Spiritual warfare. The Day of Judgment. The Return of the King. Darkness before the coming of the Dayspring. These themes recur on pages 157-272 of Advent, in the second of my reflections on this collection of Pre-Advent and Advent sermons. These sermons cover the three Sundays before Advent, and the first of the Advent Sundays.
Spiritual warfare. Rutledge exposits, “save us in the time of trial, and deliver us from the evil one,” from the Lord’s prayer. These phrases would have made ready sense to believers from many ages. We want to be saved from trial. For many, they have been saved in the time of trial. We pray about adversity and hard times. Rutledge reminds us of the cosmic warfare and the personal power of evil opposing God and those who would claim allegiance to him.
The Day of Judgment. Rutledge invites us not to suppress the preaching of such a day, but to actually love the day of judgement. Why? For one, when we glimpse the terrible evils of the world, we do not want the perpetrators to continue with impunity, that a world without judgment would be worse than hell. But this is no invitation to smugness. “The time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God.” Judgment bids us to repent and to look with joy upon the one who alone can cover and forgive sin and save us through judgment.
The Return of the King. The Feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to return. In one sermon in this section Rutledge asks two questions: Whom do we want to be ruler of our lives? Whom do we want to be ruler of this world of Sin and Death? If we are honest, we have to admit that the answer to the first question is often ourselves. The answer to the second is often, is the world really that bad? As we approach Advent, we ask, do we really want a King, and do we want one whose coming means the extinction of sin and death.
Darkness. One of Rutledge’s first sermons is titled “Advent Begins in the Dark.” Anglican churches have no decorations until Christmas. Only when the one who is the Dayspring comes, is it appropriate for light to shine out from the church. It is the shortest time of the year. It is the darkness of the absence of God, of awaiting God’s coming. It is the parable of the doorkeeper charged to stay awake watching for the master. Drawing on the title of another sermon, it is “The Advent Life for Nonheroic People.”
Every step we take in this world is a step toward either darkness or light. Every harsh word, every mean act, every vengeful thought is a part of the world of darkness. Every act of forgiveness, every small act of charity, every temptation resisted is a piece of the armor of light.
All of this increases my longing for the King, and my wonder that such a King came first to die, and returns to judge, and save, and reign. It all increases my sense of dependence on the King–for the power to resist to the end the Evil One, for conviction leading to repentance and grace, for the coming of the King who is the light shining out of the darkness.