Sermon 11 29 15 Advent I
Wow! I have to share with you. This is exciting and this is overwhelming and this is incredibly scary and this is wonderful! And this is God’s plan. We’re all just along for the ride.
And what a ride it’ll be!
Here we are at the beginning of Advent, the beginning of a brand new church year, and at the beginning of a new ministry. We’re all in this together. We’re making lists and checking them twice, (probably more like two, three, or four times!)…
And here I am, your new priest. Eeek!
Let me say a few words about that wonderful mystery known as the Church. No priest, deacon, bishop or whatever is the Church. No one single person is the Church. YOU ARE THE CHURCH. Together, as collaborators, we are the Church. When Paul set up all those new little churches in Asia Minor, he knew he couldn’t be there with all of them every time they prayed, shared the Eucharist and worshipped. What to do? So he wrote them letters, letters that might have gotten there months after he wrote them. What did they do in the meantime? They led each other in worship. They acknowledged each other’s gifts and respected each other. Oh, sometimes they ran into trouble and had conflicts, but if Jesus Christ was their cornerstone, the true head of the church and the author of their salvation, if they kept that in mind, they were able to move forward as the Church and be the Church for the world.
When we receive people into the church via baptism, we end the baptismal service by saying, “We receive you into the Household of God.” The Church of the Good Shepherd is a Household of God. YOU ARE A HOUSEHOLD OF GOD. YOU ARE THE CHURCH – we all are. It is my privilege, as a fellow member of this Household of God to be called to lead us all in worship. You have, with God’s blessings, called me to do that.
And I am so happy to be here!
All I ask is that you be patient with me. I’m going to do my very best to be a good priest for you – but always, always, “with God’s help.” I especially pray for God’s help with names. Please be patient with me in that area. Names just fly right through my brain, like water through a sieve. That is why I’ve asked for nametags. I’ll need them for a while. Besides, nametags are just a matter of courtesy for new people.
And now I want to quote Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, the letter we heard today, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?”
I thank you for your very warm welcome. We got here on Wednesday evening with the movers. And we found food here, cheese and crackers, all the staples, bottles of wine, a lovely lady, Mel, with a delicious pork roast, food in the freezer, your beautiful Rectory all ready with towels in the bathrooms, (plenty of toilet paper!) – everything we need and more. And the well-wishing and welcoming cards and messages! We started with a lovely diner breakfast on Thanksgiving Day with Jeff. We came over here for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner with Wayne and Maria and their family and friends. We watched, fascinated, as Beth and Chelsea and Megan and other assorted loved ones went through all of the Thanksgiving shopping circulars, preparing themselves, arming themselves for the Black Friday shopping madness strategy! We had a great time!
The next day, Friday, I was sitting with Maryanne, our excellent Parish Administrator, getting the lay of the land, and a lady named Karen(?) came by with a lovely roast beef stew. What with all of the Sunday celebrations, we’re not going to have to cook for a month!
As we look to the future with anticipation for even more than food, I also look behind in thankfulness for the past. I am so grateful for the excellent ministry of Father Dave among you. What a great Interim! And I am especially thankful for the wonderful ministry of Mother Pat. I remember asking members of the Vestry and Search Committee how they each came to take on ministries like the Sunday School and Lay Eucharistic Ministry. All had been recruited by Mother Pat. She saw what she thought people would be good at and she asked them to do it. Good for her! She got you all involved and invested in your church. I admire her, I am grateful to her, and I look forward to meeting her. To both Mother Pat and Father Dave also, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?”
So here we all are at the first Sunday of Advent. Advent – when we celebrate waiting! Nobody likes waiting. Nobody! How do you feel when somebody tells you to “Be patient.” Oooooooh…
I remember my mother telling me before I went to the University of Minnesota, a pretty big school, “You have to be patient. You’re going to have to wait in line for everything, your ID, to register,” (remember, this is back in the dark ages of giant computers and punch cards). “You’ll have to stand in line to buy your books – so take a book with you – just keep reading.” And I remembered that. Now when I know I’m going to be in line for something, when I know I’m going to be waiting, I’ve got my book! Of course, now it’s a Kindle.
And now here we are, celebrating waiting. Does that seem odd? To celebrate the memory of waiting? And yet, how many of us remember the great events of our lives not only as the events themselves, but also the delicious anticipation of those events. It’s like waiting for a baby – after nine months of pregnancy those last four weeks are killers, but they’re worth every minute. Swollen ankles, no balance, a wobbly blimp, not to mention endless kicking, and yet the excitement…
The great value of Advent and waiting for the coming birth of Jesus is that we begin to consciously await Jesus as we would await the birth of any child, with all the excitement and nervousness and joy that childbirth is about. And the expectation…!
This is the season of expectation, where we relive, every year, our great expectation of the birth of a tiny, helpless child. This is when we discover and embrace the power that is inherent in vulnerability, when the unconditional love of a child teaches us to appreciate the unconditional love of God.
Baby Jesus was totally helpless. I doubt he was born with a halo around his head. No. Even though we believe he was wholly divine, we also know he was wholly human – 100% of both. He was hungry and crying and wetting and making messes and totally (and I believe this was intentional) dependent upon other human beings – as fragile as every other human baby ever born. And the perfect example of unconditional love.
Unconditional love can be scary too, scary for those who have a hard time taking the leap of faith to accept it. We’re never going to fully comprehend God’s love for us, God’s love for the world. We just have to accept it.
And speaking of things that are hard to understand, isn’t it interesting that our readings for today speak to us of Christ’s Second Coming at the same time we anticipate the celebration of his first? I think these readings are meant to put us in a waiting frame of mind – not just for Christmas, but to build a sense of wonder at the history, the story of God’s love for us, a love so great that God gave us Jesus to live among us here, on earth.
But Jesus says something that I find very interesting as we enter into Advent. He warns about his second coming: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Now I understand Jesus warning us about loose living. But he’s equating dissipation and drunkenness with worrying. Think about that. Worrying being equal to drunkenness – an addiction – an illness.
Jesus doesn’t want us to live with heavy hearts that are weighed down with worry. So here, at the beginning of Advent, I pray that we are all able to avoid Advent Anxiety. “I have so much to do!” “Did I get it all done?” No. Jesus knows we don’t need that. Advent Anxiety is fear.
I believe we are meant to live in joyous expectation, not in fear. Waiting in anticipation… for the one who unconditionally loves us. Think of that! Loves us no matter what! Whether we get everything done or not.
Love is often represented by a lit candle.
We call Jesus the Light of the World and we light the candles of the Advent Wreath, one more each week, in honor of his coming. Candlelight, fire, has such meaning for us. Consider the warmth of one candle of the Advent Wreath. Let us look forward to that warmth increasing as we add the light of another candle every Sunday. May we live in the warmth of that light, his light, and as we enter Advent, let us pray, as we did in our Collect, that Jesus grant us the grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of his light. To protect us against Advent Anxiety and to learn to wait with joy.
Happy Advent! Happy New Beginnings!
Let our Journey together begin with God’s blessings!
Sermon 11 29 15 Advent I