November 23, 2008 St. Andrew (Observed)
Deuteronomy 30: 9-14; Matthew 4: 12-23
With thanks always to the Highlanders, who make this day every year such a great celebration, a reminder of our heritage, a homecoming, a gift.
The leaves have come down from the trees, pretty much, we’ve had our first snowfall, and it is that time of year again. St. Andrew’s Day.
“So that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: . . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
The observance of our patron St. Andrew’s Feast Day is something of an entry and threshold, with the New Year of Advent and the great incarnational drama of Christmas and the Epiphany stretching out before us, as certainly we would hear in Matthew’s quotation from Isaiah here, and in the story of the calling of Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John by the Sea of Galilee.
How the one born in the stable of Bethlehem is born for each of us, as for these four who are called now to be disciples, born in the midst of our lives, as he finds us where we are and speaks the simple word, the mystical word and powerful word of invitation, a word not broadcast on the radio or published in the newspaper, but spoken directly to us, one by one. Christmas always the 25th of December, but for each of us in the calendars of our own lives we would have our own date. When he showed up on our doorstep.
Perhaps you will remember the Stephen Spielberg film back in the late ‘70’s, Close Encounters of the Third Kind . Which had to do with Richard Dreyfus being contacted by aliens from outer space. But I want to borrow the title, simply to say that this St. Andrew’s Day and the dawn of Advent is for us a reminder of how we are called in this deepest mystery of all to a “close encounter.”
Those four by the Sea of Galilee, Mary that morning in Nazareth when the Angel Gabriel appeared before her, the two disciples walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus on Easter Sunday afternoon. This moment as we open ourselves to the reading of the Scriptures and to the great testimonies of faith around us in the signs and symbols of this place, as we hear and sing in the rich poetry of these hymns of faith.
Wonderful, as Moses in his great farewell oration, to the people in the wilderness, as they prepare to cross the Jordan and enter the land promised to them: “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth, and in your heart, so that you can do it.”
The Angel announces “God with us,” Emmanuel. St. John says, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Literally, “pitched his tent in our midst.” The story unfolding before us not about a God who holds us at arm’s length, who regards us from some distant mountaintop. Instead, about the One who seeks us out, who comes near, who can call us each by name.
So as the old song says, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Celebrate that today, as we sing with the pipers and remember all the saints and heroes, the men and women and boys and girls who have called this St. Andrew’s family their own over the past 171 years—as we lift up in the imagination of our hearts the men and women and boys and girls who will be a part of this place in years and generations to come. Newcomers and old timers—all in the church you find when you drive across the city and follow the signs to the zoo. It has been quite a place, is quite a place, and will be. Where his love is abundant, his forgiveness, his mercy, his healing. His promise.
Most of all because he meets us here. There is a children’s amusement park in Southern California called “Santa’s Village,” and they say in their advertising, “where it’s Christmas every day of the year.” So always, the potential in our lives, in this parish family, and in the wide world, which is in so much distress. Where we continue to await his arrival, where we continue to celebrate his birth, here with us.
St. Paul at the end of First Corinthians reminds us of what most think to be the most ancient prayer of Christian liturgy, from the earliest moments of the Church, Maranatha. “Come, Lord.” Come quickly. And so, here, for us: in the sacrament of the Word and the sacrament of the Altar, and in the sacrament of the cup of coffee in the parish hall.
In the sacrament of the shelter meal, the Godly Play story, the choir anthem that was already a sacred classic when Henry Tudor was a boy. Because he comes close to us in the life of the Spirit. Today. What a friend we have, in Jesus. As our St. Andrew heard his voice there by the sea—Christmas for him--as he put down his nets and got out of the boat, turned the page to a new chapter of life, to walk the way of new life with his Lord and Savior, may this day be as well for us, each of us, all of us together, one of grace and blessing and renewal.