Advent and House-Building

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 31 (Morning)
Psalm 35 (Evening)
Haggai 1:1-15
Rev. 2:18-29
Matt. 23:27-39

Advent and House-Building

There is a debate in the Anglican communion—or, at least there was once upon a time—about whether Advent is a penitential season. The tide seems to have turned toward “no”: During Advent, the vestments and the altar cloths are a lovely teal, rather than the somber purple used during Lent, and, come on, no one wants to do penance—to engage in self-mortification or atonement for sin—during a season that highlights Saint Nick, gift-giving, and cozy fireplace scenes—not to mention holiday parties and eggnog! (For any fellow word nerds out there: “penance” derives from the present participle of the Latin verb “paenitere,” to feel sorrow or regret.)

Well, I don’t know about all o’ y’all, but today’s readings, particularly the passage from Matthew, strike me as encouraging stark self-examination. In Matthew, Jesus rails against the scribes and Pharisees, those hypocritical preachers who distort Mosaic law by preaching—and demonstrating—outward show rather than inward grace. They are like whitewashed sepulchres that get painted once a year not for ceremonial cleansing but just for simple beautification. And he warns his followers that if they adhere to the practices of the scribes and Pharisees, “you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” Jesus announces that he will send “prophets and sages and teachers,” but Jerusalem will chase them out of the synagogue and kill and flog some of them. As a result, “your house [will be] left to you desolate.”

Whether we see this passage as an invitation to contrition and penitence or not, I hope we can all resonate with the prophet Haggai that now, this season of Advent, is the time for us to look deeply into our souls and to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s house to be built.

Written by David Jolliffe

Now the Senior Warden at St. Paul’s, David’s home construction and repair accomplishments include running a nail through his palm, falling off an eight-foot ladder, and botching virtually every plumbing and electrical task he’s encountered.

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