(Bryan preached a wondrous sermon today on Advent III. See it on Emmanuel Church's web sight). But here's one I preached years ago to add to that.)
ADVENT III 2008
It is Advent—a time of waiting and preparing and getting ready.
We are waiting and preparing for the Babe of Bethlehem, for Emmanuel (God with us). For the coming of the Lord.
Advent is a time a deep darkness, long nights, strange dreams and the telling of stories around the fire that gives us light in the midst of Darkness.
I have three stories today, to give us Hope and Wonder and Optimism in the darkest time of the year.
And before those stories, we must look at today’s gospel lesson.
John Baptist was a man sent by God to witness to the Light. Those around him wondered where his testimony came from.
“Are you Messiah?” they asked.
“Are you Elijah?” they inquired.
“Are you a prophet of God?” they quizzed him.
“No! No! and once more No!” he responded. “I only ‘point’ to the One you seek,” he told them. “And he is here already, just look around….”
So, my stories around the fire….My stories to bring you hope and wonder and optimism in the Darkest time of the year.
I tell these stories because we—you and I—are not only preparing for and anticipating the Child to be born for us…we are looking into our future as a Parish Church in the Darkest Time of the Year.
Your Vestry has worked and struggled to manage our future life with reduced resources. St. John’s endowment—which provides much of our income—has been reduced by some 40% by the recent economic crisis. The budget for 2009 is almost a 20% reduction from this year. We are in a Wilderness Time. We must make adjustments. And…and…we must call upon ourselves to be as Hopeful and Wondrous and Powerful as we truly are.
Three stories then.
One of the members of our Chorister Academy—a young girl—has started collecting bottles and cans and turning them in to make money for the Choristers. We got a donation last week. It was only a few dollars, but the intent of her work is an example of Light and Hope for us all. She realizes, in a way we all need to embrace, that what we DO as a church—our mission and ministry—requires all our creativity and work and generosity to support. We need to learn from her…You and Me and all of us….
The night I informed the Friday Night AA meeting that we are cutting back on the evening use of the building to save money in salaries and utilities…the very night I told them that—a man was celebrating his 50 year anniversary of sobriety. They had a dinner and a cake and a celebration. I asked how long he had been coming to the Meetings at St. John’s….
“Fifty years,” I was told. “He got sober here on a Friday night 50 years ago and has come to this Meeting ever since….”
Before we take his Meeting away after half-a-century, before we take away the gift he received because of St. John’s generosity and mission, we must do all we can do and learn from him how powerful our ministry really is. We all—you and I—need to learn from him.
My third story goes like this: two people who were a part of our community for five or six years moved to Tennessee because they couldn’t afford to live in New England any more. Last week I got a letter from the wife—let me call her ‘Joan’.
Joan said in the letter that I probably didn’t remember them because they’d been gone over two years. Of course, I remembered them—they were faithful and kind and of good humor—and though they ‘had’ little, they ‘gave’ much to the parish.
Joan also said that she had always wanted to “give something back” for all she and ‘Harry’ (not his real name either!) had gotten by being part of our worship and life. She enclosed three checks—each for $500—one for Safe Haven, one for the Soup Kitchen and one for the Parish.
The reason she could do that was that Harry died last November and had a “small” life insurance policy.
Harry died so that he and Joan could be ‘generous’ to the mission and ministry of St. John’s. And, knowing and remembering them, I am certain Joan sent the lion’s share of that insurance money to us.
We need to learn from her…and from Harry, who I believe as strongly as I believe anything, would applaud Joan’s use of his insurance money.
It’s NOT US that inspires that Chorister and that man sober for half-a-century and Joan in her name and Harry’s.
It’s NOT US—you and me—that inspires such hopefulness and generosity and appreciation. WE—you and I—are like John Baptist…we are pointing to the one who really inspires such wondrous commitment.
We are pointing—you and I and St. John’s—to the One they not only sought but FOUND.
The Child of Bethlehem, God Incarnate, Emmanuel—THAT IS WHO ‘ALL THIS’ ABOUT AND FOR.
It is our job—in this Wilderness Time, this era of ‘scarcity’ to point to the Generosity and Love and Care and Concern and Commitment that Jesus gives to us.
All the drama and oh-so-necessary responses to St. John’s economic crisis…let me repeat that: ALL THE DRAMA AND OH-SO-NECESSARY RESPONSES TO ST. JOHN’S ECONOMIC CRISIS—and it is very real and very important—all that is an opportunity for us to
Be more loving,
Be more creative,
Be more committed,
Be more Hopeful,
Be more optimistic,
And finally, most importantly, to ‘point’ to the One who gives us the strength and courage and hope to live as Children of Light in the midst of Deep Darkness.
That is our call this Advent—to await the Christchild and to ‘point’ to him as we create a Future of Light in a time of Darkness.