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Advent II, 2017 — 10 Dec 17

Advent II, 2017

RCL Year B Advent II
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2 and 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Saint Mark 1:1-8

Advent, they say, is about waiting. Children know this: they have to wait until Christmas Day for their presents. Liturgically and theologically, we have to wait until Christmas to proclaim the presence of the Lord, that God is with us, Emmanuel. And we have to wait until the end of all things for that same Lord to come again to be our Judge and our Redeemer. Waiting. Waiting. All our lives we have been waiting for Jesus to come again. In this way, from this perspective, we are always waiting.

And if you think waiting until Christmas to open gifts and presents is difficult, try waiting in exile. The Prophet Isaiah addresses Israel in the Babylonian Captivity, far removed from their native land. Isaiah foresees a time when God will move mountains to make a way for his people out of exile, out of the desert. God will move those mountains tenderly. God “will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep”[1] out of exile, out of the desert. Incidentally, this image of God carrying the lambs is one of the sources of the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Isaiah’s prophecy encourages people to wait knowing the good that God will do.

And in the Epistle of Saint Peter, the author addresses people, about one hundred years after the Lord’s Ascension, who were losing patience about the Lord’s return. The wait is based on God’s time that is not our time. And, further, the wait has a purpose. The time of the wait is God’s gift of time to give people the time for repentance. Time is still that gift today.

And John the Baptist gives voice, a loud voice, to God keeping his promises. God is on his way. We are given the opportunity to be ready when he comes.

Waiting can be excruciating if all we in fact do is wait. But in this wait, the wait for the Lord, we are not powerless. We can refuse the season’s nostalgia, and we can forsake all the would-be saviors. Waiting for the Lord gives us so many opportunities, so many occasions, to bring Christ’s love into the world that we have plenty to do. We can use the time to prepare, to prepare the way of the Lord when he comes again. So many people need the love Christ came to bring. So many people, whose hearts beat the unmistakable beat of desperation, need that love, already poured into our hearts. Think of it this way. Christmas will not be Christmas for any of us unless someone we know, someone with but one degree of separation, finds the way to release and to share with us the love. We can share that love also, and when we do, God’s love has come again. We have so much to do, so much love to share, that we may not know we are actually waiting–waiting for the Lord in his fullness.

[1] Isaiah 40:11.

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For Nancy — 9 Dec 17

For Nancy

The Eucharist of Christian Burial
Romans 8:14–39, Psalm 23, Saint John 14:1–6

The conflict we feel today is tremendous. On the one hand we feel immense sorrow at the loss of Nancy whom we loved so dearly and who was such a large part of our lives. And on the other hand we believe that she suffered minimally in her last days, that she is in a better place now, and that she is free from the crippling limitations she recently had to endure.

Into the breach between our immense sorrow and what we believe, Jesus Christ strides in majesty to proclaim to us that our beliefs triumph over our feelings just as his resurrection triumphs over death.

Jesus declares the higher importance of beliefs by commanding his disciples and us to believe. And then he tells us what to believe. He tells us that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places, that he goes to prepare a place for us, that he will take us to himself, that where he is there we will also be, and, last but not least, he tells us that we already know the way to the place where he is going.

Thomas, as you know, objects. “How can we know the way?”[1], he asks. I have often wondered over the years how to take Thomas’ question. Is he just trying to rock the boat, as we all do when we’re given an unexpected answer? Is he the person who objects just to gain something, a small something, when someone else clearly has the lead?

I don’t think so. Thomas objects, because he has trouble taking Yes for an answer. The Lord has just told him that every one of his fears, and every one of our very human fears, has been answered by Jesus’ ministry. Jesus came and took our flesh to himself in order to prepare a place for us and to take us to his safety. Thomas objects, because it seems too good to be true. Thomas objects, because what Jesus tells him to believe contradicts Thomas’ feelings about what life and death are like. It’s so easy to be like Thomas. Let’s use our human agency and our God-given will to believe as Jesus commands. Let’s take Jesus at his word.

This requires us to set aside our sorrow and our feelings. We set them aside for the greater good of our beliefs that God is good, that God created us for good, that Jesus has prepared a place for us, and that Jesus will take us to himself.

As Jesus orders his disciples to believe, let us decide to believe that when we commend Nancy to God, we are handing her on to a loving and merciful Creator, the one who made her for good and brought so much good out of her. Let us believe that when we commend Nancy to God, we are joining with her and with God in God’s loving purposes for her. Let us believe that when we commend Nancy to God, we are coming a little closer to God’s loving purposes for us as well. The decision we make to believe in God carries us closer to God, and by believing we become what God created us to be.

[1] Saint John 14:5.

Advent Sunday and Isabella Marie’s Baptism, 2017 — 3 Dec 17

Advent Sunday and Isabella Marie’s Baptism, 2017

RCL Year B Advent 1
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7 and 16-18, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Saint Mark 13:24-37

When I had my first conversation with Isabella Marie, she had all the confidence that can be had when one is pretending to be somebody else. It was the Sunday before Halloween, and she was every inch a cat. She was on all fours in the parish house, and she was looking out warily from behind the legs of a table. She persuaded me that she was ready to pounce. And she would only communicate as the cat she was. When I saw her the next time, I asked her if she had seen the cat that looked so much like her, and she asked, “You mean the cat with the curly hair?”

And today, the first day of a new Church Year, a beginning of beginnings, we shall give her yet another identity. We are presenting her to the Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism as who she already is—a child of God, created in God’s own image, for whom God’s Son was willing to be betrayed, to be given into the hands of sinners, to be crucified most unjustly, and to rise again on the third day for her justification that she is Christ’s own forever. She is all of these things already.

And in Baptism, we are drawing a line under her identity as Christ’s own forever. We do this not because Baptism is magical, because it is not. Baptism, like all the Sacraments, does not compel us. It requires our coöperation—yours and mine as the community in which she is free to be who she is, and her coöperation, for each time she exerts her will she will need to coöperate with him to whom she belongs. She will need to follow and obey him as her Lord.[1]

Her coöperation will be necessary at each step along the way. She will be his inasmuch as she wills to be his. And in time and at the end of time, when Christ comes again in his identity as Judge of the living and the dead, she will be his forever. The words of today’s Epistle will sound triumphantly for her and for all who have put on Christ, “who will also strengthen” them “to the end, so that” they “may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him” they “were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”[2] Che sera, sera. What will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. It is his, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. And we who own him, will be owned by him.

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, page 303.

[2] I Corinthians 1:8-9.

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