Advent Retreat 2
ARMOUR OF LIGHT
The second petition of the Advent Collect asks for grace to ‘put upon us the armour of light.’ As we reflected earlier, our Baptism in water follows a prayer of deliverance ‘from the powers of darkness’. We are then set apart with the sign of the cross ‘as a soldier of Christ, to fight against sin, the world and the devil and to be faithful to Christ to the end of our life.’ We become part of the ‘church militant here on earth.’ The armour of light is the same armour of which St Paul writes in Ephesians 6 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. This armour of light is made up of various elements each of which has an essential role: The Belt of Truth. The Breastplate of righteousness. The shoes of the gospel of peace. The shield of Faith. Helmet of Salvation. The Sword of the Spirit. The question is – where do we acquire these elements of armour. Some of them, as we have reminded ourselves, are given to us in Baptism: The Helmet of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit; these are gifts. For these to be effective we must, as St Paul reminds Timothy ‘stir up the gift that lies within you.’ But the belt, breastplate, shoes and shield we must take hold of and put them in place. These are fruits of our discipleship.
Truth is given to us in Scripture and in its exposition within the tradition of the church. To open the scriptures prayerfully it is to bring ourselves into the light. A retreat is a good time to review our rule (or lack of it) in reading scripture.
The Gospel of peace is the shoes that should guide our every step: this means a constant awareness of our need to walk within the truth of reconciliation to God and the promise of this reconciling salvation to all those willing to receive it. This armour is to enable mobility and engagement with and for Christ in the world as it is and in our relationships as they are. The armour enables us to be sent out to serve. Without this armour of faith becomes passive and our witness ineffective.
The breastplate of righteousness is not a trust in our own righteousness but in the manifold and great mercies of God’s saving love. To which our response must be the mastering by our own will of those fundamental tendencies in our nature that work against the will of Christ in us. In the Rite of Baptism of Adults the BCP concludes in saying: ‘ we who are baptised should die from sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections and daily proceeding in all virtuous and godly living.’ This means putting to work the sword of the spirit to cut away through the spirit’s gifts of self-control and endurance those areas of our life which take away our resolve and scatter our interior attention rendering us as helpless soldiers and careless servants.
St Paul adds that we should ‘pray at all times in the spirit with prayer and supplication.’ This prayer or communion with God is the continual whole life in relation to him – a sharing and partnership in every moment – this places firmly in the heart of God’s protective Grace. We should seek an intimacy with God in Jesus. Putting on the armour is a putting on of Christ himself: it is a ‘putting on of our new self which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator.’ Colossians 3: 12 ff ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ All this is the armour of light. A consequence of being clothed in this way is that we can find our relationship to the world challenging and one that is of dynamic change. We become more and more aware of where the darkness penetrates. To be truthful there is very little light in contemporary popular culture – consider the content of the average episode of a soap opera! The armour of light in many ways is a uniform. St Paul and later Cyprian saw life in the church as being part of a community that contradicts the world. Here a huge question arises – how far do we go by embracing contemporary values and sensibilities before we little by little spiritually disarm ourselves. This is a question that faces us as individuals but the life of the church at every level. Did Christ ‘overcome the world ‘ for us to be overtaken by it? His Kingdom is ‘ not of this world’ – ‘how far should we be?
Let us end with St Paul again – from Ephesians 5 ‘for at one time you were cdarkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
FOR REFLECTION • Audit your armour: look again at your rule of life – particularly with regard to Scripture and personal prayer. • Ask for Grace to discern how the pattern of your life walks in the ‘shadows’ and ‘darkness’ of the ‘passing age.’