Then and Now

a sermon for Christmas 2012

In those days, when Augustus was Emperor and Quirinius was governor of Syria, the people lived in darkness and fear.  But then one day, something remarkable happened. Something happened to change the world, and even the way we mark time.

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An Unexpected Christmas

A new take on the Christmas story by Simone Graham (read at the Children’s Christmas Eve service.)

We tried something different at the early service on Christmas Eve this year.  Instead of a homily, I read a new children’s story called “An Unexpected Christmas.”  The story was written by Simone Graham, a writer and blogger who wrote it for her own children and who lives in Auckland, New Zealand.  The book has been published and made into a short video.  You can get more information, order the book, and see the video at her blog, greatfun4kids.

A Season of Rare Beasts and Unique Adventures

There is a song* on page 464 of our hymnal which has always struck me as very odd. The lyrics come from a poem written by W. H. Auden during the Second World War. In it, he reflects on the coming of Christ through fanciful images and strange new worlds. It is Auden’s attempt to describe how the coming of Christ changes everything about the way we see and engage with the world.

For Christians, the season of Advent marks the beginning of a new year. Obviously, because it happens to fall right after Thanksgiving and before the secular New Year holiday, the season is filled with all sorts of confusing messages. Clergy struggle in vain to get their people to slow down and consider the meaning of God coming into the world; angry fanatics rant about how some people are trying to “take the Christ out of Christmas” (whatever that means); and stores offer more and more incentives to part people from their money. Frankly, all of it seems to completely miss the point of this time of year: that God came into the world to usher in a completely new age of human history, and we can only imagine what the world will be like as a result. In other words, God is not fixed, God is not static, God is not bound by our conceptions of “the way it is.” Instead, God is continually making the world fresh, and alive, and recreated anew.

sun%20over%20earthFor us, this means that we don’t have to be content with the way things are. As children of God, we are empowered to act and change the world in ways that create new opportunities and realities for ourselves and our families. We can imagine things as they should be, and work to change them. We can dream, we can hope, we can reach forward into God’s new reality, a reality in which we are all united with God through Christ.

One of the symbols of this forward-looking world view is the Advent calendar. Every day, one door is opened, revealing a surprise. Every day, we get a glimpse of God’s New Creation that awaits us just around the corner. Every day, we can move forward into a world of peace, joy, and harmony with God and nature. The Advent calendar reminds us that our past need not determine our future; God has many surprises in store for us, if we are simply willing to be open to them.

Two weeks ago, our parish decided to once again to renew our commitment to God’s mission in Irmo through the election of a wonderful slate of dedicated people to work on the vestry. We decided to move forward, looking honestly at our ministry and build on our strengths, while repairing our weaknesses. I am excited about our new leadership, and optimistic for our future. I truly believe that our best and brightest days are ahead of us, and that we are still called to be part of God’s mission for the world. All it takes is a little creativity and a willingness to take a chance on something new. I ask your prayers for your vestry and for me as we begin to map out what new doors our parish might open.

The season of Advent reminds us that we are not chained to our past; we can be partners with God in recreating the world as it was meant to be. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some rare beasts. We will definitely have a unique adventure.

Fr. Mark+

* He is the Way. 
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness; 
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

from “For the Time Being – a Christmas Oratorio” by W. H. Auden, 1944