Homily - One Advent- November 29, 2009
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your
The catalogs are coming fast and furious these days. More so than usual. The
retail merchants are putting us on notice. That even though money may be “tight”
we are being prodded to be ready for the “debt enhancing” Christmas season.
I remember in my practice as a Certified Public Accountant that this season of
the year, in many cases, accounted for over 75% of sales for the whole year. For
many merchants this was a “make or break” time. If there was a profit to be made
it was going to come now. For them at least there was no tomorrow—it was a
critical time of the year—there was no getting around it.
We know that the secular world in many respects follows the traditions of the
mainline churches --at least for the Christmas season. A common joke amongst
some retail merchants at Christmas time is “oh, what a friend I have in Jesus!
Robin Williams the well-known actor and comedian –as well as an
Episcopalian- has presented a top ten list of why we are Episcopalians. The list is
very funny. He states that one of the reasons we are Episcopalians is because the
church year is color coded! But even that statement itself speaks a lot to our
Episcopal liturgy. By that I mean we are open to dialogue and are willing to
consider different ways of doing –we see that in our liturgy—the way we worship.
We even provide options in regard to color. In Advent we have an option, our
color choice can be violet or a lighter shade of blue.
Of course the choice of color is symbolic. In Advent the symbol represents a
period of reflection in which we are penitent while at the same time develop a
sense of hope and expectation of the one significant event which lies ahead-the
birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As worshippers of Jesus Christ we are not totally focused on Advent as the
“make or break” time in which we can make ourselves right with God—or at least
attempt to do so. On the contrary, we as Christians embrace Advent in preparation
for his second coming and continue on in celebration of his ministry here on earth
through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift which Christ has
deposited with his church here on earth (Acts). The season of Pentecost is focused
on the actions of the Holy Spirit-it is the longest season of the year.
In the readings assigned for today we are lead into the great mystery
In the collect we are to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor
Jeremiah tells us the day is coming when promises will be fulfilled.
The psalmist is trying to put things in perspective when he asks God to show
him the way—teach me your paths, he pleads.
The apostle Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, is praying for
the people in Thessalonica that their hearts may be strengthened and be found
blameless in anticipation of the Lord’s coming.
The writer of Luke’s Gospel expands on the mighty power of God and his
ability to do as he wills. The message of course is that we better get our act
together before judgment day. That in itself is enough to intimidate anyone!
O f course implied in much of the scripture is the hoped -for or end result of
our improved relationship with God. There are hints of what may helpful to us.
To put on the armor of life is really a metaphor for opening ourselves to the
presence of God in our lives, which for Christians is the revelation of his Son,
In Luke’s Gospel for today the mystery of this Advent season is magnified.
The gospel writer says: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
etc.”If we can imagine what it was like to live two thousand years ago then sun,
moon, fig trees and so forth would make sense to us in interpreting signs of God’s
creation in nature. We would have been sheepherders, farmers , part of an
agrarian society. That kind of language would make sense to us. Personally, I
would not recognize a fig tree if I saw one.
As a finite person with limited capabilities for comprehension plus the fact that
I am more linear in my thinking I cannot relate to that kind of stuff. What I can
relate to and I suspect that most of us can is the admonition from God that our
relationship with him requires a conversion if you will or a new paradigm.
There is a fine line between dissipation and drunkenness (to quote the gospel
writer)—it all refers to a way of life which turns our focus away from the life God
would have us lead in his son, Jesus Christ. In other words we need to examine
our life, how it affects our relationship with God. The question is what paradigm,
or point of reference, is required of us? What changes must we make?
I know one I personally had to make. As a young practicing CPA working as
an employee for a large public accounting firm it became obvious to me that I was
smarter than my bosses. After all every time a new client came in the front door I
was assigned the account. (or so it seemed). It became obvious to me that I was
making a lot of money for somebody else. And so in my infinite wisdom and
really without too much reflection it was damn the torpedoes-full speed ahead --
so I started my own firm.
It was rough going getting started—it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I
got lots of support from my wife. ( We had three young children at the time).It
would be an understatement to say that money was tight. It was quite scary to
realize that what I did seemed best for me and challenging from a professional
perspective. The sobering part was that I had put my family at risk –I needed and
missed that paycheck that I got every other week.
Eventually business got good—real good! So good in fact that the normal
work week consisted of seven days and unlimited hours. Workaholics don’t worry
about the clock or anything else—just get the job done. No time for much of
Just to tell you how bad things were and how consumed I was with my
profession. It took me a long time to notice that each Friday afternoon in the
summertime the only people in the office were the secretaries and me—the rest
were on the golf course! (I learned to play golf in self-defense).
I tell you this because underling all this business is a lack of focus on what
really is important in life. The satisfaction from my work slowly dissipated. I
really never made time for any introspective refection. I accepted an offer to
work for one of my major clients as chief executive officer which was lucrative
but turned out to be a bad move on my part. However, in retrospect it forced me
to reexamine who I am and what was life all about.
The paradigm shift in retrospect was actually forced upon me. Many of you
can relate to being forced into situations that you would rather avoid. We all
could have made better decisions; however, life itself also dictates a paradigm
shift: death, divorce, job loss, sickness , and many other situations beyond our
control force us to take a new look at what life is all about. Our assumptive world
can be turned upside down!
For me relationships became more important. Volunteerism became the
primary competition for time on the golf course and the church started to creep
into my life.
I can relate to what Paul writes when he says we should abound in love for one
another and restore whatever is lacking in our faith.
The bottom line for me is that in my wildest imagination I would never have
imagined being “yoked” to the church these 22 years as a deacon. What I do
know is that if we “put ourselves out there” in the environment which God
intended for us some strange things will happen! (And usually for the good!) The
hound of Heaven will pursue you!
The gospels give us a guideline for a paradigm shift which can helpful as we
are lead into the mystery of the season of Advent. In Matthews Gospel we read
the familiar story or the parable of the rich young man. (19:16-30).
The young man asks Jesus a question: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit
eternal life?” The answer Jesus gives is that this man, if he wishes to enter life, he
should keep the commandments. At this point Jesus gives the man a summary of
the Ten Commandments: don’t kill anybody, no adultery, don’t steal things, don’t
malign your neighbor, don’t lie about things, honor your father and mother, and
love your neighbor as yourself. Although the man protests that he has done all
these things Jesus says that are not enough. Jesus says if you want to be perfect (is
Jesus looking for perfection?) this man has to abandon all his earthly
possessions to the poor and follow him.
Now we all know we can not give up all our earthy possessions. We have to
eat; there are bills to pay, and playing golf costs money. Jesus is not really asking
us to do that. What Jesus is asking us to do—or rather what he is telling us to do-
is to develop a paradigm shift or a new way of structuring our life with Jesus in
the center. That is the ultimate or state of perfection.
Just as the rich man has followed the moral code set forth by Jesus Christ we
also might be able to answer the same way by saying “that we have done all these
things”. (That might be a stretch!)
The season of Advent is about light. It is about revelation. It is about
fulfillment of expectations. It is about awareness. It is about preparation.
This start of the new cycle in the church year is a reminder that we too must
embrace a “fresh start” in our relationship with Jesus Christ. A fresh start in our
relationship involves a reexamination of the perspective or paradigm or point of
reference in which we evaluate our journey with Christ.
In a sense “we put ourselves out there” when we come to church. The church
is here, created by Christ, to heighten our awareness of the need for strength—the
church is an integral part of our life
. I offer this prayer from the book “The God Who Comes”:
How baffling you are, oh church. And yet how I love you. How you have
made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you. You have given me so much
scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity. I have seen nothing in the
world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have
touched nothing more pure, more generous, and more beautiful. How often I have
wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often have I prayed to
die in the safety of your arms. No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am
you, although not completely. And where should I go?