Sermon – St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Year A First Sunday of Advent
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Romans 13:11
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:44
Please be seated.
I was a Girl Scout. Be prepared was our motto. But I know I’m not always prepared. I’m grateful for having attended a workshop on emergency preparedness and receiving this amazing preparedness kit that included work gloves, food, a space blanket, a transistor radio and band aids. It’s something I wouldn’t have gone out to buy for myself. And it sure did come in handy and provide me with some comfort during Superstorm Sandy in New York City last year when we were without electricity for nearly a week.
When I was a child, it was passages like our Gospel today that frightened me. I heard, “You need to get right with God.” It was like the familiar song we hear this time of year, “You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.” Or the new rage of the “Elf on the Shelf” who watches the children and reports back to Santa. It’s like our default setting is to do the wrong thing and only the image of the impending arrival of the judging Jesus Christ will keep us on the right path.
Okay, I’m sure a reminder is important and helpful. Yet, I’d like to expand our thinking about the message of our readings today.
We need to be awake, because Jesus is coming, whispering in our ear, calling us to do Jesus’ work. We need to be prepared, because answering Jesus, following Jesus can lead us to places we never imagined.
A number of years ago, a social work colleague of mine, Betsy, was selected to be the Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers in Washington, DC. She had served as the Executive Director of the New York State Chapter and I was the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Chapter. We’d call each other regularly to talk about the issues we faced in these positions I was excited that she was selected to head the national organization I appreciated her vision for the Association. One day I said to another colleague that I’d love to work with Betsy, but I really didn’t want to move to DC. Five years later, after quite a process of listening to and following God’s leading, I ended up in DC working for her.
What an amazing time it was. Things I’d never dreamed of or put on my “bucket list” happened and they were great fun. I wrote a grant for a project in Hungary and was able to visit the country. I was a co-leader of a social work trip to South Africa. I presented at an international conference in Hong Kong. I was at meetings at the White House and attended the Democratic National Convention in 2008 I learned I could be a speech writer. I was encouraged to write more and co-wrote a number of scholarly pieces that were published These were just a few of the experiences I had.
And in that move to a new place, I became alert enough to God’s voice that I heard the call to the priesthood.
If I had not been awake to God’s calling… to God’s voice…to following Jesus, I never would have had those experiences in my life. Those experiences that delighted me and yet were not even in my vision for myself
Yes, we need to wake up. Not just because we may be headed in the wrong direction, facing severe judgment, but we also need to be prepared to hear God’s voice, to follow Jesus, so we can do the work God needs us to do…so we can live the life God knows will delight us and God.
Today we are in the New Year. A time to make resolutions. A time to take stock of ourselves.
What are we doing to wake from our sleep? For instance, are we doing things that make our heart sing, either because they delight us or because they allow us the ability to delight others?
Where are we afraid and how can we address our fears? Is there something we need to do so our fear is lessened…maybe some preparation we need to do?
For instance, many of us fear our own deaths. But the truth is, we are not guaranteed any number of days. The next 3 weeks at Adult Forum we will be looking at some of the issues around end-of-life. These sessions might help us be prepared for our own deaths. The information may help lessen our fear.
Sometimes we are afraid of something we are being called to do. I know some of you are being called to be readers or Lay Eucharistic Ministers and you may be afraid, thinking you could never do anything like that. Sometimes we need to go towards our fears and we can take little steps. For instance, you could ask someone who is a reader what is involved or you could figure out what frightens you about reading in church.
Sometimes people help us wake up. Have you ever had the experience of people telling you to read a book and you hear it from different people in different places over a period time? Or a friend tells you you are good at a particular task, something you’d never realized about yourself before? Sometimes other people close to us or complete strangers are messengers from God.
Of course there are the tried and true ways of writing in a journal; frequent reading of the Bible; and most importantly prayer. Many spiritual disciplines are available for use. Maybe it’s time to try a new one or deepen one you’ve been doing.
Just the other day, I realized there was a wonder and joy in the anticipation of Christmas as a child. I wasn’t distracted by buying the perfect present or planning the Christmas meal or the many stresses we feel as adults this time of year.
One of the exciting things that happened was the visit from my grandparents, my mother’s parents. They took the all-day, 300 mile journey on the Greyhound bus. Grandpa always arrived with a small blue satchel. Inside it was the best tasting Italian sweet sausage and at least one octopus. My grandfather would freeze these items so they’d be okay during the journey and promptly put them in the freezer when he arrived. There was the hottest pepperoni and the sharpest provolone cheese, that made your tongue itch.
Prior to their arrival, we’d make the trip to get some Italian bread for about a day; also to purchase the special flour my grandfather needed to make Italian bread for the rest of their stay. We’d buy the Zinfandel wine my grandmother drank with her dinner and the whiskey my grandfather had after supper to “cook his food.” I did not have to plan these things…merely participate in them. They were the signs that my grandparents were visiting. They were the preparations we made for my grandparent’s visit. They were preparations made out of love and the anticipation of the joy of being together. I’d get so excited, I could barely sleep.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” we will sing each Sunday during Advent. Emmanuel – God With Us. Just like my family prepared for my grandparents visit every Christmas, what do you need to do to prepare for Christ’s coming? What do you need to do to hear God’s calling? What do you need to do to prepare with the excitement of a child?
Awake. Focus on the important things. Prepare with love. Prepare with wonder. Anticipate the joy of being together with Christ. “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”