Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Eve

                              Isaiah 52 7-10 and Colossians 3: 12-17

Good evening and grace and peace, in the Name of the One who was born as gracious gift and as Prince of Peace.  The door swings open this night--open to Christmas and to a new world.  

Like the Isaac Watts hymn, Joy to the World, which draws the great themes of Advent and Christmas together, singing with exuberant gladness about the Coming of Christ at the Last Day and the renewal and restoration of all things under his authority and power.  But all that shadowed forth and anticipated in this hour, this holy night.  He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.  

Or as in the psalm appointed for this night:  O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvelous things.  With his own right hand, and with his holy arm, hath he gotten himself the victory.

In our imaginations we see them moving quietly through the shadows across a dark landscape.  A week’s journey or perhaps a bit more on foot from Nazareth in the Galilee to Bethlehem.  In the far distance, shepherds on the hillside.  The sky glowing softly with first light--angel light.  A new world dawning.  On its way and already here.  Coming to life wherever he is.   Seated in glory on his heavenly throne.  Or lying quietly in his manger bed.  

The convergence of all history.  In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was made flesh and came to be with us.

Hundreds of years before that night, the Prophet Isaiah: in anticipation.  Seeing far, seeing deep with prophetic vision.  The reading tonight from the 52nd Chapter.  God’s word in that particular moment to those in far exile, in the distant lands, the refugee camps and ghettos of Egypt and Persia, Syria and Babylon,  whose last memory of holy Jerusalem was of ruin and disaster, the archetypal Biblical image for the consequences of sin.  The royal palace and sacred temple pillaged and burned in the utter misery of collapse and defeat.  All in ruin.  But then in that silent night of loss, a word.  Word of God’s peace.  Scattering the darkness.  Generous grace.  Forgiveness.  Transforming the silence with hymns of joy. 

The prophet proclaims: good news, salvation.  His voice echoes across the centuries.  How beautiful the feet of the messenger who announces peace.  The music of those words, to fill and heal empty and broken hearts.  Over the realities of violence and war.  Death and disaster.  The poetic and prophetic vision, that the one God who because of their unfaithfulness had departed from his temple, would soon return. Was now returning.  Was on his way.   The return of the Lord to Zion.  To dwell in the midst of his people as they are to be gathered by him and brought home.  

Every liturgical procession down the center aisle is to remind us of this.  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!  

To come in power, to bring comfort, strength, salvation.  And not for old Israel only, but for a new Israel.  Of every tribe and people.  Reformed and transformed and born again in him.  He bares his arm and shows his strength before the eyes of all nations.  And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.  

Here in Isaiah 52, hundreds of years before that Holy Night in Bethlehem, but it’s all about Christmas.  In a way everything in the Bible and the whole story of the world and the universe, all leading to this.  All about Jesus.  All about Christmas.

In Scituate, Massachusetts, the town where my wife Susy’s mother’s family has lived for generations and centuries, there was a wonderful little department store called the Welch Company right down on the harbor. It actually was descended from a lumber and shipping supply business started by Susy’s great-grandfather back in the later 19th century—so a fun family connection.  And when we would visit grandma and grandpa and the family home on summer vacation each year our kids loved to go into the Welch Company because in the back there was a room dedicated all year ‘round to Christmas furnishings and decorations.  Just fun on a 100-degree late July afternoon to step into a space that was all twinkling lights and snowflakes and Santa.

An image perhaps for us this evening.  To understand Christmas not simply as an ancient story from Bible times or as one day in the year for special worship services and family gatherings and festive meals, or even as a season on the church calendar, but as a new and continuing state of being for all the world and all creation.  A new state of being.  A new way of thinking.  A new way to live our lives.  

The cry of the mother giving birth in the dark night, and the pivot point of all time, all history.  

In the C.S. Lewis story “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the children step into the land of Narnia, which is a fallen world, a reflection of our fallen world, where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.”  But then things begin to change, and we hear tonight the new news.  That it is and will be always Christmas. 

I mean, the trees and greens will be out the door in a week or two for most of us—perhaps some of us trying to hold out as best we can until Candlemas, February 2.  Decorations back in their boxes and back down to the basement for another year.  Life goes on, and into the New Year.  

But to be always Christmas not in outward expression, but in our hearts and minds, in our conduct of life, our relationships with one another.  Christmas as a new way of living, which is what I would just pause over for all of us tonight. Because that is what I believe this night calls us to.  Not simply an interlude, a special day or week or time of year.  But a new life.  A new obedience, if that's not too scary a word for us.   In a night that out beyond the walls of this church seems perhaps something other than silent and holy.  In a season of political and social polarization, selfishness and isolation-- in a world which knows too well the horrors of violence and crime, terrorism and war.  A fallen world, as we know it first in the shadows deep in our own hearts. 

And I would conclude on this holy evening to share just a word from scripture,  of what that might mean, what this might look like.  At least to begin to picture it.   Christmas as a new way of living.  A foundation of a new constitution for God’s people, a Rule of Life.

I would turn to a short passage from St. Paul, in the 3rd chapter of his Letter to the Colossians, beginning at the 12th verse.  Not ordinarily a Christmas reading--but as I said before, it's all about Christmas.  A passage we might want to look up later, to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.  

Write it on a slip of paper to carry in a pocket or to tape over the bathroom mirror for daily reading.  To recall when we sit down for church meetings or family dinners.  To let it sink in and work on us. 

Anyway: Paul writes this pastoral letter during a time of his imprisonment.  He can’t come to visit in person, but he has heard a report of distress in the congregation at Colossae.  Division and dispute—and also of a kind of drifting off the path spiritually.  He has heard reports of hurt and anger and dissension. The fresh spirit of their conversion to Christian life as perhaps begun to fade.  Paul’s pastoral word  in this letter is complex, rich, sometimes giving doctrinal instruction, sometimes advising about conduct and holiness of life.  But there is a pastor’s love that is communicated throughout.  

And it is a word for Christmas and about Christmas—and about what it would mean to live when we know that every day is Christmas Day.

So from Colossians 3, two thousand years ago, for them, and for us, Christmas as a way of living:

“As God’s chosen ones,” Paul says, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”  (Sometimes people say they don’t like Christianity because it is all about following rules.  I think those might be some good Biblical rules to pay attention to, actually: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  We spend time choosing wonderful Christmas sweaters and caps and dresses and shoes.  Here is more about a Christmas wardrobe.)  

Paul continues: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  (There again, another very good rule!  Something to wear at Christmas!)   And finally,  “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”  (Which is what it means that we have been called to be a part of this Body, his Body the Church.  Called into his peace.)  “And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”  

What we do at midnight Christmas Eve, but always singing, from now on.  “And whatever you do”—whatever you do—“in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Blessings in this Christmas, tonight, in the season ahead, in the new year, and always.  To live in Christmas.  To dress for Christmas.  To be all about him: 24/7/365.  “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fourth Advent Sunday

A Children's Pageant of Christmas

New script this year--but the same story: tidings of wonder and joy!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Third Advent Sunday: Gaudete

Luke 3: 7-18

Good morning and grace and peace on this Third Advent Sunday.  The Proper Collect  began with the words “Stir Up.”  "Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us."  As some of us may recall from era before what I still call “the new Prayer Book,” the old “Stir Up Sunday” collect  for 500 years or so in the Anglican world was for the Sunday before Advent,  25th after Trinity—“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people . . .”--and the custom was that “Stir Up Sunday” would be the reminder to all the cooks in village that the festivities of Christmas were approaching and that it was time to get going on the preparing of traditional holiday fruit cakes.  Third Advent may be a little late for that, but there’s probably still time to pick something up at the bakery . . . .

Also the Sunday of the Rose Candle on the Advent Wreath, Third Advent, traditionally called “Gaudete Sunday.” In the Middle Ages there was a customary introit sung on this day--from the opening words of the Epistle Lesson appointed for today, Philippians 4, as St. Paul wrote to that little church that he loved so much.  (We don’t have an Epistle Lesson in Morning Prayer, but if you look back on page 3 of the service leaflet at the order for our 9 a.m. service you can see it.)   Gaudete, Latin for “rejoice.”   “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”  

In the old BCP lectionary from the 16th century and until the 1979 Prayer Book with its three-year lectionary this reading was the Epistle for Advent IV, not Advent III, but always then a part of the season.   

I would pray  that we would each one of us hear the Advent message and word of encouragement in that reading.  That our lives and our relationship individually and as a congregational family, in our families and schools and where we work, everywhere, that this word of Gaudete would settle in as we wait for his coming.  So that the world would say, those Christians, how gentle they are, and full of joy.  The Lord is near.

The gospel reading appointed for this day in Year C of our three year lectionary is from Luke 3, another glimpse of John the Baptist.  Second week in a row, as we remember the reading last Sunday, when the Saduccees and Pharisees came out to see John and find out just what he was up to, who he was.  

A friend of mine posted on Facebook that if you’re wise you don’t preach on this morning’s text until the annual stewardship campaign is complete.  So we’re running a few weeks behind, and I hope nobody takes the message too personally.  There’s also appropriately for this Sunday a picture floating around Facebook showing a greeting card with a wild-eyed John the Baptist on the cover, dressed in rags and long scraggly beard and hair flying in every direction.  Printed over the image: “Happy Advent, you brood of vipers!”  And Happy Advent to you too, John.  Seasons greetings!

Of course, that’s just the catch line.  If John's congregation was just settling back for a 15 minute snooze, this would wake them up.  Something about being called a “viper” that causes you to pay attention I guess.  In any event, John is out there in the wilderness preaching about metanoia, usually translated “repentance.”  Literally something like “another consciousness.”  Maybe a preacher today would say, “get your heads on straight, people!” 

It’s not just tweaking around the edges, a few good resolutions aimed at personal improvement.   It’s not just about the careful outward performance of religious rituals or about formal subscription to a set of verbal doctrines.  Rituals and doctrines have their place.  But what John is talking about on that desert strand across the Jordan is about something that goes deeper: a thoroughgoing transformation of life.  

The line about, “don’t go saying, ‘but we have Abraham for our ancestor,’” is going to say that our relationship with God isn’t established by having our names on the membership roll of the local tabernacle.  The tree can look the part but be all deadwood.  This is about being the kind of tree that is alive, and that puts forth good fruit.  The point is letting that four word sermon from Philippians 4 really settle in and have its full impact.  A promise.  A warning.  The Lord is near.

The people are excited by John, about John.  The crowds are streaming out from the Holy City and the towns and villages and all the countryside to come to hear him.  I don’t think he ever read a book about church growth.  But whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working.  The crowds coming out in great numbers in a way cause the authorities to begin to feel real anxiety.  A crowd like that, and who knows what might happen?   

John’s congregation.  Filled with “expectation.”  Not in spite of his bold demand, but because of it.  

They don’t come to hear John announce, “I’m o.k., you’re o.k.”  Preachers do that a lot.  What a great bunch we are.  So much better than those guys over there.  But that’s not what John is saying. He's not just encouraging a little tweak of midcourse correction.  If somebody says, “we could all stand to lose 5 or 10 pounds and do a little re-ordering of our leisure time priorities, well, that’s one thing.  Probably good advice, but nothing earth shaking.  

If somebody says, “change, or die,” that’s a different story.   More urgent.  

I’m reminded of Annie Dillard’s reflection, in her autobiographical essay called “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” when she talks about growing up over here in Shadyside and in her childhood at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church.  They had distributed Award Bibles to the Children of the Sunday School, and she went home and began to read, and was astonished.  They give this book to children?  

She says, “Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … [Remember, this is about Presbyterians!  Not Episcopalians.  So don't take it personally!]  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

And on this Third Advent Sunday John points the way by saying exactly that.  The time is short. The message for us to have in our thoughts and in our hearts at Christmas and the New Year.  Change or die.  “One who is more powerful than I is coming . . . .  He will baptize you with Holy Spirit and with Fire.”   Be ready for that! Crash helmets, life preservers, and signal flares will be available for those who know what’s good for them . . . .  The Lord is near.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Second Advent Sunday

The Rev. Daniel J. Isadore, Deacon Assistant, St. Andrew's Church
Advent II, December 6, 2015

Advent. Arrival. Appearance. Who is coming? For what are we waiting? We know…don’t we?

The nation of Israel thought they knew…The Pharisees had their ideas of what the Messiah would be. They were the curators of Israel’s national identity, and the strict observers of the Law. They knew that Messiah was coming to set up a powerful earthly kingdom. The Sadducees were convinced they had it right. These were the politically savvy priests, the guardians of the temple. They knew Messiah would build the true temple of God. The Essenes, those who separated themselves from the rest of society, they were waiting in eager anticipation for Messiah, who would establish establish the true people of God. And the Zealots thought they had it altogether as well. These revolution-loving warriors were awaiting Messiah’s arrival to come and conquer the Gentiles. And what did they all do when the Messiah came? “Crucify him, crucify him!”

The Romans, even though they weren’t waiting for a Jewish Messiah…they knew what kind of Lord they were looking for. He was to be strong, a winner of wars. He was to be wise, politically savvy and able to rule well. He was to be able to hold the nation and its territories together, and to ensure peace and safety throughout. And yet, when the true Lord of world came, what did they do? They nailed him to a tree.

Even the disciples, those who followed Jesus day after day, his closest friends, those who heard his every word and observed every sign…those who left everything to follow him…where were they when religion and politics were nailing Messiah to a tree? Excepting a couple of brave women, and John, they were nowhere to be found. And even John and Mary were baffled by what they witnessed…

Do we know for whom we wait this Advent?

Martin Luther, the great reformer, brilliant theologian, and, at times, out-of-his-mind  German pastor, is said to have begun the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg…This was the first of those theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther, in other words, believed that repentance, a changing of one’s mind in light of the coming of Messiah, was something that was never finished. That repentance was not a once-and-for-all act or decision but the way of life that was to characterize the followers of Jesus. This “baptism of life-change” as Eugene Peterson puts it is what John, son of Zachariah, was preaching that the people must enter into in order to be prepared for the coming Deliverer.

But what kind of sense does this make? Surely we have to make up our minds, don’t we? This is how we have learned to work in the West. We gather the data, we systematize it, and we create expectations in light of those systemizations. We then use these expectations that we use to construct nice, neat categories to help us navigate the world. There is, of course, much to commend about our methodology…but what if our expectations and our categories are wrong? What happens when new data doesn’t fit our preconceptions? Will we allow space for that?

Luther and John are telling us, and society (religious, political, and social) at the time of Jesus’ coming has showed us, that if we do not allow for that space when it comes to Jesus, then we, too, will miss Him. That is to say, if we do not permit an opening for correction within ourselves, if we will not allow for our minds to be changed in light of the coming of our Lord…well…then there is a very good chance that we will crucify or abandon Him at His arrival as well.

Why is this? John the Apostle gives us some help here…John 1:17-18 - “No one has ever seen God,” writes the Apostle. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” Matthew concurs. Matthew 11:27 - “…no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” According to the New Testament, if our conceptions of God are not formulated according to the appearance of Jesus, then our conceptions are wrong. And if those conceptions are wrong, what will we do to God incarnate when He arrives? We’ll ignore Him, we’ll abandon Him, and we’ll kill Him.

If we are to know Him, we must open ourselves up to Him and permit Him to make Himself known to us. We must not make our minds up about who He is. Rather, we have to allow Him to change our minds, reforming them according to His Person.

How does this happen?

Anglican missionary to India, Leslie Newbigin, says this: “The gospel is news about a man called Jesus, and there were witnesses who had known him, seen him, heard him speak, and touched him (1 John 1:1). These witnesses had gone everywhere telling the story of Jesus. … But when the hearers began to ask, ‘But who is Jesus?,’ how could one begin to answer the question?” He continues, “…the witnesses can only begin by using words which have some meaning to his hearers. They have to begin by assuming a common framework of language, of experience, of inherited tradition… They can only introduce what is (radically) new by provisionally accepting what is already there in the minds of their hearers.”

Why do we come, each week, and repeat the same basic liturgy of Word and Sacrament again, and again, and again? It’s not to reinforce what we already know. It’s not to make us comfortable, and lock us deeper and deeper into our present assumptions. The liturgy is about opening ourselves up to the mystery who is God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and what this God has done to re-create the cosmos. We do this, over and over, because God is infinite, and therefore we are never finished. We never get it all together. We can’t wrap our minds around this thing. Jesus is never done making God known to us. We do this every Sunday morning to practice repenting, to practice opening ourselves up to this One who has come, who is coming, who will yet come again.

This is what the church is here for: not to help cement our agendas or as a place to further our causes, but to help human beings respond to John’s call. To help us open up space in our hearts and lives for God the Son to appear to us in Word and Sacrament, and make Himself known, again, and again, and again, to the glory of God the Father, in the power of God the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advent Sunday

(Year C)  Luke 21: 25-36

Good morning, a word of welcome on this Sunday of the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend—and “Happy New Year!” as well.  Not quite the celebration out in the wide world a month or so from now, with First Night concerts and fireworks at the Point, college football bowl games, New Year resolutions, Guy Lombardo and Auld Lang Syne.  But on the calendar of the Christian Year on this Advent Sunday--beginning again, and with themes of the New Year centered in the character of Christian life rather than Times Square.

There is a strangeness to this first gospel reading of the New Year as Jean has read it for us this morning, the 21st Chapter of St. Luke.  Sometimes called the “Little Apocalypse.”   A word than be translated “revelation.”  A vision that is both compelling and repelling—as it draws us in but then also seems to push us back.  A moment in which the edge of the curtain is pulled aside so that we can catch a glimpse of the stage as it is set for the last act of the play.  We don’t see it all in detail, of course--but in the symbolic language of visionary experience, a glimpse.  In the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer one year lectionary this was always the reading for the Second Advent Sunday, but with a three year lectionary the patterns aren’t quite as consistent.

 In any event, the setting of this passage in Luke is Holy Week, a day or two after Palm Sunday.  Which again may feel a bit off-track at first, here in the weeks before Christmas.  Jesus is teaching in the Temple precincts and causing quite a stir among all the pilgrims gathered for the coming festival of the Passover.  The Temple authorities are worried, pushing back and questioning and confronting him, trying to discredit him in the eyes of the crowd.  The opposition is growing intense.  We get the feeling the pot is about to boil.

Just before this passage, at the beginning of the chapter, Jesus pointed up at the glorious walls of this magnificent building, to say that soon, very soon, it would all be rubble.  “Not one stone left on another.”  Perhaps an insightful foreshadowing of the destruction that would come a few decades later in the Year 70, when the Romans would destroy the building—perhaps a symbolic way of talking about his own death, which was about to take place—perhaps also a wider vision of what will be true for every generation, and even as we would look around here today.  What we build, no matter how magnificent, how strong, how beautiful   is destined to be dust.  All of this.  All of us too.   We’re kidding ourselves if we think otherwise. 

The T.S. Eliot poem East Coker has that haunting refrain.  In my beginning is my end.  In my end is my beginning.  So interesting that on this first Sunday of the year we are asked to pause in a meditative way for a few moments over the end of the story, the final leg of the journey, the great contest of darkness and light, good and evil, the Way of Sorrows and the hike up that hill to the place of the Cross.  Manger and Cross blurring together as one.

 In theological terms we might say that Advent has for us the complex intertwining themes of Incarnation and Atonement.  The identity of Christ and the work of Christ.  The world around us loves the soft twinkling lights and gentle Bing Crosby sounds of the winter holiday, but for the Christian proclamation-- there is no Christmas possible unless it is held together with Good Friday.  No Manger, again, without the Cross.  They are fabricated from the same Tree—the one that stood at the beginning, in the center of the Garden.  In my beginning is my end.  In my end is my beginning.

The vision here for us begins with imagery of distress shaking to the foundation all our securities.  In the natural world.  The sun, the moon, the stars.  The whole created order spinning wildly off its center.   It’s like the stories we read about El Nino, but on steroids.  Polar caps melting, oceans rising, storms and earthquake, fire and flood.  And the nations of the world all human society imploding with fear and violence.   We might say poetic language, though perhaps in some ways all too real.  Just pick up the front page of the morning paper.  Natural disasters striking suddenly or unfolding gradually over decades and centuries.  Wars and rumors of war.  Terror in the night.

And then, Jesus says, people will truly hope for a savior.  And he reminds them of the great vision of the Prophet Daniel in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 7, when the Prophet sees “one like a Son of Man” coming on the clouds.  The end of the story.  Hark the glad sound, the savior comes.  Happy New Year, indeed.

And then in the midst of the crowd Jesus turns to speak to his disciples.  These simple men of rural Galilee.  Farmers and fishermen from the countryside.   And he offers a promise—one that we would continue to pay attention to.  He says, You know by looking at the trees whether it’s spring, summer, or fall.  So don’t worry.  When the time comes, you’ll know.  Just sink your roots down deep in my Word.  Closer and closer to me.  Heaven and Earth will pass away, but not my Word.  Everything else is destined to be dust.  But not God’s Word.  Make that your solid ground.   It will be a lamp unto your feet in the darkest night.  A consolation in the time of sorrow.  True food, true drink.

I’ve told the story before of Pope John XXIII, when he spoke to some students of a dry period in his own Christian life.  Without a sense of the presence of God.  A spiritual dark night.  A kind of moral and spiritual and vocational depression.  And how with the persistent care and urging of a friend even through that period he continued to read the office lessons and prayers every morning and every afternoon to sit quietly for 15 minutes or so say the prayers of the Rosary.  Even when they all seemed just empty words.  Going through the motions.  Until one day, all at once, it was as if the sun suddenly broke through the clouds, and he could see Christ again and hear his voice and feel his presence and love in the depths of his heart.  To know himself as a sinner forgiven: I once was lost, but now am found.  Someone asked him, “how long did that empty period last?”  And he answered, “17 years.”  Which is something, when we think about how impatient we can be.  I know I am.  So easy to give up and move on.  I tried prayer once.  I tried reading the Bible, once.  I tried going to church. But nothing happened.

 Though of course the point of the story was that in retrospect Pope John had come to know and understand in a very deep way that it wasn’t at all right to call this an empty period.  That God was present indeed.  All along.  Feeding him with the Word and supporting him as the Holy Spirit.  Even though it seemed an absolute silence.  For 17 years!  So much was going on under the surface.  A seed waiting deep in the soil for the right season before coming to life and growing to flower. 

So as Jesus says here, when it looks to us like the end is upon us and everyone everywhere is hiding in deep denial or quaking in fear: “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”   Advent Sunday.  A New Year!  The first chapter and the last word.  The new year of our lives, the new old story.  Given for our healing and our forgiveness and our renewal and our salvation.