Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sermon for Third Advent: Gaudete

Third Advent, 2013, is our always-wonderful Children's Pageant of Christmas.  Looking forward to the gifts the children bring us in that re-telling of the ancient Holy Story, I'm glad also to re-present here my sermon for Third Advent, 2010--the previous "Year A" in our Sunday lectionary cycle.  Blessings and joy.

Year A Isaiah 35: 1-10, Matthew 11: 2-11

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness. And put upon us the armor of light.

The opening words of Archbishop Cranmer’s great Advent Sunday collect certainly echoing down the centuries to us, and echoing in us as year by year they are repeated through this season as the year turns toward winter, nights growing longer and longer--and the ancient and almost primordial yearning for light and warmth and vitality now the lens through which we see the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

A prayer that in Christ and through Christ and with Christ we will ourselves in this season of incarnation be reborn and renewed, given new life, new identity. To borrow a phrase, as we set out into a new year we pray that we would “dress for success.” We pray, dress us now “with Christ.” Let us put him on, our “armor of light,” so that when the world would look at us, he would be the one seen and made known. In a season, maybe even a culture and a world that keeps trying to seduce us with the idea that everything should be about us, this turns us in a different direction. It turns out, it isn’t all about us. Which when you get right down to it really is good news.

The lighting of the Rose Advent Candle on the Wreath this morning reminds us of the name of this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. Latin, “Rejoice.” In the traditional mass order the Introit for this Sunday the text from Philippians 4 that our Choir will sing at the offertory. Gaudete in domino semper.Rejoice in the Lord always. That not meant as a kind of encouragement to go to Church on Sunday, but even more as a statement about Christian life, ethics, morality. How we live. Metaphorically, what we wear. Put upon us the armor of light, so that we are ourselves in the process of becoming windows. That he may be seen in us.

I mentioned to Bill Ghrist this week in our Wednesday morning Bible Study that this passage from St. Matthew, the dialogue between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist, reminds me right away of the famous saying attributed often to St. Francis. “Preach always; when necessary use words.” If those John had sent were expecting a theological discourse from Jesus, they were at least somewhat disappointed. “Just look around for a while, and then go back and tell John what you have seen with your own eyes.”

Not exactly to say that talk is cheap. But when you get right down to it, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you’re going to talk the talk, it’s important to walk the walk. A basket full of clich√©s, but they become familiar because deep down we know just how true they are.

Jesus obviously knows his Bible, and Isaiah 35: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” But the reality here comes first. Jesus doesn’t come to tell us about the kingdom.

Instead, where he is, the Kingdom happens. Comes to life. And there is healing, and renewal, and life. An abundance of goodness, peace and good will, kindness, generosity, forgiveness. Because he is there. Because God is there acting, as never before, or at least as never since the first day of Creation, when he said “Let there be light,” and there was light.

“God himself is with us. Let us now adore him, and with awe appear before him.” An old German hymn from the 18th century, and of course right at the heart of our Advent and the season ahead. What are we waiting for? Who are we waiting for?

These Christians, how they love one another! Certainly the challenge before us on this morning and in this Advent and Christmas. For our lives as individuals and in our families and in the life of our congregation and as God’s people, his Church. Where he is, the Kingdom happens. Healing, renewal. Generosity, forgiveness.

Give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness; and put upon us the armor of light.To dress for success. Not that he would serve our purposes, but that we would be drawn up into his, and into him.

I am always struck in our services of Holy Communion with the invitation at the time of the Confession: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith . . ..”

Not about charting up a list of misbehaviors from the last week to apologize for. Instead, to intend to lead a new life. And amazing that we say that again and again, from childhood to old age, in every season. Wherever we are. However we are living. Not something we can accomplish in ourselves or for ourselves. But to say that we know and believe, that where Jesus is, the Kingdom happens, and that we ask him to be here with us.

And so Advent blessings on this Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice in the Lord always. Life in abundance and life eternal. Grace and peace. Forgiveness, healing. New life. Our King and Savior draweth nigh. O come, let us adore him.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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