NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
11:00 AM., Sunday, December 18, 2011
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave. (Toronto)
Philippians 4: 4 – 7
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
GOSPEL OF THE DAY: John 1: 19 – 29
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who art thou?”
And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Art thou Elias? “ And he saith, “I am not.”
“Art thou that prophet?” And he answered, “No. “
Then said they unto him, “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? “
He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.”
And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, “Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? “
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”
These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. “
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
As seasonal temperatures begin to surround us and snow is a real possibility even in down town Toronto, it is hard for us to think about what it must have been like in the middle east about 2,000 years ago. We know that shepherds were watching their flocks by night, so it must have been the dry season. Shepherds, the hobos and migrant workers of the time, didn’t bring sheep out into the hills during the rainy times of the year. If flocks were in the hills, that could help explain why the stable was empty. While it was occasionally dangerous work, with wild animals and human perils to deal with, being a shepherd would take you away from the ebbs and flows of urban life and put you more directly in harmony with the rythms of the natural world. One would need to be open to all sorts of possibilities without certainty as to what the future would bring. A wolf could appear, a lost lamb reappear, someone from a nearby village could drop by with the latest gossip or a tax assessor to could appear to determine the value of the flock. There was a quiet urgency to the work. The whole life of a shepherd is one of expectation.
Pope John Paul II, in his address on Dec. 18, 2002 said, “The liturgy of Advent…helps us to understand fully the value and meaning of the mystery of Christmas. It is not just about commemorating the historical event, which occurred some 2,000 years ago in a little village of Judea. Instead, it is necessary to understand that the whole of our life must be an ‘advent,’ a vigilant awaiting of the final coming of Christ. To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.”
Like the shepherds who gathered outside Bethlehem, we are in a time of expectation. Something is about to happen in our world. It isn’t a good time to waiting for some people, particularly those on the outside or in places and times of stress and danger. We hope that what we yearn for will come to birth—but we have only faith that something good can happen.
Madeleine L’Engle, in her poem The Risk of Birth (Christmas, 1973), looks at the time of the birth of Jesus through a contemporary lens. When Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem there were doing so in a time of apocalyptic visions, of hope for a nationalistic Messiah, of wars and rumours of wars, of plagues and famines and in a time of loving communities, intellectual curiosity, new goods coming into the marketplaces from far flung parts of Europe and Asia and Africa…She writes:
This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.
That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.
When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.
Signs in the sky and difficulties in the world are not unusual. If we let the realities of the world at its worse overwhelm us, we’d freeze, we’d stop expecting that something different is possible. 2000 years ago, when it would have been easy to accept despair, hope was alive; vigils were kept; shepherds looked up to the sky and an expectant couple took a journey to Bethlehem. Even in a last of foreign occupation, love can find its way to make a home in the strangest of places.
Daniel Berrigan, in his poem Advent, helps make this clear: He writes:
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction
and loss – –
This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction —
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever —
This is true: For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world —
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth,
and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church, before we can be peacemakers. This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young shall see visions,
and your old shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humanity, for justice, human dignity, and
peace are not meant for this earth and for this history —
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the Life of the world.
We know that our world is one in which there is suffering, but we also know that our world is one in which joy can burst forth.
Advent is a time when we come closest to understanding this. We may have the excitement of waiting to open a present wrapped and lurking within the shadows of a Christmas tree to help us understand Advent; we may be hosting parties that help us understand the uncertainty of offering hospitality to strangers; we may be leading lives of loneliness or fear and are wondering if something good could possibly come our way. We worry and wonder. We may be facing a celebration without a family member; we may be about to start a new job. We may live in the midst of conflict; we may live in a peaceful haven. But we are all living on the edge—something can change; things will change. This is advent, the very edge of time when all things are possible. Just on the edge of our hearing is
the sound of a sheep bleating. Night has fallen. We wait.