Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 21:1-13
Now it is high time to awake out of sleep…
Today we begin the new Christian year with the season of Advent (and our second year of worshipping officially as a church!).
Our colour has changed to purple to symbolize penitence.
Spiritually it is meant to be a time greater self-reflection, in quiet, to prepare ourselves inwardly for the great feast of Christmas.
Advent is a time to reflect on Christ’s first coming into the world.
We think also of his coming again in glory to judge the world at the end of time.
But foremost we think about his present coming to our soul to prepare us for glory.
Why in the world are we reading the Palm Sunday Gospel (normally read just before the passion of Christ) why are we reading it today?
In the Gospel, Jesus enters into Jerusalem on a donkey, humble, like king David did 1000 years before, and Jesus is lauded by the people as their king – the Son of David, who has been promised by God through the many prophets in the Old Testament – St Matthew speaks of it fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah - ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey’. People sang praises and laid down their clothing and branches of palms for Jesus to walk on. And the whole city, we are told, was in turmoil.
But immediately, instead of resting in the praises of some, Jesus goes to the very centre of the city and the centre of the religious life of Israel – he goes into the Temple.
And when Jesus arrives he makes a whip of cords and drives out all who are selling and buying in the Temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and those who sold doves.
To understand why we read this, we have to see the ancient connections between the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, the Temple in Jerusalem, and our own souls and bodies.
God dwells in heaven. And God desires that we dwell there too. He came to Israel and promised to dwell in their midst, first in the Tabernacle, while they were wandering to the Promised Land, and then, in the Temple in the holy city Jerusalem.
But God’s intent in calling for the building of the Tabernacle and then the Temple, was as a kind of preparation or temporary dwelling place until God could dwell even more closely with his people – in their very hearts.
This has now been made possible for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus – through which our hearts are purified by His blood and made a dwelling place for God.
Remember what St. Paul says in one of his letters, speaking to baptized believers:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? [1 Cor 3:16]
And elsewhere, he says,
What? do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? [1 Cor 6:19]
So when we read today of God the Son, entering into the Temple to cleanse it, we are to think of this Gospel as a kind of parable for Advent, not of the literal temple in Jerusalem, but of the true and final Temple of God, our hearts.
When Jesus entered the Temple in Jerusalem he found in it many who were not praying but trying to make money off the worshippers of God – he called them thieves.
What does Christ find, when he enters our hearts? Is it a place of prayer? Are we thinking the thoughts of God and willing what God wills? This is what prayer is – to want what God wants. And, that is what love is, because God’s will is love.
If you are at all like me (especially after a month of moving house and having a one year old!), you will discover that when you try to set aside everything to quiet your heart for prayer, that there is a storm of distracting thoughts and there are conflicting desires. There is less authentic prayer going on within our hearts and minds than is possible. Our hearts are a bit like that noisy unholy Temple in Jerusalem.
St. Paul says in today’s Epistle that the whole task of our heart’s desire is to be about love, but what we often end up doing instead is gratifying “the desires of the flesh”. And when we do this we are, in one sense, robbers – we have taken the desire, the love that God has put in our hearts for good, and used it for ill – our hearts are no longer a place of prayer but we make it into a den of thieves.
But I must clear up something. What does Paul mean by “the flesh”? He says, “make no provision for the flesh” – so obviously he is not talking about the body, because otherwise we would all be unhealthy and would starve to death. No, we must make provision for the body – but “the flesh” is a description of satisfying any desire that is outside of the law of God. St. Paul reminds us of the moral commandments - Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet and so one – they are all about loving our neighbour. And as Christians we know the spirit of these laws is not just to stop the outward act, but also is about the thoughts of our hearts – we are not to lust, or to hold anger inwardly, to be fixated on money, as if that was where happiness is found.
And when we violate these laws outwardly or in our thoughts, we hurt ourselves and our neighbour – our hearts have become a den of thieves. We are less human that we could be.
These high standards of the Law of love confound every one of us – it is like we have crashed into something, we see a confrontation, a turmoil as there was on the day when Jesus came into Jerusalem. Perhaps now we understand better that violent image on the bulletin today of Christ driving out the money changers – it describes our experience of unease in the face of Truth.
Listen to St Augustine’s experience, a man who really battled with his conversion – he believed but could not commit to giving up some aspects of his life that were not in conformity with the gospel: (read from Confessions Book VIII, part 12, the first three paragraphs.)
2 But when a profound reflection had, from the secret depths of my soul, drawn together and heaped up all my misery before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by as mighty a shower of tears. Which, that I might pour forth fully, with its natural expressions, I stole away from Alypius (his friend who was also discerning about becoming a Christian); for it suggested itself to me that solitude was fitter for the business of weeping. So I retired to such a distance that even his presence could not be oppressive to me. Thus was it with me at that time, and he perceived it; for something, I believe, I had spoken, wherein the sound of my voice appeared choked with weeping, and in that state had I risen up. He then remained where we had been sitting, most completely astonished. I flung myself down, how, I know not, under a certain fig-tree, giving free course to my tears, and the streams of my eyes gushed out, an acceptable sacrifice unto You. 1 Peter 2:5 And, not indeed in these words, yet to this effect, spoke I much unto You —But You, O Lord, how long? How long, Lord? Will You be angry for ever? Oh, remember not against us former iniquities; for I felt that I was enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries —How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?
I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, Take up and read; take up and read. Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. For I had heard of Antony (that is St Anthony the Great of the desert fathers), that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. Matthew 19:2l And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell —Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Romans 13:13-14 No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
We are called to introspection in Advent, but not so that we might feel guilty and bad about ourselves when we discover what is going on within.
Jesus knows more than anyone that this is the predicament of every human soul. He confronts each one of us, but not to condemn us, but rather to sanctify us, to lead us out of our current predicament step by step, truth by truth, as we can bear it, that we might become in time holy as he is holy.
Jesus is not angry with us but wants to make our hearts the paradise of God – His dwelling place. The place where there is a spring of water welling up within us to eternal life. The place of eternal Spring, of flowers, where prayer ascends as a sweet smelling incense to God and that fragrance of Christ is perceived by our neighbours in our encounters with them.
As we allow the Sun to rise within us, as we allow the Truth to invade us, then we are no longer asleep, stuck in vague uncertain dreams, but awake and alive, and the fuller reform of our lives can continue.
Owe no one anything, but to love one another.
It is high time to awake out sleep:
for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand.
Let us prepare our hearts now to receive Jesus our King, through repentance and faith.
The Collect for Advent:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.
Worship Address: Adventist Church, Boomberglaan 6, Hilversum
Mailing Address: Robijn 13, 3893 EN Zeewolde
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2