One of my favorite colors is blue. This church has as its backdrop a lot of blue--in our rug, in our chairs and in some of the windows. And, this Advent season, the blue starts to show up on my stole, the ambo, the altar. Some of you may be used to purple for the season of Advent, but here at St. Marks, we maintain an older tradition--which is the Rite of Sarum. For those who have been to England and visited Stonehenge, just outside Stonehenge, is a town called Salisbury. It has one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals—with a modified tower—it is one of the largest towers on a cathedral in England. And throughout most of the church’s life, before the Reformation, there was a special rite called the Sarum Rite. It was an ancient rite and what some folks might suggest is that it is the traditional rite of England. When the Roman Church began to Romanize Christianity it brought the liturgy into conforming but really if you went into history you recognize many geographical locations had their own particular rites, their own particular customs, their own particular way of praying. Whether or not Sarum blue is actually part of the Sarum Rite is a bit of a controversy. Some will suggest that is a made up fantasy of Victorians who wanted a little bit of change of color in the church and wanted to get their blue in there. But, I think the truth, particularly for those who study textiles, is that when it comes to black or blue, not purple, that it is the easier color to achieve, the more likely color that you get when you are trying to get close to purple. It is a common color, and the truth of the matter is throughout the Medieval Age most vestments were whatever color the church could afford. That was a bit of rant to get to the point. And the point is, I love blue.
When you own a dog, one of the great things is your quiet morning walk with the dog--or your late evening walk with the dog. I don't know how many times you have a chance to see what happens out there outside of our homes and our church. But, there is a certain blue that begins to turn up this time of year. It’s like a Maxfield Parrish painting and I love when it happens. The other day I opened up my door to take the dog out and that black sky had a wide band of blue… .then it had pink… ..then purple… then sharp gold. It was delightful to see. One of the comforts driving home from Boston on Route 95, coming up through Norwood, is seeing that sky beginning to set down in the marsh. This season of Advent, I really think, has a lot more to do with the setting of the sun and the rising of the sun than we realize. It was after all the patterns of the seasons that informed the liturgical year. I know when I go out and walk the dog this time of year-- there is a brisk stillness. A time where I feel reflective, alive, engaged, thoughtful, and very near to God. I'm not sure where it is in your life that you have those moments where you simply relax and begin to experience the comfort of God. This season asks us--in the mist of all that is going on—in the world, with all the preparations for Christmas, to say: “I am going to take time to slow it down… to reflect… .to engage with God in a different type of conversation… .to allow God the spaciousness to say something new to me.
We started with the Gospel of St. Luke today. Luke is a very different evangelist than St. Mark. St. Mark is the shortest Gospel. It is the most to the point in some ways--it's raw. If you recall--Mark was very much pushing this idea that the day is coming, the signs can be seen: All of this will be laid low. And the first question from the disciples is "When? When is this happening? What is the hour? What is the time? We need to know!"
Has anyone experienced this season as being a rush of time? You need to know when to get the presents wrapped. When to get the cards in the mail. When to get the family photograph done. Is it too late for that? Did I cause panic already in somebody's heart?
Do we experience that need to know… to keep everything moving? Can we relax, and hold back? Luke is not concerned with “when.” He is concerned with “how.” Once we have a relationship with God. Once we have a relationship with Jesus Christ—“the timing” is not the important piece. We start this journey out today on the first Sunday of Advent--and it is a peculiar season in some ways.
The first part of the season is helping us to recall and remember -- just as we recall and remember the Eucharist--that Jesus is born of Mary. He takes on the human estate and becomes man. Jesus is one of us. Jesus takes on our flesh. Jesus takes on all of our worries, our experiences, our joys, our frustrations, our pain, our illnesses. Jesus was one of us-- fully and completely--in all things but sin. That is the dogmatic reality. It is important for us to think about what it is to profess of a God who is one of us!
The second half of Advent is Jesus coming again in glory. The new Advent… the second coming. Waiting for that moment when Jesus will come. On Thanksgiving, during the service that we held here, I said that one of things that's been noted in my own heart is that I seem to have a lot of fear. I think the trials and the difficulties of the last few weeks, the news reports, the discourse, or lack of discourse, have made me worried and fearful. Fear drives us into ourselves. It becomes an activity of navel gazing and this Gospel says: do not do that! Look at the one that comes into the world and lift your countenance, raise your head! This is a Gospel that speaks of the dignity of the human character--that speaks to the dignity of the human condition. We are not meant to keep our head buried, but we are meant to be alert and keep our countenance high. That is the God that has spoken today in the Gospel. That is the God of Advent. This God challenges us: “Now that I have become one with you and have taken on your flesh… will you become one with me and take on my divinity?” Some think that is heresy. But that is the doctrine of the church. It is right in the early writings of the church. I give you this Eucharist that you may take me in, that you may go out into the world and be Christ to one another. “I am the light of the world.” I am the voice breaking into the wilderness and saying: My people… become free. Free each other. Do not fear. Do not be oppressed. Do not oppress. Do not allow others to tear you down. Lift up your countenance and be alert and pay attention. Today we started our first part of the songs that will be part of the ordination. The songs are actually loaned to us by a Jesuit priest from Singapore who wrote a liturgy for freedom. It is the first time they’ve been used, outside of that context, and they are gift to us. One of the reasons why I chose them is because they use Isaiah. “I have come to proclaim liberty to the captives.”
What is holding our heart captive? This is the season, the season to pay attention to that question. To let it go and become free to the God who loves us so much that he became one with us. AMEN.