The first Sunday in Advent is the start of the new liturgical year for the Church, so a good time to make fresh resolutions and start afresh! It is meant to be a time of preparation through penance, recalling to us St John the Baptist's call to repent, confess our sins, thus renew our baptism.
We tend of course to think of Advent as preparation for Christmas, and it is, but the readings the Church puts before us this Sunday, from St Luke and Romans, also remind us that we should also be preparing for Our Lord's Second Coming, and the end of this world.
At Matins, the readings are from Isaiah Chapter One, which I have to admit is one of my favourites. It lays out for us the choice between St Augustine's two cities, the city of God, the New Jerusalem to come - or the city of man, akin to the diseased cities of Sodom and Gemorrah. In this chapter, God laments and rejects the sacrifices offered by those who do evil, but also promises the good things of heaven to those who are willing to obey Him.
Against this background, to me the key text of the Mass is actually the epistle, not least because the verses "The night is passed and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light" are used most days as the chapter at Lauds in the Benedictine Office!
In the Office, I generally tend to focus on the literal reference to arming ourselves for that particular day, particularly when I get the timing right and start Lauds at first light as the Benedictine Rule prescribes. But the extra couple of verses around it in today's reading point both to that daily struggle and to the larger context of the Second Coming, It starts: "Brethren, knowing that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer that we had believed..." And it concludes with an important and beautiful injunction that we might all do well to take due note of, to put aside contention and envy, and instead 'put on Christ'.
So do make sure you get to confession, and think of something extra to do by way of penance through this season....