THE GOSPEL. S. Matthew 21. 1-13
“The night is far spent”
There are degrees of darkness. There is the literal darkness of the night in the twilight of the year. There is the metaphorical darkness of civilisations and cultures in their decay and disarray. There is the social and economic darkness of communities and families in their distress and dismay. There is the darkness of institutions when they betray their foundational and governing principles. There is the darkness of souls in psychological confusion - distraught, anxious, angry and fearful. The “far spent night” is the hour of deepest darkness.
In one way or another, these darknesses are all forms of spiritual darkness. They all belong to the darkness of sin and doubt, the darkness of death and dying, the darkness of despair. The darkness of despair is the deepest darkness, the darkness of the “far spent night” of the soul, the darkness of darkness itself, as it were. Why? Because it is the darkness of denial. Despair is the denial of desire. It signals the rejection of the possibilities of light, of faith; the rejection of the possibilities of hope, of what is looked for; and the rejection of the possibilities of love, of what is embraced in the knowing delight of what is good and true, of what is holy and beautiful.
Advent begins in the quiet darkness of the year, to be sure. But Advent looks to the coming of the light. It is the season of revelation - our knowing in faith what God reveals to us. It is the season of hope - our looking to God in holy expectation. It is the season of love - our embrace of God’s love coming towards us.
It belongs to the spiritual nature of Advent to name the darkness; the darkness within and without. To do so is to be alive to the possibilities of grace and salvation. It means to know ourselves, not simply in the darkness, but through the darkness in the greater light of God.
To name the darkness is to name our need. That is part of the awakening. We look beyond ourselves, beyond the darkness which we so often find within ourselves. We look to God. Advent is the strong reminder of the necessity of our looking to God. But it is our looking to God in his coming towards us. Ultimately, we can only truly name the darkness in his light. He is the light which defines the darkness. The darkness does not define the light.
Advent reminds us of God’s coming to us. It reminds us of the light that is greater than the darkness. Advent is simply the coming of God towards us. There is his coming “then” at “the fullness of time”, “when” all things were ready. There is his coming “now” in the grace-ordered forms of our lives, in Word and Sacrament and in the forms of grace which flow out into our lives in acts of kindness and service and sacrifice. There is his coming “at the end of time”, for each of us individually “at the hour of our death” and for all of us collectively.
These comings - these Advents of God - are themselves judgment and salvation. The darknesses are judgment. But to know the darkness is also to know salvation. The salvation is the light which encompasses and gathers the darkness into itself. There is at once a deepening of the darkness and an intensification of the light.
Advent reminds us of the light of salvation. It is about our being found in God’s knowing love for us. It signals that coming of God towards us so that we might begin again in faith, in hope and in love. There is simply our looking towards the one who comes.
In the great gospel for this day, Christ comes to Jerusalem. He enters the city triumphantly. It is a royal procession. The King has come to his own city. All is light and grace and glory, it seems. “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”, the multitudes that went before, and that followed cry, both those who went before, them, and those that followed, us. But is it not that “he came unto his own and his own received him not”, as we shall hear again at Christmas? “Who is this?”, the whole city was moved to say with wonder and in perplexity. We know the story. The King - God’s own Word and Son - will be rejected. All that is light and life ends in darkness and death, it seems; the darkness of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the darkness of the cross and the grave.
And yet, this will be the real triumph, the entry of the King into the things of his own. He will reign from the tree. Through the darkness of our sin and death, through the darkness of our rejection and denial of him, through the darkness of the “far spent night”, the darkness of our despair named in him -“my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” – will come the greater light of salvation.
Advent not only reminds us of his coming but deepens our understanding of its meaning. It intends that we might come to know more fully and more truly the one who has come to us. His coming names our darkness in the greater light of his love. Advent is our wake-up call. It means to look again towards him who comes knowing our darkness, the darkness of our refusal and rejection of him.
He wants us to know the darkness of the “far spent night” in light of his grace, the grace of his coming towards us. He has embraced our darkness in his love. He has made a path of light for us through the darkness, even the darkness of the “far spent night”. He comes that we might know and receive him even through the darkness of our refusals to receive him. He comes “unto his own” in the greater power of his light and grace, making a way to him even through the patterns of our sin-twisted lives. His coming calls us to repentance; this is the royal way of Advent.
“The night is far spent”, to be sure, but “the day is at hand; let us therefore cast of the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light”. The light of Christ awaits us.
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church/Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,