Sermon: The First Sunday after Christmas (A) – 29th December 2013

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am and 10am

Readings: Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23

Sermon:              The First Sunday after Christmas Year A

The Christmas season is a continual reminder that God is with us, sharing in our joy and sorrow, moving through ordinary life and providing insights when we are in greatest need of them.

God comes to us directly, Isaiah claims, without the mediation of others.  God doesn’t need messengers to convey God’s will, although prophets are often sent to share divine wisdom and challenge.  God is with us in the here and now.

If God comes to us directly, what are the medium of divine communication?  Does God directly speak to us or provide insights, and dreams?  Does God come to us through our encounters with others?  How do we know that our experiences of the divine reflect divine direction rather than personal self-interest?  Does our perspective and life experience shape the nature of divine revelation as well as our understanding of it?

God comes to us each moment in terms of possibilities for actualization and the energy to achieve these possibilities.

God comes to us in our experiences of general and personal transformation.

We experience God through our encounters with other people.

God encourages us to share God’s possibilities with others.

All revelation can reveal as much about ourselves as they reveal about God.

The initial praise to God is not only about mercy in times past, but is the statement of faith that provides a foundation for asking God’s continuing mercy in the present.  These verses invite us to praise God for divine mercy shown in the birth of Jesus in the past; but they are not only about the past; they also invite Christians to pray for God’s mercy made obvious through God’s action in the life and ministry of Jesus and continuing today.  This is a picture of a God intimately and feelingly related to God’s creation; it is in direct opposition to the idea of a God who feels no emotion even though divine actions may appear compassionate to human recipients.

God’s salvation is manifested in “no messenger or angel but his presence”, stresses God’s real and personal involvement in saving action.  The saving significance of Jesus is not simply in the message he proclaimed or the divinity he revealed; the saving significance of Jesus is in the active presence of God in and through him, a presence into which he invites the faithful to come be present to God themselves.  What is unique about the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus is the intensity, intimacy, and deliberate manner in which Jesus received and actualized in his human occasions the divine aims of God’s saving love.  Thus Isaiah’s recognition of God’s presence, in the history of salvation serves to enhance, not to diminish, the recognition of God’s saving presence in Jesus the Christ.  It encourages us to recognize God’s real presence in contemporary acts of prayer, liturgy, community and justice.  Therefore the celebration of Christmas is not only about a birth two thousand years ago; it is about God’s mercy and love made present today.

Psalm 148 reminds us that all things can praise God because God touches all things, both human and non-human.  God is present in the groaning of creation and our own yearnings.  God is revealed in the sighs too deep for words within us and the sighs of all creation.  The universe reflects a dynamic call and response at every level.  Although we have defaced creation and ourselves, we still live in an enchanted universe in which all things reveal the movements of God’s Spirit.

The Letter of Hebrews tells us that we can grow in grace and share in Christ’s divinity because Christ transformed humankind through the incarnation.  Christ saves us by becoming one of us and experiencing the world from our perspective.  God became human so we might become divine.  Christ lived through every stage of life, thus making every stage of life holy.  Christ suffers as he experiences our pain; God feels our pain and is truly the fellow sufferer who understands our experiences.  Christ invites persons to holiness.  God’s experience of our world is fundamental to divine revelation.  In sharing our lives, God lures us toward full humanity and the glory of God in human history.

The Gospel reading needs to be rated “R” for violent content.  The slaughter of the innocents is graphic in its violence, and sadly we are familiar with such images of death and destruction, whether by terrorist actions, ethnic violence, drone attacks.  Institutions, like persons, are ambiguous: they can do much good in the world, but they can also wreak violence on innocent children.  Military instruments such as drones, intended to reduce innocent suffering, become instruments that destroy families.  As we ponder the killing of toddlers in Bethlehem, we are forced to our own examination of conscience as individuals and citizens.  In what ways are we, through our own actions, the actions of churches, the actions of our lawmakers and political leaders, harming children?  How do we cope with the institutional and family sexual betrayal of our young children?

We catch a glimpse of the members of the Holy Family running for their lives.  Joseph, Jesus and Mary are political refugees, immigrants, similar to today’s legal and illegal immigrants throughout the world who depend solely on the kindness of strangers.  Their flight reminds us of our responsibility to today’s immigrants.  Regardless of their legal status, they are God’s beloved children who deserve our compassion and support.

The first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel are filled with life transforming dreams: Joseph chooses to stay with pregnant Mary as a result of an angelic message in a dream; the magi have a dream that warns them to return home without reporting to Herod; Joseph is warned to leave Bethlehem; another dream inspires Joseph to return home.

One of Matthew’s ongoing motifs throughout the Gospel is to present Jesus as a new Moses, mediating a new Covenant.  The brief episodes in this passage echo episodes in the life of Moses.  As Moses’ birth was threatened by the decree of Pharaoh that Hebrew boys should be killed, so Jesus’ birth is threatened by Herod’s murderous order.  As Moses was separated from his people and raised among Egyptians, so Jesus was separated from his people and raised in Egypt.  As Moses returned to the land of promise but did not dwell in it, so Jesus returned to Judea but did not stay there, moving instead to Nazareth in Galilee.  What is being suggested is that as God was at work in Moses, and more so is God at work in Jesus.  Jesus is the true representative of the people in mediating a new Covenant

God comes to us in many ways.  We need to take time to pause, notice and then respond to the many ways divine revelation emerges each and every day.  In this holy season we remember and celebrate that God came to us as one of us so that w can be one with God.[1]

 



[1] This sermon prepared using mater written by Bruce G Epperly and Paul S Nancarrow found at www.processandfaith.org.

 

 

 

Sermon: Christmas Day (A) – 25th December 2013

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 8am

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 2:11-14; Matthew 2:1-20

The Christmas stories are provocative propositions.  The theologian A N Whitehead said that, “it is more important that a proposition be interesting than true” and that “the importance of truth is that it adds to the interest”.

The Biblical accounts of the first Christmas have been under vigorous study for the last two hundred years, by scholars and religious leaders and even Pope Francis has entered the debate concerning the accuracy of our Christmas pageants.  Such study and the resulting findings are important; but are they interesting?  Do they add to the vitality of life or lead to personal transformation?  There is a deeper truth that has emanated from the Christmas stories that can never be captured by scholarship alone.

When it comes to the important business of passing on our Christian tradition, we tell stories.  For the most important stories, we dramatize and make them tangible.  At Christmas we tell our stories in many ways such as the crib scene below me, we sing carols, have Sunday School presentations; all these are to anchor our memories.  Our legacy to those who follow us in the journey of life is a rich storehouse of images for the times, both good and bad, that may lie ahead that point out that no matter what may happen God, who is revealed as a human baby in the usual process of life, goes with all those who have faith in the stories of the Nativity.  This treasury of images and stories combine both personal stories and the overarching, transcendent story.

While we may never know the exact details of Jesus’ birth, the Gospel shows the holy family as a pilgrim family, temperately without shelter and desperately seeking a place for the birth of their child.  No one would have noticed them as unique among the many travellers that evening.  They were citizens of an oppressed people, compelled to take an inconvenient and life-threatening journey and subject to the whims of forces beyond themselves.  Soon they would have to flee for their lives as political immigrants, dare we say illegal immigrants, depending upon the kindness of strangers for their survival.  Yet, God’s universal energy and power, God’s vision for the ages, is centred upon the birth of a baby.

The Christmas stories mark both Mary and Joseph as particularly sensitive to the divine possibilities and their perceptiveness opened the door for a leap divine self revelation to them and their child Jesus.  The stories of this season are those of birth.  Perhaps unconsciously, we will return to them at other times during the coming year.  As some of you know, I love to play Christmas carols through out the year, especially in the depths of winter.  At times when we feel dead inside, we will turn to those memories of birth and some trace of Christmas will stir within.  Then we who were suffering from amnesia will remember who we are and whose we are.

Luke sees divinity bursting forth in a stable and in revelation given to shepherds, people at the margins of society.  There is nothing romantic about the real life of real shepherds.  They live their lives in the moment unsure of their future.  They lived outside in all weather conditions, were a bit shiftless in the public eye and were not part of polite society.  Yet, they receive a visit from angels, which opens their eyes to a new possibility for themselves and for all humanity.  Dwelling in darkness they have seen a great light.  God’s salvation comes at the margins of life, making the margins the frontiers of a world to come.

The accounts of the first Christmas are not a process that would fit in a rulebook or on a balance sheet, because they are more closely akin to poetry.  The poet knows that everything has the potential for grace, that the divine can reveal itself in the smallest, strangest places.  Isaiah would never fit on a ledger sheet, he wrote of the ruins of Jerusalem breaking out in song.  It wouldn’t appear in an anatomy text, but John imagined people born neither from human will nor physical processes, but from God.  The pragmatists might scoff at such insights, but without such stories, we perish.

So today we celebrate the poetry of new life.

“There is something afoot in the universe that looks like gestation and birth”,

wrote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.  In John’s gospel, it looks like order and purpose, a design established from the beginning.  At the designated time, the forerunner appears, then in a burst of light, the Son.  The letter to Hebrews calls him

“the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.”

As though the brilliance might be too much for human eyes, the story tells all who wish to listen that God comes to us in a form we can handle, the light filtered, the glory toned down.  God so honours our freedom that God does not dazzle us with radiance, but comes in what is closest, most intimate, small as a baby.

Another way of telling the story of the festival, is to talk about the joy of the resurrection, of the Christ who is present through his conquest of death and decay entering our hearts at Christmas.  This recognition that it can only be the risen Christ whom we encounter seems strange and out of context, yet the atmosphere of the liturgy drives us to make the connection.  For this is above all else the day of light.

To tell the story of Christmas by showing the centrality of the symbol of light as common to both incarnation and resurrection is to see how inseparable are the Christmas and Easter mysteries.  Together they consti­tute the basic framework of God’s activity in and beyond his­tory and time, as they form the heart of Christian faith and hope.  Without Easter, Christmas has no point; without Christ­mas, Easter has no meaning.  Both incarnation and resurrection have significance because in these events God is glorified in the flesh.  The flesh becomes the source of light, the raw material of glory.

The light of Christ is a persistent light.  It shines through the most powerfully oppressive darkness, shines in the midst of devastation and upheaval, yet without explaining them, justifying them or making sense of them.  The gospel of incarnation and resurrection is not the answer to a set of questions.  It is a persistent and defiant light, its persistence is paradoxical for the truth of the gospel of incarnation and resurrection is paradoxical.  For the truth of the story of the gospel of incar­nation and resurrection stands in contradiction to, and seems to be contradicted by, the realities of the world in which there is still no room and where the dead bodies pile up, inexplicably, meaninglessly.

Is the story we tell of the light of Christ, then, no more than an illusory comfort, a false reassurance that all is well when in fact all is clearly unwell in the “demented inn” of the world?  Certainly religious light is often of this illusory kind but the gospel of incarnation and res­urrection cannot be told in an authentic and truthful way unless it faces the terrible reality of homelessness and meaning­less death.

These two realities provide the only possible material context for the light of Christ.  For it is as the story of the homeless unwanted Christ of Bethlehem and as the naked condemned Christ of Golgotha that the light shines with its strange persist­ence and its baffling power to draw people to its shining, enabling them to become dynamic agents in the historical pro­cess, lights in the world.

May the stories of Christ’s birth two thousand years go, bring you the light of meaning this Christmas enabling you to see God’s presence in the world and in your life.[1]


[1] This sermon produced using material from ”The Living Spirit”, editor by M Hebblethwaite, Canterbury Press, Norwich, www.preparingforsunday.com/ Living the Good News, Episcopal of East Tennessee and material written by B P Epperly, www.processandfaith.org

Sermon: The Third Sunday in Advent (A) – 15th December 2013

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping 7am, 8am, 10am and 6pm

Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10; The Magnificat; James 5:7-10 ; Matthew 11:2-11

Advent invites us to imagine “impossible” futures for our world, and then open ourselves to their power of the Spirit to lure us forward.  Advent invites, and it also judges.  Advent asks, “Where are we going in our personal lives?  How far are we from the vision imagined by Isaiah, Mary, John the Baptist, and Jesus?”  Spiritual teachers speak of the examination of conscience and this examination is at the heart of Advent.  We are a long way from Isaiah’s vision, but the spiritual arc of history challenges us to continue our pilgrimages toward God’s realm.

The metaphor of a highway through a desert that is in bloom is an exuberant way to describe the heart-lifting experience of opening oneself fully to God’s creative, transforming power.  A desert is usually thought of as trackless, or with barely discernible routes.  A highway is a broad thoroughfare that invites travel, incites curiosity about what lies ahead and implies companions along the way.  A desert in bloom is a landscape of beauty and wonder that welcomes travellers.  With words like gladness, rejoicing, joy, abundance and singing, the prophet declares the pathway of God, the “Holy Way”, as endorsed by Creation itself.

Although this passage is a poem of return of the exiles, is it any surprise that early Jesus followers would associate these verses, with the advent of Jesus?  In a world famous for the mastery of Roman roads, one can almost imagine these early followers picturing Jesus as striding down this highway, a living link from the prophetic vision of the past to the pressing need for its renewal in the present.  They would see this “Holy Way” of God, in contrast to the Appian Way of Rome, as a declaration of the right road to take.  They found in Jesus a way to affirm the peace of God over the peace of Rome achieved by violence.

The desert shall bloom, the weak will become strong, the lame will dance and the frightened will become bold.  God’s plan for us is aimed toward wholeness and redemption.  The adventures of ideas of a transformed world reflect God’s vision for nature and humankind.

How shall we respond to Isaiah’s amazing vision?  Is it just a picture in words alone?  Will God somehow bring about this new age of Peace?  Are our efforts essential to realizing the realm of Peace in our world?  However we look at this passage, it is an ideal that shapes history, leaving us with a holy discontent, and an inspiration to creative transformation, first, of ourselves and then the world around us.  In contrast to world-destroying apocalyptic writings, Isaiah’s vision emerges from our world, imaging what a transformed world could be like.  Isaiah seeks a restored world, continuous with the past, but revealing new energies and possibilities, and a new human orientation.

Mary’s song places God on the side of the vulnerable and oppressed.  God’s justice will be done and the poor will be uplifted, the wounded healed, and the wicked punished.  The creator of heaven and earth is biased toward justice.  In the beginning, God brought forth order from primordial chaos.  Throughout history, God continues to bring about new forms of order, confronting the disorder of injustice with the powerful vision of a just and orderly society.  Order is not static in the song’s vision but the foundation of creaturely creativity and adventure: a new heaven and a new earth.

The Advent readings connect divine order on the intimate and the inclusiveness of the cosmos: humanity and nature are synchronized as a result of God’s dynamic call, eliciting innovative responses from human partnership.  Mary’s song imagines a divine reign radically different from any religion past or present.  There is no coercion or domination, but invitation and transformation.  Freedom and creativity are preserved and aligned with the greater good of all creation.

The song exalts God’s preferential care for the poor and dispossessed.  It unites the microcosm with the macrocosm: what God is doing in her life reflects God’s aim for history.  Mary shows the way similar to John the Baptist.  She discovers herself as a bearer of a new age to come.  Her humble and risky situation mirrors the challenges the vulnerable and poor are facing.  God’s work in her life reveals God’s intention to lift up the forgotten and desperate.  God is praised for God’s justice and care for the “unimportant” and not the exercise of brute and coercive power.

The message of both John and Jesus is a call to live according to the way of God and not the way of empire.  The way of God is described over and over again by the prophets: take care of society’s most vulnerable; limit the gap between rich and poor do not use power to further the narrow self-interest of yourself and your friends; do not accumulate wealth at the expense of the poor.  So when John’s disciples question Jesus, he answers in language they both understand: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed.  This is the way of God, definitely not the way of empire.  Nor is this news as reported by political tricksters as it is the good news that can be seen and heard by anyone who is paying attention.

The question put to Jesus is this: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  By implication, the question is also put to us: is this the one we are to follow or can we prolong business as usual for a while longer while we wait for someone else to come?  If Jesus reveals God by his unswerving fidelity to God’s way of being in the world, then do we not reveal the same when we act in fidelity to Jesus?

The incarnation of God in the world is always already happening, but we can act in ways that bring more light to the strangers in our midst, to our neighbours, our friends and family members, and to ourselves.

John is looking for signs of the Way.  Jesus responds in terms of action there are no creeds or self-referential Messianic statements.  Take a look he says.  Here’s what’s going on.  Jesus has inaugurated a healing community that potentially encompasses the whole creation.  Jesus is embodying Isaiah’s dream and Mary’s praise.  Healing abounds: cells and souls are transformed.  God is doing a new thing that transforms minds, bodies, spirits and relationships, and God wants us to become part of a divine holistic healing adventure.

The passage ends with what, at first glance, appears to be a diminishment of John the Baptist; “the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”.  This should be read as similar in tone to John 14:12, when Jesus asserts that those who follow him will be able to do greater things than he.  Jesus is affirming our role in the realm of God.  We are to be agents in God’s realm of healing.  We are God’s creative partners in healing the earth.  We are to claim our own energy and power in relationship to God’s loving vision.  Open to God’s vision, we can do great things that heal the world.

Advent presents us with an invitation to partnership, grounded in a holy unrest.  God’s aims for history and our personal lives are always somewhat at odds with the concreteness of our lives and social structures.  Their dissonance invites us to imagine and then embody God’s vision of a new heaven and a new Earth.  We are prone to hopelessness, as reflected in our complacency regarding the growing gap of wealthy and poor and the threats to the Earth through global climate change.  Still, Advent’s horizon of hope inspires us to join a healing pilgrimage, with no certain destination, but with the companionship of God.[1]



[1] This sermon based upon material written by B Epperly and J Slettom

found at www.processandfaith.org.

 

Sermon: The Second Sunday in Advent (A) – 8th December 2013

St Aidan’s Anglican Church West Epping 8.30am

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-21; Romans 15:4-13 ; Matthew 3:1-12

“Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ,” wrote Thomas Merton.  It is the time Christians set aside for spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ celebrated at Christmas.  Even as Christmas has become more secular, the Advent season still brings joy and the observance of ancient customs.  Christian families find quiet moments lighting candles in the Advent wreath; children use Advent calendars to count the days until Christmas arrives.

Advent is also a pilgrimage.  A time of sacred travel.  It is a way that we answer “the holy longing”.  During Advent, we will leave the place of our birth to journey to the birthplace of another.  It is an invitation to be born again.

“There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things, until the habit of Advent returns to us.”  The disciplines of Advent are ones that teach us to do small things greatly, to do few things but do them well, to love in particular, rather than in general.  This habit of small successes generates creativity, a sense of well-being, a generosity of spirit rooted in satisfaction.  It generates hope.

Christians engaged in social transformation often get discouraged.  We are acutely aware of the evils of the world.  At times, we despair or allow our anger at injustice to be the source of energy in our lives.  Sometimes we actually create despair and depression in our lives when we only fight losing battles.  It is mandatory that we commit ourselves to disciplines that generate hope.

Having fun is not the same as having hope, but they are related.  Dipping in the deep refreshing pool of joy and contentment is one reminder that the world and everything in it, good and bad, belongs to God.  It is our work to live each day as it comes along, receiving our daily bread, doing good, offering hospitality, choosing compassion and forgiveness, serving the “least of these,” singing, praying, and, when night comes, giving our bodies and souls over to sleep.

We light the Advent candles to remind us that things are not always as they seem, and that hope springs forward at the sound of its name.  In William Blake’s poem “Jerusalem”, he wrote:

“I give you the end of a gold string.

Only wind it into a ball,

It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate

built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

The followers of The Way in the first century wove together a “gold string” that reached back to the creation of light in the Genesis story and forward to this very Advent.  There is a golden thread that sews us together as students of Jesus.  Paul calls this thread the “grace of apostleship”.  It is passed, hand to hand, from one generation to the next.  Like young children being guided on a field trip through the big world, we are given a rope and told to hold on.  We know that the rope reaches all the way back to the teacher, the anchor, the shepherd.

Advent is a time to marvel at the golden thread and to make sure that we have not become separated from it.  If, by chance, you have become separated from it, do not be afraid: Jesus extends the end of the string to you again.

The challenge in Advent is less about the future or the past, but about keeping our eyes wide open to where and what God is up to now.  When Advent focuses solely on Christ’s first coming we turn our faith into something that happened back there.  When we focus on his ultimate coming in God’s future we turn the faith into something otherworldly and out there.  In both cases, we risk failing to see Christ’s saving work in our lives right now.

In a classic Advent text from Isaiah, appropriated by the church very early on as a prophetic witness to Jesus being, Great David’s greater Son.  A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and his reign will be glorious.

Israel’s greatest king was David.  After David’s son, Solomon’s reign, things deteriorated.  After one hundred and fifty years of faithless kings and political turmoil, Isaiah reminds the people of God’s promise, saying that though Jerusalem and its king may suffer punishment for sin, God’s chosen city will never be utterly destroyed, nor the Davidic dynasty fall.  The vision Isaiah sketches here is not intended to be a utopian dream about God’s ultimate future.  This is a promise about a king to reign among God’s people now and the quality of life that would come from such a reign.  True, the words about wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, living together in peace and the lion eating straw push the vision out onto the future that is signalled by the words, “On that day reminds us that this promise is as much about now as a future then.  The Spirit-filled Messiah who brings righteousness and justice to bear in the day-to-day lives of his people is named Jesus, and has been living into his messianic reign in the lives of his followers for two thousand years.  When members of his community have embraced his reign, the future becomes present; equity, justice, righteousness and faithfulness emerge.  When the church has not embraced that future present, the old patterns of abuse of privilege and power remain.  The question is are we seeking equity, justice, righteousness and faithfulness, or simply the privilege of belonging to the king?

John’s call for repentance is simply a warning to the people who have long looked for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Day of the Lord is about to break in with its judgment on those who have abandoned God’s ways.  They want to be washed outwardly but not inwardly.  For all of their piety, for all of their religious observance, for all of their public display of faith, the issues of equity, justice, righteousness and faithfulness, the social implication of God’s reign, were missing in them and they seemed not the least bit concerned about it.  They were, after all, children of Abraham and Abraham’s children who were instructed to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.  Can we look the other way in matters of justice, mercy, righteousness and faithfulness and simply claim our relationship to Jesus?  Even now, says John, God’s judgment is unfolding against any one, no matter how pious, no matter how religious, who fails to produce the fruit of the kingdom.

John’s point is simply this: the reign of God is breaking into life and he is simply preparing the way with a baptism of water as a sign of preparation for its coming.  The coming one is so powerful, so anointed with God’s Holy Spirit, so full of God’s presence, that John is not even worthy to carry his sandals.  His baptism will be different from John’s.  It will not be a sign of something we have done.  It will be God’s act immersing us in God’s Spirit and fire.

That is the fundamental difference between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism.  John’s baptism was a sign of decisions the people coming to him had made.  It could be done repeatedly as a continuing sign of their repentance.  Those baptized by John were responding to his fearful warning, the coming of God’s reign was a fearful thing.  There was good reason to repent.

The Coming One’s baptism would be different: it would bring with it the results it symbolized.  It would fill the recipient with God’s Spirit, with God’s presence and power and bring with it fire that accomplished God’s judgment.  Christian baptism is first and foremost what God does.  God is filling us with God’s Spirit and Fire.

The Spirit and fire of Jesus’ baptism is God’s presence to touch, awaken and claim us.  God unites us to Christ and empowers us with the Spirit.  We receive God’s presence to judge and destroy those things coming between God, and us and coming between us and our being God’s people.  The Spirit and fire is God’s power to make us into a community that welcomes one another as Christ has welcomed us, a community that is seeking equity, justice, and righteousness as marks of its faithfulness.  The Spirit and fire of God hold us in the transforming presence of Jesus Christ so that we not only trust him as our saviour, but also find power to follow him faithfully in life as Lord.

The reign of David’s Greater Son has come in Jesus Christ.  What John was not ready for was the fact that God’s fire could cleanse and preserve without destroying.  John expected the coming one to be the fierce judge, cutting down trees that did not bear fruit, throwing them into the fire and sweeping the threshing floor clear of wheat to be stored in the granary before burning the chaff with an unquenchable fire.  However, Jesus comes as one who welcomes and forgives sinners, accepts and dines with them, announces God’s love, desire and intention for them and calls them to respond to God’s presence in him.

The One Isaiah proclaims has come and continues to reign in those who welcome him, those who trust him, those who entrust themselves to him.  These he leads into faithfulness.  This is not a future promise.  This is the future present, a promise that is being fulfilled, day in and day out as you and I open ourselves to Christ’s presence in our lives.

The Father sends the Spirit through the Son, to touch us and to awaken us to the fact that we are His, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, and that we and ours belong to God in Jesus Christ.  In so doing, God’s fire emerges within us to consume those things that seek to separate us from God and God’s love and begins to purify and preserve us, tempering us for lives of discipleship.

Water, Spirit and Fire; in baptism they make us the Lord’s, enabling us to love and serve Jesus Christ in this world, living in hope; a hope, says Paul, that fills us with the joy and peace of believing.

Let God glisten in your life.  Let God sweeten your days.  Hold on to your golden string, as your Advent journey is a continuation of your life’s string from God.  “Only wind it into a ball”, my friend, and “it will lead you in at Heaven’s gate”.[i]



[i] This sermon composed using material from http://www.mapc.com/worship/sermons/2007/12/09/water-spirit-and-fire

The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson and, www.sojo.org/index.cfm?action=resources.sermon_prep_subscription, Rose Marie Berger