May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen
It’s here at last, Advent has begun. The season of watching and waiting, the season of preparation. And this morning’s Gospel reading reminds us of the urgency of watching for the signs of the kingdom – because there is a strong sense of the unexpected nature of the arrival of the Son of Man. We’ve probably all seen the pictures of Pompeii, lives in the middle of being lived, preserved by the ash of Mount Etna. And the arrival of the Son of Man will be even more unexpected than the eruption of a volcano.
We’ve grown used to the fact that the end of the world is not as immanent as the early Christians believed. But Paul’s advice of how to live remains good. He lists a few things he thinks the Roman Christians really ought to avoid, and tells them to live honourably. But he also tells them to put on the armour of light. Implicit in this instruction is the expectation of attack. Jews living in Rome had already been instructed to leave by the Emperor Claudius because of rioting at the instigation of “Chreestus”. Scholars believe this was a corruption of the word “Christ”. In other words infighting between Jews and Jewish Christians had resulted in a much larger attack from a far mightier earthly power than was possible from within a synagogue. Everyone associated with the synagogue had been forced to leave the city, and they were only gradually being allowed back as Paul wrote this letter. The Christians able to remain in Rome were those who were of Gentile origin.
There are parallels here with the Exile from the Promised Land to Babylon. There, the top 20% of the Jewish population had been removed, the organizers and overseers, and sent to Babylon, to be replaced with the top 20% of another conquered people. The Jews in Babylon thought they had preserved the ‘true faith’ and we can safely assume those left behind thought the same. You only have to read the book of Ezra (and it is quite short) to see the effects of the return, and of how the two different factions got on.
The separation of the Roman Christians was far shorter, a matter of a couple of years, but the effects were perhaps not dissimilar – and so to Paul’s reminder. “Live honourably” – live a decent Christian life. And put on the armour of light – because the battles are not between different kinds of Christians, but between the powers of Good and Evil.
It’s a reminder we do well to remember today. There are plenty of squabbles between Christians who are too high, too low, too gay, too straight, too female, too male. It all distracts us from the mission of sharing the Gospel. We become like the owner of the house who fails to guard his home. Advent is here. Now is our chance in the darkness, to put on the armour of light, take a good look at our lives, and make sure they are lived honourably, to the glory of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some 8 o’clock services of BCP Holy Communion are more memorable than others. This one was unforgettable, so I have posted this homily to mark the day. Thanks be to God.