Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon for Advent 1 Year B 2008

Sometimes a light surprises

You have heard the reading from Isaiah.
Now I want you to hear it in another way:
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why…

No, it isn’t Santa Claus who is coming to town, says the prophet.
It is God.
And God is going to break open the heavens and come down.
Just you wait! says Isaiah.
Just you wait.

And waiting and watching and trying to be prepared
is what this season of Advent is all about.

We wait for the arrival of God
in the human form of a baby.
We wait for the arrival of God
bumping in on our daily lives.
We wait for the arrival of God
mysteriously promised to come again in the future.
Date and time unknown.

The season of Advent begins today.
Things are changing.
Our vestments and altar hangings
have changed to this deep blue-purple hue.
It’s the color of the night sky.
It’s a color you can fall into and dream dreams
and see visions.

Things are changing.
There is the Advent wreath with its four candles—
we light one
each Sunday of Advent.
We wait with expectation.
One candle, two candles, three, four…
Time passes.
Life does not stand still.

In Advent, the cross on our retable behind the altar
and our processional cross are wood,
not our usual shiny brass.
We wait with simplicity,
reminded of the importance of setting priorities,
of remembering what is really important in our lives.

As we stumble towards a manger in a stable,
we are alert to the abundance of our blessings,
and challenged to discern the difference
between what we want and what we need.

In Advent,
our worship changes here at St. John's.
We begin using a different Eucharistic Prayer—Prayer B--
which we will use for most of this church year.
Our hymns changes. They sound different,
in both words and music.

During Advent we pray the version of the Lord’s Prayer
with its King James language
of thine and thy and thou..
We remember our tradition
and we wait in expectation
for God’s next move
in this never-ending story.

And the wall above the retable,
so long blank and empty,
is now graced with a painting—
a painting that offers us
a window into this Advent season.

Sometimes a light surprises…
That is the title this painting has claimed for itself.

This painting, by artist Penelope Carscaddon--
whom we joyfully claim and hold dear
as a member of this parish—
this painting offers us
a way to experience Advent
in a new way.

Throughout Christian history
visual art has been used to communicate
both the doctrine of the Church
and the story of the Church.

It is important to remember that our early Christian ancestors—
and certainly those before them—
were often pre-literate.
They could not read or write.
They learned and remembered by what they heard—
through their oral tradition—
and by what they saw—
through their visual tradition.

The arts tell a story in ways we never forget.

Some people are uncomfortable with abstract art;
by abstract I mean,
visual art that is not pictorial.

I am always amazed
at how comfortable we are with pictorial images of Jesus—
when we have no earthly idea what Jesus really looked like.

Tall? Short?
Fat? Thin?
Bald? Hairy?
Attractive? Homely?
There is not one single word of physical description of Jesus
in the entire Bible.

But the imagination of artists who paint
a clear pictorial image of Jesus
don’t make us uncomfortable, don’t cause us to scoff
or pull away and say, “I just don’t get it.”

There is nothing wrong with realism
(as long as we understand it is only the realism of one imagination)
but we also need to understand
that art is not a one-way avenue.
Something is expected of us, the viewer.

Just as we are expected in the liturgy to respond,
to join in at points,
to participate---
so we are also called to participate in visual art as well.

This painting does not hang here during these four weeks of Advent
to tell us precisely the real and true meaning of this season.

The visual arts are not the answers in the back of the test booklet.
This painting is here to invite us on a spiritual journey.

Spend time in silence when in you come in for worship.
Gaze at this painting and ponder how it speaks to you,
especially how it speaks to you about the season of Advent.
Don’t look at the painting and try to “think” it out—
look at the painting and try to “feel” is out.
The arts engage our hearts.
Be open to that happening.

Look at this painting and pray about your own spiritual journey.
What are you waiting for?
How is the hope, the expectation of advent, alive in your life this year?
Or is it?
Where does your faith connect to the coming of the Light into the world?

Penelope has given us a great gift by allowing this painting
to hang at St. John’s during the season of Advent.
Artists use their imaginations to expand the boundaries
not only of their experience,
but of our experience as well.

Our own experience with this painting
may surprise us,
may wake us up,
make us a little more alert
to this Advent season.

Anything and everything is possible
when we look and pray and listen
with an open and uncluttered heart.

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why….

Jesus is coming to town.
Keep awake.
Stay alert.
Ponder these things in your heart.
But most importantly,
actively expect
the light that surprises.

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