Advent I.  November 29, 2020.  St. Stephen’s, Athens.

Romans 13, verse 14 – But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ….

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Our collect and epistle today are built around a series of contrasts or opposites.  We hear about ‘works of darkness’ and the ‘armour of light’; ‘this mortal life’ and ‘the life immortal’; ‘great humility’ and ‘glorious majesty’; ‘the quick’ and ‘the dead’; ‘night’ and ‘day’; ‘sleep’ and ‘to awake’.  The pivot that moves us from the one side of these opposites to the other is spoken of in two main ways.  The first way is put in the first request made in the collect:  that Almighty God would ‘give us grace’.  God’s grace is what strengthens and enables us to ‘cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light’.  Grace is a free gift from God of new life that lets us move from darkness to light, from night to day, from death and dying to life unending.

In my text from Romans 13 Saint Paul speaks of this pivot or movement in a second way with a figure or symbol.  Paul tells the Romans to ‘put…on the Lord Jesus Christ’.  The verb here, ‘put on’, is something we say in English about dressing.  Mom tells you to put on a sweater because it’s cold outside; or to put on something nicer looking because the occasion is more formal.  The Greek verb also, enduō, meaning ‘to put on’, refers often to clothing and dressing.  When Paul tells us to ‘put…on the Lord Jesus Christ’, he is speaking as if Christ were a garment – a cloak or coat or something else we might wear.   

Now one notable thing about clothing is that it both is and is not part of us.  Clothing has to be ‘put on’, but once it’s on we often don’t think much about it.  It becomes a part of us.  A newborn baby is unclothed.  But the newborn is almost immediately cleaned up then clothed to keep warm.  From that point on clothing is normal in most circumstances.  By nature the baby may come forth naked into the world.  But healthy and happy life in the world means people need to ‘put on’ something to be warm enough and comfortable in the world.  What Saint Paul tells us is that we will not be right until we are clothed in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I have a friend who says, ‘When people dress better they tend to behave better.’  Now I am sure many bad things have been done by people in nice business suits, and no doubt many unkind things have been said by people in lovely evening wear.  But as a rule, I think my friend is right.  In terms of my text, if we have ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, we will be more likely to behave well, to behave as Christians should behave. 

This verb, enduō, ‘put on’, occurs twice in today’s epistle.  In addition to telling the Romans that they should put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul also tells them to ‘put on the armour of light’.  This is the same verb, ‘put on’, enduō.  The opposite of ‘cast off the works of darkness’ is to ‘clothe yourself in the armour of light’ or, as our translation says, to ‘put on’ the ‘armour of light’.  We start out in this fallen world of ours spiritually naked, not clothed, in a fallen state in which we are inclined towards selfishness.  We begin in the realm of shadows and of darkness.  If we do not receive God’s grace and put on the armour of his light, then we remain in this original obscurity, in a shadowy and insubstantial world in which we are turned in upon ourselves, alienated from the life of God and of his peace and joy.  But in the new life of grace, we are transferred, translated, moved from one side of those contrasting pairs with which I began to the other side:  from darkness to light, from death to life, from this world into the world to come.

For many of us the transition from the one side of these various opposites to the other began unconsciously.  It occurred, or at least began, when we were baptized, quite possibly as infants.  At our baptism the seed of the new life of grace was planted in us and the channels of grace into our souls were opened up.  In such a case the beginning of grace was assumed as unconsciously as is the little cap and first clothes put on a newborn to keep her warm. 

Paul, however, in his letters is mostly writing to adult converts.  For adults converts the beginning of grace may well be much more dramatic than for a child who grows up surrounded by real Christian influences.  Sometimes adult conversions involve an emotional and biographical upheaval.  In our gospel today Saint Matthew tells us that ‘when [Jesus] was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved’.  The word here translated as ‘moved’ is rare and means a profound agitation or disturbance.  It is a word often used in Greek for what earthquakes do.  The same word occurs, for example, later at the crucifixion where Matthew tells us that when Christ died ‘the earth did quake’ or was moved, ‘and the rocks [were] rent’.  So when Matthew tells us that on Palm Sunday ‘all the city was moved’, he means that a kind of spiritual earthquake hit the city when Christ entered its gates.  For adult converts, and sometimes for adult Christians who have strayed and then returned to the faith, conversion or reconversion is less like the quiet, happy dressing of a new baby and more like the mental upheaval and spiritual earthquake Christ brought to Jerusalem.  But in either case, whether it comes gently or dramatically, whether it is a quiet, almost unconscious maturing of something begun in infancy or is a radical alteration of life, we are called from darkness to life, from worldliness into the serious Christian commitment, from a life centered on myself to a life given to others:  from, in brief, death to life.

Today we begin the new Church year with the first Sunday in Advent.  As the secular year often begins with resolutions, so the Church year – though we hope our Advent resolutions fare better than all too often do our secular resolutions to go to the gym or to lose 15 pounds.  In either case, today as we begin to prepare for the anniversary of our Lord’s birth, we should also resolve to be better Christians and better churchmen:  to be more disciplined in our prayer life, kinder to friends and neighbors and coworkers and to strangers, and more devoted to the sacraments by which God feeds us continually with spiritual meat and drink.  Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Clothe yourselves in the armour of light, the glory of the Lord.  Cleave to Christ.  Lead the life of grace through which our lives gain eternal meaning and by which grace even in the midst of this world’s present humility, we  glimpse the glorious majesty of the life of the world to come. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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