A Homily for the First Sunday in Advent
by Bishop Steven Marshall
The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. Like Lent, it is a penitential season and a preparation for a new cycle. Traditionally Advent is a time of fasting and praying. For the Gnostic the penitential seasons are a time for quiet introspection and self-reflection in preparation for the great festivals of Christmas and Easter.
Paramahansa Yogananda describes this inner work of preparation as a work of inner cleansing and purification.
“I will prepare for the coming of the Omnipresent baby Christ by cleaning the cradle of my consciousness and sense attachments; and by polishing it with deep, daily, divine meditation, introspection, and discrimination. I will remodel the cradle with the dazzling soul-qualities of brotherly love, humbleness, faith, desire for God, will power, self-control, renunciation and unselfishness, that I may fittingly celebrate the birth of the Divine Child.”
Seeking the light of Gnosis requires a permeability and openness to spiritual experience that is impossible for a consciousness that has not undergone some degree of purification. One of the keynotes of Christianity was the replacing of the earlier Mosaic laws of outward purification and dietary proscriptions with a practice of the inner purification of our hearts and minds, the purifying mysteries of the light. As described in the Book of Sophia:
“Do not desist from seeking by day and by night, until you find the purifying mysteries of the light, which refine the body of matter and make it a pure light very refined.”
It is important that we not externalize what is an interior mystery of purification in our interpretation of this scripture. The key to this mystery is the word “light,” not the “body of matter.” That which we seek is the Light, and these inner mysteries of purification give birth to the body of light, which is also called the “diamond body” in many of the works of Buddhist literature. The refinement of the body of matter is an interior rather than objective perception. Much of this inner perception of the refinement of the body of matter is not all that pleasant. It looks and feels much like the alchemical process of putrefaction, and is rather gruesomely described in Buddhist meditations where one is to visualize the body of matter as a corpse in various stages of decay. Yet out of the putrefied blackness of the Nigredo, comes the purified whiteness of the Albedo, the crimson of the Rubedo, and eventually the royal Aurora, the “diamond body” of light, shining with all the colors of the rainbow.
The cycle of colors so important in the alchemical literature are not missing in the liturgical seasons of the Church either. The seasonal color of Advent is violet. It signifies the qualities of purification as well as royalty. The Gospel of Thomas describes this quality of royalty, the true royal self-hood within each of us.
Let him who seeks, do not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he has been troubled he will marvel, and he will reign over the All.
The All in this logion is related to the Greek word for the Pleroma, the Fullness, but refers more directly to the entirety of our inner universe, in which the external and material world is but a part. Before we can reign over the All, we must be troubled. When we begin to seek the Light, like Sophia who longs for the Light of the Unknown Father, we run into something, we experience a Fall, we are troubled. Our first confrontation with the unconscious causes a distress in the psyche, a wounding of the worldly ego as well as the discovery of the wounds we bear in our instinctual nature. In the Grail legends the Fisher-King is wounded in the thighs when he touches a fish. The fish is symbolic of a creature that comes from the watery depths of the unconscious. This initial contact with the unconscious represents the beginning of the process that C.G. Jung called “individuation.” Even so, Advent, as the beginning of the liturgical year, signifies the beginning of the pathway of individuation as exemplified in the mythic story of the Messenger of Light, Jesus. The path of individuation is the journey of the soul, as it seeks its way to the place of apotheosis and rest, where it reigns over the All. In Advent we celebrate the coming of the Messenger of Light, as the Liberator and Wayshower who can guide us from the darkness of ignorance into the Light of Gnosis.
Besides being the color of royalty and the penitential season, violet is also the color most often attributed to the crown chakra, the crown of our true royal self, the center of our spiritual connection with the Divine Selfhood. Focusing on this divine center directs the psyche upward and inward away from external and material things. Advent signifies a period of introversion and preparation for the birth of the inner light at winter solstice. It is also a time of year that we give thanks for and sacrifice earthly and material things, in giving of gifts, distributing to the poor, and concerning ourselves with righting the wrongs that we can and doing good to others.
The penitence of this season is related to its Latin root meaning “to alter” or “to change.” Penitence is not about wallowing in regrets and guilt feelings, nor relinquishing responsibility for developing our own spiritual connection with divinity; rather it is about working on the changes in ourselves and developing the individual conscience that will bring us closer to our indwelling divinity. Neither by following prescribed penances and morality, nor by projecting our faults onto others can we escape the necessity of dealing with our own evil impulses and shadow elements. Penitence is ultimately about Self-knowledge, knowing ourselves with all of our faults and weaknesses as well as our talents and strengths. Ultimately we must confess ourselves to our own divine Self and forgive ourselves in our own contrition. The priestly absolution aids in releasing from our deep instinctual selves this repressed guilt, so that we can get on with the conscious work of repairing our connection with the divine Self and growing along the path of individuation. When we have forgiven ourselves, we will discover a much greater capacity for us to forgive others as well. The mercy and compassion of the Logos and Sophia become a heartfelt reality within us.
Seeking the light requires that we find the purifying mysteries of the light. Forgiveness is such a mystery of purification, as in order to truly forgive another we must let our old world view and ego structures go. This relinquishment of fossilized perceptions leads to a death and rebirth experience. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes the Clear Light, which is perceived directly after death. People that have had near death experiences report a brilliant light at the end of a tunnel. The Gnostics describe an inner light, an enlightenment, as the Gnosis of our true royal self. We are a part of and we come from the Clear Light. The inner light of our own being and the Great Light at the end of the tunnel are the same. The Gospel of Thomas states, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and without you.” When we apprehend that inner light, when we experience the purifying mysteries of the light, we begin to see that light reflected in the external world. We begin to see a quality of magic and light in every being and event that we encounter in life. The time before Christmas is at once a solemn and very magical and joyous season. The veils between worlds are very thin. It is a time in the season when we can most easily see the light in nature and in other people.
Gnosis is not only seeing the light within oneself, but seeing the same light in others. We come to simply recognize others who have beheld that light and we are recognized by them. The Gospel of Thomas reiterates, “If you know yourselves, then you will be known , and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father.” The light that we perceive within shines into the world, not in ostentatious displays of holiness or evangelism, but in charity and compassion to those who come within our sphere of life. Our light guides us on the quest to heal the wound of the FisherKing. We become masters of compassion, not in dwelling on “do goody” behavior, but in recognizing the Grail Castle when we are in it, and bearing compassion for the wound of the FisherKing when we behold it.
During the season of Advent we are most acutely aware of those less fortunate and in need. As we perceive the pain and suffering in the world, we can often feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the divine work of redemption. The Book of Sophia describes this work of redemption in marvelous simplicity, not as an external projection but as an inner mystery.
“Do to all men who come to you and believe in you and listen to your words what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light, give the mysteries of the Light and do not hide them from them. For he who shall give life to a single soul and liberate it, besides the Light that is in his own soul, he shall receive other glory in return for the soul he has liberated.”
The most precious gift we have to give in this work of redemption in the world is the offering of the mysteries of the Light, however we may attest to them, not by street corner evangelism or door to door proselytizing but by doing what is worthy of the mysteries of the Light to those who seek it and come to us. As one by one the Light is awakened in others, then the pain and suffering in the world can be transformed.
The season of Advent is in many ways a troubling season. Yet amidst the troubling we can find the magic of hope and sharing that brings us to that leap into the rapturous amazement of the Pleroma. We can come to know the totality of the Self within us in our seeking and yearning for the divine light. During this Advent season let us kindle a sense of wonder, an openness and permeability to the divine light shining in the darkness of this world. Let us not hide our own light under a bushel, but let it shine on the All.
Steven Marshall is the Bishop of Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church, a parish of the Ecclesia Gnostica in Portland, Oregon.