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Advent 1B

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor 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 Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Christians are strange folk. The language, the clothes (especially those collar-wearers), the commitment to inefficient practices like prayer and silence. Christianity very much lends itself to a kind of insularity where within a generation or two, any new group or movement of Christians has developed practices and patterns of speech that separate and divide (unfortunately) from other Christians and (less unfortunately) from the world.

The collect for Advent 1B begins guiding our prayer for this preparatory season in the direction of a special sort of Christian strangeness. “[C]asting off the works of darkness” and “put[ting] on the armor of light” is a bold prayer for an accommodated and comfortable church. It is a convicting prayer for a church accustomed to dealing with each other according to the legal habits that we learned from the world. By reorienting us toward the moment of our judgment and resurrection, our own lives and moral choices are placed within their proper context.

Rather than judging our public action (nonviolence, for example) by its usefulness for temporal political schemes, Isaiah reminds us that not only will the natural world tremble and quake, but the nations themselves will be brought to their knees. The Psalm and Epistle draw us more deeply into the person of the true King of Israel—a reality which is prefigured in David, revealed to be Jesus Christ and hoped for by his people who live lives of watching and waiting, empowered by the Spirit’s gifts for this time between the times. In all of these texts, the patient trust of the people of God becomes the practice that forms and presses a holy people to righteous living in a world of darkness. And it is a patience which is rooted in the utter faithfulness (1 Cor. 1:9) of Jesus, the Shepherd of Israel (Ps. 80:1). The Almighty and righteous God who lives and reigns forever is, truly, the root of our action and not the temporary whims or quickly fading structures and administrations of this world.

The most incongruous portion of these passages and the collect for me is the insistence in Scripture on the judgment that is coming while the prayer refers to Christ’s coming “in his glorious majesty.” I confess that I am accommodated to the culture I live in on this point. I struggle to confess that the coming judgment is a revelation of glory and majesty. But this truly is the witness of Scripture and the Church and I hope that this week, we recover some of that witness so that our strangeness can be felt enough to compel us to embrace the light before it arrives in its fullness. I pray that we will receive and proclaim this judgment as good news whose expectation develops in us righteousness to the glory and majesty of God Almighty.

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