-Fr. Ed Cardoza
One of the things that I like to do when I travel is to visit churches. It makes my other half slightly crazy. But, it is something that I insist on doing, and when I am over in Europe I tend to do it in a more fervent practice because there are some real gems in the architecture of churches and church buildings give a good insight into the context of the local community. Last year when I was in England just off of a town that some of you might be familiar with because we have one here, Dedham, England, we have Dedham, Massachusetts. I was off on very tiny country lane that brought me a Hamlet, it was a true Hamlet, it was a place where houses still have thatched roofs, and it looks as if you are stepping back in to history. Your car, even though you are driving a small car, barely fits down the lane, because the lanes were really created for single horses and small wagons. I went into this church and it was what we call a "untouched church." As most of us know through history there was a lot of turbulence during the reformation and then what British, London may refer to the interlude when Cromwell came in. A lot of the windows got smashed in the church, a lot of the statues had their heads cut off and there was sort-of a purification that happened. When you go into some of these areas you find that some of the churches are intact and when you talk to the individuals who inhabit these villages they often talk about all of that history as not impacting them because they simply practiced the ancient faith. I think what means for people in Europe is that when you are outside of the city centers were a lot of the turbulence is happening you just go on with the simple practice of offering the prayer of the church, the presence of the church, the sacraments of the church. So, this church was unique in that it was untouched by the Reformation, but it was also untouched by the Victorian Age. The Victorians loved to come in to some of the building and say "Well, we need to push this roof about 20 foot higher, we need to build off a portico and while we're at it, let’s take this wonderful painted plaster naive and let’s wallpaper it and let's put some velvet curtains over there and how about some wrought iron." It was untouched by the Victorian Age and it was never modernized. So I went in there and, first of all, there was a certain smell that comes with those churches. You can smell the residue of the candles and the wax and the incense. It has this real, real pungent smell of a place that has been lived in and prayed in. I looked at the alter which was really quite simple, and there was a triptych stained glass window. We have a triptych stained glass in this church. I suspect it is from the old church up the street. But that is just a fancy way of saying three panes of glass. In those three panes of glass was on the left a depiction of the Wedding at Cana, the reading that we heard from the Gospel today, and in the middle window was The Last Supper, the offering of the Eucharist, and then on the right was the Crucifixion. Now what is unique about that is that the Crucifix is usually in the center panel. But in this window we have the wedding of Cana, we have the movement over to the Eucharist and then the Crucifixion itself. It is this very stunning window in that church. Now why would I bring that up today? Well it is a good introduction to the Homily. But, because it the Gospel of John is really interesting with what it proclaimed as the first sign of Jesus. The Gospel of John is not called these actions and activities miracles. The Gospel of John calls these signs. They are signs that Jesus' first sign there is one in which he takes water and turns it into wine. Now, there is a very interesting character that is present during this, and that is the mother of Jesus. Not Mary, never named as Mary. Not spoken of individually, always of spoken of as her role, the mother of Jesus, the mother of the son of God. We will hear nothing more about this mother in the entire Gospel until the foot of the cross. And then the gospel of John says the mother of god was present at that foot of the cross. The gospel goes on and says to Mary, the mother of God, "Behold your son, Mary," and to John the beloved disciple, "Behold your mother." So what does this mean, this shift between one time showing Mary the mother of God with Jesus at as this sign, this miracle of changing this water into wine and then the cross. Think back to that image that I raised up that the beginning of this, that whoever designed that church wanted us to make a profound connection between this offering at the Wedding of Cana and The Last Supper. I actually believe that is what the evangelist is trying to do. Now, there is a very funny part of entering that Gospel and I think I would be remiss in saying that there are really moments in the Gospel that when you read it that you want to giggle. This is one of those moments, because what is really happening here? (as Mary) "Jesus you are going to do this." – (as Jesus) "I'm not going to do this." -- (as Mary) "Um, just do what I just told you to do." And, Jesus does it. So, that commandment - To honor your mother and father, to do as your mother tells you, is sort of lived out here. It is as if Mary is saying "I know what you can do. You need to do this." Jesus is sort of coming into his twenty-something, his thirty-something, and saying "This isn't my time. This is not the moment. What concern of this is mine that they have run out of wine? Everybody is drunk. They, don't know what the wine is here. What concern of this is yours and mine?" And then he uses this very interesting phrase "My hour has not come." Pay attention to that line because that is not the hour for doing signs or the hour for doing miracles that for the Gospel for St. John has specific reach into the sacrifice of us. So Jesus himself is introducing into this passage that there is a connection between the changing of this water into wine and his own passion of the crucifixion; and I'll come back to that. The second story that I want you to consider is one from my own particular youth. Now some of you have Italian ancestry, I do not have Italian ancestry, but I did grow up in East Boston where the majority of the people who lived around me where Italian. In fact, there were neighborhoods in my neighborhood of Boston where if you went out you would not hear English spoken and that is because the majority of folks who were out and about shopping where the Nannas, the grandmothers. Who we in Portuguese call the avós. These Nannas mostly communicated in Italian in all of the dialects whether it be Sicilian, whether it be Roman, whether it be Neapolitan and you kind of got used to certain Italian words and one the Italian words that I loved was "abbondanza." Abbondanza: abundance, fullness, and abbondanza was never said without a visual example. So when you sat down at somebody's table and there was eggplant Parmesan, lasagna, roasted lamb, green peas, chick peas, and it went on and on. Somebody would say "abbondanza", this is a sign of abundance. Abundance. When I went off Disney World when I was eight years old and I actually flew over my neighborhood - Logan airport is in East Boston. I looked down on all those triple-deckers. I didn't see much tar and gravel. I saw lots of containers of tomato plants and green beans and egg plants because that abbondanza, that abundancy, was coming from people’s gardens. So summertime is a time of abbondanza. Christmas eve and Christmas day it was a sign of abbondanza. There would be sever or twelve fish dishes and then the next day we would have lamb, a turkey and it would go on and on and on. Just when you thought you were finished the table cloth would change and the dessert table would be set - abbondanza. Easter was a time of abbondanza. My favorite scriptural verse - if I died put it on my stone, you hear that, this is what I want on my stone - "I came to give you life so that you might live it abundantly." That's Jesus' deep desire for us. "I have come to give you life so that you might live it abundantly." This Gospel is about abundance and it is about abundance is such a subtle way that maybe our 2016 mind misses it. But this has been an entire week of celebrating at this wedding. We're at the end of it folks, it is time to go home. And what happens? The wine starts to trickle off and three days into it Jesus says "I'll do what you say ma. Go and get those jars." Do you know how big those jars are? Well I think me, and Chris, and Sarah, maybe Alison could all fit into it. That is how big that jar is. And we've got several of them. Imagine going to Shaw's and picking up 30 gallons of water six time and trying to fit them into your vehicle and then bring them into this church or this house. That is how much water was turned into wine. And it wasn’t just your ordinary wine. It was the best wine. So good that the chief steward had to go and cover himself and say to the bride groom "This is really good stuff! Why are you serving this now? I didn't make this mistake. We should have served this first." SO what is happening in this Gospel? What is happening? I think this is a beautiful Gospel after we have concentrated on the birth of Jesus. God becoming one of us. Taking on our flesh. Taking on all of our senses. I think what is really being said here is our God is a God of abundance. A God who offers us all things and that when we really think about Jesus becoming one of us it is in fullness, it is completion, it is in totality, it is the complete offering. And so there is something about this that to the ancient reader would have been a sensory overload. When I have come to you as one of you I could do all things fully and completely - savor it, enjoy, draw from that abundance, eat of that abundance, drink of that abundance. We make a big mistake when we place God up in the cloud away from us as if God does not know our joys and our happiness. God knows our sorrows and our griefs, but God knows our joy and our happiness. That is why I think those window choices were made by stained glass artist when he constructed that church in England. The Wedding of Cana, the giving in abundance, the Eucharist, that Eucharist that we are about to remember here and to participate of, to be fed of, to be nourished of, that same Eucharist that connects us to that long ago moment where Jesus gathered with those who he loved and broke bread and shared wine in abundance, and that moment of the Crucifixion which for some seams foolish to St. Paul says, it seems foolish that you would worship this God that is in a cross. But, when you see that cross and that sacrifice in the lens of abundance you begin to recognize that God offered himself fully and completely so that he may have a life and that life may be lived abundantly. That is the message of those stained glass panels. That is the message of the Gospel today. So I leave you with a question. Where in your life is God setting a table, and offering, of abundance? Can you, and will you, enjoy it? Fully and freely? And allow it to satiate any hunger or need that you have? Can you take that abundance and share it with others? Share it with others. For all of us, when our mother tell us to do something, will we do it?
-Fr. Ed Cardoza
I like to call this Sunday liturgical time warp. Last week we were dealing with Jesus as an infant as a child. The kings from the east had arrived and just seven days later we are dealing with and adult Jesus being immersed into the baptismal waters. We are dealing with John, doing John's best, to mitigate the impending desire of many to find out who is the messiah and John, like so many of the pictures that he is depicted in, is pointing away from himself towards Jesus. On confirmation retreat, I think it was one of the confrimands to be hopefully, perhaps Tommy, who said "What happened to Jesus as a child, as a teenager, as a 20-something? Why don't we know much about this?" Now the truth is we know a little bit about it. We know that there are these stories of Jesus running off and getting lost in the temple. We know that some of our Gnostic Gospels, or gospels that are not part of the cannon of the church, or gospels that our church holds being the gospels, indicate something about Jesus. My favorite of which is from the Gospel of Thomas where a bird is sort of smashed into the ground and Jesus goes and grabs the bird and brings the bird back to life. Imagine what it was like being a child and a teenager trying to get your head not only around growing up but also knowing that you are becoming God. I would imagine that Jesus, like most of us, was looking for affirmation in his vulnerability and part of the Gospel story to day, I think, is about that. For we are told in the Gospel that when Jesus has been baptised and has been praying that the heavens open up, a dove comes down, and that a loud booming voice says "This is my son. My beloved. He is mine and I love him and he will do great things. He is a good and faithful servant." All of us in our lives, particularly as we deal with our parents and deal with our extended family and in-laws are often trying to find that affirmation as we stretch out and and begin to wonder how we manage and deal with people growing older, people passing away, transitions in families. All of us desire a sense to be affirmed. You are beloved. You are loved. You are doing well. You have served me well, my son and my daughter. So I think it is important to know that in this gospel we see a very human side of a God who wants to meet us in our own vulnerabilities, in our own struggles, and in our own losses as we partake in the transition that is life. So if you are here today seeking that sense of affirmation I think this Gospel says to you: You are beloved. You are well loved. When you do of my well and return love I am there and I am affirming and holding you and the ones you are preparing for.
The second thing about this reading that strikes me in the Gospel is, if you go back a few weeks ago, there was that moment when Marry showed up at Elizabeth's house and Jesus was still in Mary's tummy and John was still Elizabeth's tummy and there was this incredible meeting in utero of these two historical characters meeting each other. Elizabeth padding it on feels John leaping for joy at the arrival of Mary who is carrying Jesus. It is a very interesting story. But it is particularly interesting when you think today, just a few weeks later, we have that experience of John and Jesus meeting in person, in the flesh. That John is trying to create a highway for God, open up the highway, but he is also recognizing his role. He is not the Messiah. That is good for us who are attending to people. We are not the Messiah. We are not limitless. There is only so much we can do. So much we can tend to. We can give love, but we can't give it in the same way that God and the Messiah can give it because we have limits. God is unlimited and unbounded. So that is the other interesting part of this story. That John is saying I know what my limit is. I know what my vocation is. I know what purpose is. And I know who I am, and I know who Jesus is. I am not going to become the Messiah. I am going to baptize in the spirit*. But Jesus will come. He is the son of God. he will open the way. He will not baptize simply by water. He will baptize by fire. He will baptize by the spirit.
Lastly, some of you may have seen this frontal before. We found it sort of tucked off in the church and I wanted to bring it out today. We were supposed to have a baptism and that family is going to baptize hopefully in the next few weeks but, like most families, we get trough the holidays and things get a little crazy. We'll get to that point. But I knew we would also be celebrating the baptism of the Lord and we'd be hearing this gospel. And as I looked at this, and I encourage everybody to look at this. It is really interesting. It is a very interesting needle point because is it from Genesis God touching the waters and seeing the waters are good? Is it the top half of this gospel story? If you can imagine where the poinsettia are, having an image of Jesus of John. Is it the deliverance moment when God decides through Moses to part the seas? But what we know is, there are some interesting parts to this. We have a hand that is red that's inflamed. Which is usually a sign of God the Spirit. We have that breaking into creation, touching the waters of creation, stirring up the waters of Creation. Then we have those two angels that tend to make an appearance when God breaks into our existence. On the Arc of the Covenant we know that there were two angles bowed into each other for presence and here we have these two angels bowing into each other. Perhaps their hands are extended in sort of a Superman pose and they are flying. Or, I might suggest, that their hands are doing a very important act that is referenced in the Acts reading we had today. This laying on of hands. This laying on of hands which is a profound and ancient acts. It is one of the acts that ties each of our sacraments together. Every Sunday which ever Eucharistic prayer we use when we call down the Holy Spirit you will see my hands go over the bread and wine and that is the symbol of God breaking into creating. God breaking into the bread. God breaking into the wine. And this frontal is important because it signifies that we are the beneficiaries of a God who breaks into our lives. The good parts. The bad parts. The difficult parts. The dark parts. All the parts of our lives God is breaking into. So as we think about these practices of baptism - the immersing into the water - just think about it, what would have it been like to see Jesus, the son of God, taken by John the Baptist, someone who was fully human, and immersed into the river. Once, and back up. Twice, and back up. Three times, and back up. And that water pouring down over the Son of God, and the Son of Man, and prayer being said and the Spirit coming. What would have been like to see that? Was Mary there? Mary who had already seen these angels show up and say "I'm with you. Something great is about to happen to you." And Mary who said "Hold on, how can that be. Don't do that. I need to give you consent." And she does. And the spirit comes. And he is born. Was Elizabeth there? Did she see this baptism? Did some of the people who see it get moved? Were they frightened? Were they scared? What happened? And let's move with that and ask ourselves, here, today, January 10th, 2016, what part of my life needs to have God's hand laid upon it? What part of my life needs to be redeemed and reconciled? What part of my life is asking for healing? All of us, the baptized, have the power to pray, to tend to, to minister, and to care for one and other and in doing so, God shows love. That is where God is. It is true, you have seen it here, many of you. The Bishop laid hands on my head. The priest joined him laying on of hands and I went from being a deacon to a priest. It is true that go and take my own hands and make bread and the wine the body and blood of Jesus Christ through the prayers of this church. The power of God. Through Gods promise that when we do this and remember this, this happens. But it is also true,that when we meet each other in the hallways, when we talk in this church, when we respond over email, when we text one another and say - I know things are hard, or changeling, or difficult or hard and I am there for you - that God shows up, that God tends, that God creates community and that we are affirmed brothers and sisters. We are beloved. God loves us. Let us take that love and always share it with other brothers and sisters to let them know in their mourning, in their challenges, in their difficulty, in their joys, in their loves, that God is there, redeeming, purifying, drawing creation unto God help and saying "All will be well." AMEN
The Rev. Dr. Edie Dolnikowski
Advent is a season for a great feast. The celebration of the coming of Jesus into the world. The word made flesh in the body of Jesus. Each week in the season of Advent has its own sort of theme, its own part to play in this process of preparation. The theme of the Second Sunday of Advent is to heed the words of the prophets and repent of sin. It is an important part of the process of preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. I want to make a little bit of an analogy between this kind of preparation and the preparations that we may have experienced in another part of our lives very recently. How many of you, last week, at Thanksgiving, had the primary responsibility for making the meal? In particular, preparing the turkey? Raise your hand. And how many people among you, like me, had the pleasure of having somebody else prepare the meal, primarily the turkey? Ok. So, I can assure you, I was not the primary turkey maker, but, whoever of you did that didn't think at five o'clock on Thursday afternoon: "Oh, I think it is time to go make supper." That is not what you do when you make a turkey. You have to go and get it way ahead of time. If it is a frozen turkey, you have to give it adequate time to thaw. You have to treat it with particular care because you don't want to give any of your beloved house guests any kind of diseases as a result to your lack of attention to the work of preparing this turkey. The fact is that it is not something that most people do every day. Therefore, people have to study up on it. Now, I knew I wasn't going to be the primary turkey preparer so I had time in the week or so, actually a couple of weeks, before Thanksgiving looking at the news to see how many articles there were in the paper about the 25 best ways to make your turkey, the 37 different things to do with your turkey leftovers, the main thing to do to avoid a dry turkey, or a burned turkey, or a raw turkey, or a turkey that was frozen in the middle. People start to share their advice about what it takes to prepare this meal because it is more than just the turkey. It’s the people coming together on this day to give thanks. It is a national offering of thanks for the blessings that we have received and the attention that we place in this meal is a reflection of how we, as a community, not just as individuals, take seriously what this day means in the life our community, in the life of our nation. When you get close to Thanksgiving Day, Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the news shifts a little bit to what to do if you have a disaster with your turkey. The turkey hotline. You can call it and get on the spot advice from people about what happens if it all seems to be going wrong in your midst. That is not so very different, if you think about it, to what it is that is offered to us in our scriptural tradition about preparing for something really important, the coming of Jesus into our midst, in a new way, that we celebrate at Christmas. There is kind of prophetic tradition that takes a long view, and then there is a prophetic tradition that focuses on something that is a lot more immediate and urgent. So when you hear the readings from the prophet Isaiah or as we heard today the prophet Baruch there is a kind of balance between the trials and tribulations that people are experiencing their daily lives and the hope and joy that will come in the future. There is a looking forward to a time when all of these things that are troubling us now will all be resolved and God's reign will come and we'll live in a state of righteousness, and joy, and peace. We have these words: rejoice, righteousness, everlasting peace. Very often we hear the special poetry, the hymns of Advent, in that light because we are thinking forward to when we are going to be together celebrating again the joy of Jesus’s coming into our midst. But today, on the Second Sunday of Advent we have a different kind of prophet. We have John the Baptist, and John the Baptist was not a prophet who said very much about how great things were going to be in very distant future. He talked a lot about how bad things are going to be in the near term future. He famously said to his congregation at one point "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" That's the kind of the tone that John the Baptist takes all the time. "You brood of vipers." My husband who is sitting back there, who has been part of this community for a while, will tell you that is one of his favorite scriptures passages. It is not because he is someone who has strong believe in the wrath of God. It is because he secretly thinks some creature, someday, will stand up and call their congregation a nest of snakes. I'm not going to do that. You are not a brood of vipers; you are not a nest of snakes. When John the Baptist was saying these kinds of things to his congregation he wasn't really trying to irritate them or insult them. What he was really trying to do was to get them to recognize that big important things were going to happen and things were going to get a lot worse before they could possibly get better. Within that community there were a few people were just beginning to have the capacity to face those things that were about to happen because they were preparing. But, there were a lot of people who were not prepared in any way for what was going to happen. So, did you see the proportion of the people who took primary responsibility for the turkey and the people who just showed up for dinner? He was speaking to the people who were just showing up for dinner, the people who were just there looking to see what was going to happen. When he speaks to us today, as the prophets continue to speak to us, we have to ask ourselves what kind of person are we? Are we the person who is taking the steps to prepare to engage the mission that Jesus as entrusted to us, that God has given to us to fulfill in his world? Or, are we just waiting around to see what happens? We had this week another occasion of wondering what it is that is happening in our world with people who seem to fit in the community, you would have no way of knowing that they had any kind of violence in them at all, committing a terrible act of violence. How would you prepare for that? You can't prepare for that. It is impossible to prepare for all the things that will happen to us. So, the kind of vague anxious, nervous, worry, about all the things going on around us is not really the kind of preparation that are prophets are asking us to consider. It is not really about the bad things that will happen. It’s finding ways to see what is new and what is good breaking into the world even in the midst of these things that seem to be tearing it apart. When John the Baptist talks about the wrath that is to come, and this is picking up on a theme that Ed has been developing through his sermons all through the fall, at least since I've been here. It’s not because John the Baptist said that God is full of wrath. It is not God that is angry. Anger, wrath, violence, destruction are things that happen when people sin, when they turn from God, they follow their own will, they do what they think is right for themselves in the moment. That is the wrath that is to come. That's the wrath that was. That's the wrath that is. That's the wrath that will be. Our prophets tell us that we are called to be a people who can see new life and hope, and respond to the things that are happening around us even in the midst of those things. We are called not to be distracted by the calamities around us but, to be open to the possibilities that those calamities present to us. To think about things in a new way. To offer ourselves in new ways. To serve in new ways. Ways that wouldn't have occurred to us if we are only thinking about preserving our own lives. So, I bring this up, not only in the context of the larger mission we are, the whole society are, our whole world, but also in the context of what is happening in this congregation right now. This is a new time for you, you are going to be celebrating the ordination of a new priest, not many days from now, it's on Friday. It’s a new thing. A new thing that happens. There is a lot of preparation that is going into this process and there are a lot of things that we are not going to know what they are going to be like until they are actually over. You know, Ed has his list of things to do. People are not necessarily going to do exactly what is in that leaflet. People are like that, we're are going to respond as we feel we are called to respond in the moment and there is only so much preparation that we can do to make things flow the way we want them to flow. But, if there is not preparation - you forget to order the food or the Bishop forgets to come. You know, that can lead to problems. So, I encourage you, in this time of Advent, when the lessons are specifically asking us to think about different times of preparation, different kinds of ways of looking at the future, to pay attention to what the prophets are really saying about opening ourselves up for the coming of God into our hearts at Christmas. I have three pieces of advice for you, three suggestions. The first is to pay attention. Pay attention to the things that are going on around you. Pay attention to the people around you. Make it a little more about what might be happening out there then what is going on in your own head, your own experience. Pay attention. Step it up. That is the second thing. If you are the person who just showed up for dinner, think about how you might participate a little more in the common work of celebrating Gods love in the world and sharing that with the people in your immediate circle, in your community, throughout the world. How do you respond to the things that are happening in our society that call upon people to stand up for justice and peace? And the third thing, is to consider the possibility of doing the same old thing in a new way. Think of ways that you are engaging your ministries right now and what's really strong about those things and what kinds of things you can let go. If you are person who has always been the turkey maker and you think there is only one way to make a turkey and no one else can do it maybe the new thing for you is to invite some new people into the turkey making process. Who knows what can happen? And if you are the person who never makes the turkey because you are afraid of it, because you are afraid you're one of those people who might end up on the hot-line Thursday morning: take a risk. The risk to be engaged in something new, because that is what the prophets are asking us to do. Not just in the season of Advent but every day. To look at the world as a place that is at the same time, full of sadness and calamity and danger and also, full of God’s abundant grace. The way that we can lift up that grace and share it with the people around us is to prepare ourselves us to see it, to engage it, to be inspired by it, and to offer it in new ways to the people around us. So just as St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians had a prayer for his congregation, I have a prayer for you. That you will be able to engage that work, not just in the season of Advent but, in this coming week as we help to prepare for the ordination of a new priest in our midst and also in this new ministry that we all share together both, in this congregation, and in the diocese, and in the church, and in the world. AMEN.
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.