Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Social justice, economic justice, environmental justice. These are terms common in modern debate, commentary, and activism. The definitions involved cover broad ranges that may variously encompass matters like gender, race, sexuality, religious identity, or just about any other distinction the user of the term may choose to name. (Remember all the Marxist debates about class origins?) The Church has certainly participated in these debates, and in actions taken by some to seek to “do” justice. Indeed, in our baptismal vows we promise to “strive for justice … among all people” (BCP 305). But let’s consider that in our vows we speak of justice without any qualifying term! This poses the question, “How does my concept of justice (whoever I may be) relate to the justice which is God’s will?” The real question becomes whether my concept of justice (again, whoever I may be) aligns with the model prayer given to us by Jesus, in which we pray to God, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven …” We are given this model, in part, to focus us on the need to seek and invoke God’s will, because it is in all times and places, and amongst all degrees of opinion, that projecting our own wills and thinking these to be God’s remains easy.
Prayer redirects us from our own wills to that of God. In this season of Advent we enter a time of focus upon the “not yetness” of the coming of God’s kingdom. In prayer we focus on seeking God’s will, on trusting that (as we prayed on the last Sunday of the Church year, the Feast of Christ the King) it is His will “to restore all things in [God’s] well-beloved Son …”. We pray on the First Sunday of Advent for grace to now (and not just in some indeterminate future) “put on the armor of light”. It is when we put upon ourselves—both as individuals and as the Church—the armor of light that the restoration of all things in God’s Son is furthered. It is when we put upon ourselves the armor of light that God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, how is it that we put this light upon ourselves?
The first thing to notice in our prayers is that the focus must always be on God’s will. The light is found in God’s will, just as St. John teaches us (1 Jn. 1.5), “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” To do God’s will we must seek it, and a trajectory for this is mapped out for us in the collect prayers for the Sundays of the season. We begin on Advent I, as noted, in seeking the light by first casting away “the works of darkness”. In our preparation for the coming of the Lord, we begin by turning from the way of the world to the Way of God. This trajectory continues in the prayer for Advent II, that having turned we may now “heed [the] warnings” of the prophets and “forsake our sins”, trusting that (as prayed on Advent III) the Lord will come “with great might” among us to “help and deliver us”. Finally, on Advent IV our prayer completes this pathway by invoking the reality that—having turned, having heeded, having trusted—we may become “a mansion prepared for [Jesus]”.
The trajectory described in prayer is dramatic, and as we “prepare the way of the Lord” in Advent, it is a good time to describe both what we turn from and what we turn to. This conversion of life is described more fully by The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church as The Way of Love, and embodiment of a Jesus-centered life. (Bp. Curry will be the key note speaker and revivalist at our 2019 diocesan convention!) The Way of Love is described by the Presiding Bishop to include:
- Turn Pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.
- Learn Reflect on Scripture each day, especially Jesus’ life and teachings.
- Pray Dwell intentionally with God each day.
- Worship Gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and draw near God.
- Bless Share faith and unselfishly give and serve.
- Go Cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.
- Rest Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
Further details can be found at www.episcopalchurch.org/wayoflove, or text WAYOFLOVE to 51555.
Advent is about focus! Now is the time to reëngage in ways that continue beyond Christmas. And it can be simple. The fact that dramatic language (e.g., armor of light) is used need not make the challenge too steep, for we face the challenge by means of God’s grace. To put on the armor of light is as simple as continuing in a rule of life, whether this rule is The Way of Love or the fundamentally similar diocesan Rule of Life (found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2Nl1AGQprDOcDVTVW1MT3E4MkU/view). In the “eternal new year” of new life in Christ, one resolution that we can both make and keep is to seek God’s will in how our daily routine is structured, for when we encounter God’s will it is done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg