Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Advent 1 Sermon

I have never dedicated a sermon to anyone, but this one I dedicate to my beautiful niece Liberty.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

We have left the season of Pentecost—
“ordinary time” as it is known in the church year
and have stepped over the threshold into the season of Advent.

Our hangings and vestments are purple.
The Advent wreath with its four candles representing the four Sundays
prior to Christmas is in place.
Our hymns are different, our service music is different,
even our Eucharistic Prayer has changed.

Advent is the season we prepare for the coming of Christ.
The word ADVENT comes from the Latin word—ADVENTUS—
which means COMING.
We usually think of the coming of Christ in the birth of Jesus,
the celebration of the feast of Christmas.
But there is another ancient theme in the Advent season:
the preparing for when Christ will come again into this world.
Some call that the “second coming” or the “end time”
or even the apocalypse.
It is interesting to me
That this is the theme that always begins our new church year.
But indeed, it is a time of hope and expectation and waiting.

It is not only a new church season
but a new church year—year A.
We have a new lectionary of readings this year as well—
All Episcopal churches, as of this Sunday,
have switched to what is known as the Revised Common Lectionary.

In practical terms
what this means is that we will hear
some different Old Testament readings on Sundays
and some different gospel readings as well.
We will also share these same readings with Lutheran, Roman Catholic
and some other churches in various denominations.
There is a beautiful power I think
in so many of us hearing and reflecting on the same scripture texts
together each Sunday.
One body, one faith, one baptism.

All these changes are small tremors meant to wake us up.

Last evening at our 5 p.m. service
Bishop Johnson was here to consecrate the Weinhauer Chapel
as well as our beautiful and lovingly crafted Columbarium
here at St. John’s.

Last evening
we also laid to final rest the ashes of the body
of Bishop William G. Weinhauer.
I venture to say that the spirit of Bill Weinhauer
is far from resting, far from being asleep.
His spirit is alive—in this parish, in this diocese, in the national church,
in many of your own individual lives,
and certainly in the lives of his family.

If we listen carefully for the voices of those we love but see no longer,
We are likely to hear a shout saying,

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
writes poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Indeed it is.

Advent invites us to wake up.
To wake up and to open our eyes and our ears and our lives
to the new gifts that God is about to give.

Advent scripture texts offer promise and expectation and hope.
Advent challenges our rationality and our security.

The Son of Man is coming at the time you least expect.
If you don’t think that’s a scary thought,
I suggest you think again.

If we only think to the times in our lives when we were totally hit
by the unexpected—
An illness, a death, a divorce, financial disaster--
our lives changing in ways we never would have predicted
or expected.

It is very important to me as an Episcopalian
and very important to me as your priest
that together we live fully into this season of Advent.

When much of the world has already done
a giant leap frog over advent
and has plunged head first
Into the big pond of malls and super stores
and on-line Christmas buying,
I ask you to try to live into the waiting, the expectation, the hope
of this beautiful season of peace.

However, t is also important that we do not become judgmental
of even what appears to be very crass commercialism.
God works in mysterious ways.

I was reminded of this
and humbled when I recently read a story that was shared
by a woman whose name is Jenee Woodard.

This is her true story. She writes:

…my son has autism.
He is 10 years old and is severely handicapped by his disability.
Our family learned to slow down at Christmas a number of years ago
when he was unable to tolerate *any* of the celebration.

He could not handle the changing scenarios –
the twinkling lights, the changes in grocery store displays,
the changes in the sanctuary at church,
presents appearing under the tree, the tree ITSELF, and the moved furniture.

He would fall on the floor and scream, unable to move,
afraid to open his eyes,
almost constantly from Thanksgiving until well after Christmas
when it was all over.
We carried him through that time
his head covered with his coat
so we could get through the grocery store,
or sat with him huddled in his room,
carefully ordered EXACTLY the same since summer,
with no Christmas trappings.
Worship on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day was over-crowded and yet hushed, not a good combination for an autistic child.
Christmas celebrations at home were a nightmare.
Phil would scream and cry as each package was moved and (gasp!) unwrapped.
As frightened as he was when each new thing appeared,
he was equally frightened when it changed or disappeared.
We'd try to find him a present he'd enjoy,
but he'd merely scream and cry in panic
at the intrusion on his carefully ordered world,
and the gifts would sit ignored until he outgrew them
and we gave them to some little boy who could appreciate them.

He wanted nothing.
He would look straight at toys we thought he would like,
and he would not react at all.
He asked for nothing. He anticipated nothing.
He just screamed and cried at all of it.
It is no bliss to have a child who doesn't get it –
who doesn't want anything
and doesn't want to have anything to do with Christmas commercialism –
or it is only bliss in some romantic fantasy.
In real life it is a surreal nightmare.

This year, right around Thanksgiving,
we once more asked the kids what they wanted for Christmas.
Our 14-year-old daughter sat down and made out her list.
And our 10-year old son, for the first time in his life,
answered the question. "PlayStation 2," he said.
"I want PlayStation 2 Christmas."
We just about fell over.
His sister gave him a piece of paper.
She wrote "Phil's Christmas List" at the top.
He wrote, "PLAYSTATION TWO" under her heading.
"At Sam's," he said. "Go to car."

So, we drove to Sam's.
He has never looked at anything there,
never seemed to notice that Sam's has anything he might want.
But he led us right to the PlayStation 2 sets,
picked out the bundle he wanted and put it in the cart.
"Open at Christmas," he said.
He watched gleefully as we wrapped the package,
and then he solemnly placed it under the tree.
So, a PlayStation 2 game set sits there, wrapped, with his name on it,
and he waits to open it.
"December 25," he says. "Open PlayStation 2 December 25."

Last night we'd returned from yet another Christmas rehearsal
with our daughter,
Phil found a Best Buy ad in the paper
and turned immediately to the PlayStation games.
He circled "Harry Potter" and "John Madden Football",
handed the ad to Bob, and said, "I want Christmas."

There were tears in my eyes.
It's such a small thing, but such a truly amazing thing.
It's one more bit of hope
that he will be able to function in some semblance of society
as an adult one day –
that he might be able to live just a BIT more independently,
and one day want the things he needs to survive enough to work for them.
(Not a foregone conclusion with autistic folks, which makes them particularly unemployable, no matter their intelligence.)
Consumerism might be "the enemy",
but a kid who understands none of it is only a hero
in a Chicken Soup For The Soul story.

This Advent season I am grateful
for being able to appreciate what complexity and miracle is involved
in such small "selfish" acts as wanting something for Christmas
and expressing those wants to another person.

I'm grateful that my son is able
to enjoy all of the commercial cultural trappings of the holiday this year
instead of running from them screaming.

I'm grateful for the many ways Phil helps me stop and look again,
even at my most "Christian" conclusions.

And I'm especially grateful that my son helps me see Christ's humble birth,
over and over again,
even in the midst of nightmares and worries
I could not have imagined 10 years ago,
even in the midst of Advent.

That is Jenee Woodard’s story.

We have no idea when how or when Christ may come into our lives.
No idea.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God—
even when we are blind to it,
even when we have to wait ten years for a child to ask for a gift.

God works in every place and in every person and in every time.
We wait for God because we hope for the future.

There is hope.
We must never forget that.
There is always hope.

Sometimes hope comes to us in prayer and worship and Bible study—
sometimes it comes to us in building a Habitat house
or serving at Room at the Inn or Manna Food Bank—
And sometimes hope comes to us in Playstation Two.

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