“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness,
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Excuse me!??!? Thrown into darkness for being prudent?
Is God harsh? Can God be a bully at times?
God may seem to be harsh.
There is the story of Saint Teresa of Avila (+1582), Spanish Carmelite
nun, making her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm,
slipping down an embankment and falling squarely into the mud.
The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her
"If this is how You treat Your friends,
no wonder why You have so few of them!”
God may seem to be harsh
—given the complexity of our lives and the unavoidability of pain.
This too, however, is somehow a revelation of God who is king,
of God whom we know, in faith, to be love.
In actuality, God cannot act contrary to Who He is,
and thus cannot act contrary to love.
God does not make bad things happen.
He sure as heck allows a lot of bad things to happen,
which is mysterious and trying and perhaps upsetting and
I know that I repeat myself when I say:
we always read Scripture in reference to the theological truth
that God is love, bearing in mind that Jesus sometimes speaks
in deliberately exaggerated terms to reveal this.
God acts with intensity—like harshness, but it the intensity of love.
And the higher the stakes, the greater the intensity with which God
In other words, the more intimate the matter, or the more awesome
the greater the vulnerability of God,
and thus the more intense the action of God.
The “harsh” cleansing of the Temple, for example,
was an act of love by Jesus.
What is Jesus really saying?
Perhaps the detail to be applied, the key in the parable,
is the entrusting of something precious.
The kingdom of God entails God, the King, entrusting something
precious that He would like to see grow and bear fruit.
And this something He entrusts with a corresponding sense of
What does God entrust?
In the end, God never “entrusts” anything less than Himself.
God entrusts His inner riches, i.e. His life, and thus His love.
Perhaps, response of the rich man serves well, in its exaggeration,
to underscore the unbelievable preciousness of what we have been
and how our refusal, in a mysterious way, impacts God.
Think of a time when you were impacted when, with love,
you entrusted a precious gift to someone
that was subsequently carelessly ignored or even rejected.
I have shared this story before: 5 th grade, Nikki Booth. Big Crush.
And, we had a field trip one day, and I mustered the nerve,
as we boarded the bus, to give her a ring, symbol of my feelings for
It was a cheap ring that was precious to me.
The day seemingly went well; enjoyed being together.
After we alighted the bus, she walked directly to the nearest trash-can
and tossed the ring in it.
I still haven’t recovered—obviously!
It is infinitely greater with God…
Now, we sometimes close ourselves to the gift of God out of fear.
We think God is perhaps a harsh bully who enjoys damning people.
The third servant “mismanaged” because he feared the rich man.
The first two servants did not fear.
We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to see God as He truly is.
If ever we have pulled back from the gift out of fear
or ignored or misused the gift out of self-absorption,
all we must do is acknowledge our failing, which opens our hearts,
which opens us to God’s merciful embrace.
Let us be embraced this day, this morning.
And, let us ask that this gift, which is not our own, transform us,
and that we communicate it to others—with a sense of God’s
Zachary Baker Rodes
Year A, Proper 27
Let us always seek the truth, whence it comes, cost what it may. Amen.
Brothers and sisters, as we make our march towards Advent, the lectionary gives us a series of complex yet engaging Gospel texts which call for us to pay special attention. Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year and therefore could be seen as a sort of new year. So, as we already take into account the ending of 2020, we can also view this new year of Advent as a way to make spiritual or faith-based resolutions. We should carefully consider, then, what every week’s readings could be telling us for this year. For this week, I am sure many of us are feeling like that last line in Thessalonians. Maybe it would be preferable to be caught up in the clouds to meet our Lord than to do anything else right now. This is not the 2020 we expected, and I am comfortable speaking for most to say that we can’t wait to say goodbye. But remember, things will not go back to normal, whatever that means, suddenly on the first Sunday of Advent or January 1. We need to stay alert and so as we move into this week, let us carefully consider what’s presented to us today.
Let’s start at the end of the parable. Keep awake Jesus tell us; we are to be alert and watchful for the coming of the Lord, or we neither know the day nor the hour. He tells us this a lot, doesn’t he? He proclaims this twice just before in Chapter 24. But this is not some sort of obsessiveness in watching, for all the bridesmaids fall asleep. Augustine remarks that the five wise who did fall asleep, fell asleep knowing their light would shine bright even in some rest. He writes, “No coldness of love then crept over them. In them love did not grow cold. Love preserves its glow even to the very end.” We are followers of Jesus Christ and in being followers of Jesus we are to simply have our oil ready. We can fall asleep, we can go about our personal affairs, but our mind is to be set on this, the preparing of the oil. That is to say that having our oil prepared means we are ready to meet Christ in all and at the Parousia, the second coming. However, what this means is a radical shift in our understanding that we as Christians live into this apocalyptic reality Christ is presenting to us. More on that in a moment.
But preparing is hard, isn’t it? Sometime in middle school I tried to be a Boy Scout. Their motto as maybe most of you know is “be prepared”. How practical, yet also how difficult it is sometimes. I grew up in a family that went camping for vacation, so I grew up with my own sense of preparedness that was much less rigid than the Boy Scout guidebook. As a parable of preparedness, we are called to reflect on how exactly we are preparing and what or whom we are preparing for. We know the answer to the second question, we are preparing for Jesus’ return, as this is a parable ultimately about the day of his coming. How, then, are we preparing? Rather, self-reflectively, how am I preparing? That is the question I wish to pose to you today and only one you can answer. But to emphasize, this is not about fretting over our works and faith and worrying about the end times. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses or other end times sects whose literalism is caught up in fanatical worry. But as I said, it seems there is something there that we must dwell on.
This parable is considered an apocalyptic one. That is, of course, dealing with revelation. In it, Jesus is calling for us to be prepared and, in this preparedness we are alert and watchful. We live into this firstly as being baptized into Christ, we are baptized into the love of Christ that transforms us to transform the world in this love. This is the hope of the Gospel in which we find what is means to be Christian. Early church father Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It is in this fullness of life in Christ that we supply our oil. In the face of all of this, this parable, as apocalyptic as it is, is also a parable of hope found in its apocalyptic nature, which is to say a revelatory underpinning. It is in God that we find our truth and life as Christians, whose reality, as reveled through Jesus Christ, transcends history and whose light, poured into us by the Holy Spirit, casts away the darkness of the world; it is the oil in our lamps which helps this light burn.
20th century French lay theologian and scholar, Jacques Ellul, says something stronger which I wish to raise up. Writing in his theological tour de force, Presence of the Modern World, he says, “The only vision Christians can have of the world they live in is an apocalyptic one.” He writes just before this that, “we must indeed consider the present moment as apocalyptic, which is to say the final moment before judgment and pardon.” This is keeping watch! But we know too that Jesus comes to us all the time, not just in the fullness of time. He is our neighbor, the street person, the political opposite, the lowly, and the unborn. His creation is our dominion over which we have the responsibility to care. In all these things are moments full of judgment and pardon, moments of revelation of God’s love not just for us, but for all his creation. We are to see and to seek Christ in all things and in so doing so we are faced with an apocalyptic reality: we come face to face with the revelation of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.
In this revelation we thus encounter as Christians the apocalyptical reality of what our faith is. For having been baptized into Christ, we are now called to live into this reality. At this alter, I dare say we are nourished by this apocalypse. In the bread and wine, as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are fed in substance and in spirit everything we need through this revelation. This is the sustenance of the reality of being members of the Body of Christ. Being in Christ as Paul mentions throughout his letters, including in today’s letter to the Thessalonians, means we have faith in Christ and it is his love that transforms our reality. This faith is a faith with profound implications. Matthew is chalk full of these implications, of course not just Matthew but the entirety of the Gospel lays it out for us, that is the Gospel! The Good News of God’s Incarnation as Jesus the Nazarene, who has brought God’s reality to us. We know we are called to love through faith in Christ! But are we wise or are we foolish? Our imperfection leads us sometimes to feel we are foolish, but in Christ we are led to be wise. We will make mistakes, we will sin, that is not the foolishness Matthew writes of. But God’s love and grace for us is ever present when we stand back up and turn again towards him.
What does all this mean for us right now and right here? Everything! It means that when we are dismissed today, our worship of praise, thankfulness, and sacrifice is poured forth out into the street and into the body politic. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, healing the sick, friending the friendless, and helping the widowed and orphaned as well as proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and thanking and praising him; and preaching in all of this God’s love for us and his redemption through a reality radically different than our own, which is enmeshed in the world, at odds with God. Then again it isn’t so much about the oil, though important, but about the fire it produces. The oil of our lamps produces light to the world which so often hides in darkness. This is what we present to Christ the bridegroom at his coming whether we meet him on earth or at his return.
My brothers and sisters, as we move into each moment through God’s grace, let us be moved to prayer, to charity, to compassion, to worship and praise and knowledge of God’s love for us. Above all let our oil burn as the light of revelation of God’s love so that those who may need it the most bring their oil to the feast that God calls us to. Through God’s grace may it be so. Amen.