December 17, 2017

2017 Dec17

Advent 3 - Year B

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

God our father, may we always rejoice in hearing Your Word as we await the Word Made Flesh. Amen.

 

Rejoice!!!

 

Today is Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” means “rejoice”. In our Epistle, we are commanded to rejoice always! And it is why we light the pink candle on the 3rd Sunday in Advent.

 

It’s also “Stir-Up Sunday”! You will notice that the Collect begins: “Stir up your power, O Lord.” In England, that phrase is in the Post-Communion Prayer for Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent. That Sunday is nicknamed “Stir-up Sunday”, and the prayer is to remind the women to stir the dried fruit soaking in brandy for their Christmas cakes or to make their Christmas puddings.

 

Advent is a funny time. It was traditionally penitential, which I explained last week. But our readings are about all sorts of things:

 

  • In Isaiah, it is as if we are giving thanks for being glorified by God. It is reminiscent of the Song of Mary, The Magnificat. The people of Judah have been released from their Babylonian captivity, and this is one of many songs of rejoicing and giving thanks.
  • The Psalm also has overtones of The Magnificat, rejoicing in the people’s return to Zion.
  • In the Epistle, Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica how to behave, because, just before the passage we heard, Paul has told them that the Lord is coming, like a thief in the night.
  • And then we have the Gospel in which John the Baptist points us toward the Messiah. But he also exhibits great humility.

 

That’s a lot of stuff to grapple with and to put into one neat-and-tidy package for reflection. Now that I am spending more time with the scriptures for Advent than I was as a University Chaplain, I’m realizing that Advent is kind of a messy season, scripturally and with the traditional themes. I pointed out on Advent 1, the various Advent traditions that exist, and which are not related. Yet, we often conflate some of the traditions into a single tradition, which, when examined, doesn’t really make any sense. Perhaps we have an identity crisis?

 

Ah! Identity!! The Gospel, is all about John’s identity. He defines himself by who he is not. He is not The Messiah, Elijah or a prophet. Notice that John was out in the wilderness, and his reputation, part of his identity, was known all the way in Jerusalem such that the Jews sent priests and Levites out to find John in the nearby town of Bethany (now al-Eizariya) to discover his true identity.

 

When pressed about his identity: What do you say about yourself?” John the Baptist said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” They also ask John why he is baptizing, and he responds, and he continues to Baptize. That is the sort of stuff we are called to do as Christians: Prepare the way of the Lord and Baptize.

 

We Baptized Anna and Georgia 4 weeks ago, and then Hugo and Elliot were Baptized last week. Both the 8-o’clock and 10-o’clock services welcomed children into the Body of Christ. During the Rite of Baptism, we are asked, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” to which we reply, “I will, with God’s help.” We are called by our Baptism to do as John the Baptist was doing, being voices who cry out in this wilderness of our modern world that Jesus Christ, The Messiah is coming.

 

The Bishop chooses a theme each year to be used by the various Diocesan Boards for reflection . This year’s theme is “Identity”. In her Convention Address at the beginning of November, Bishop Mary said:


“Faith is the centerpiece of our
identity. It is the operating
system of being Christian.”

 

We have been given a series of Bible readings, each of which focus on identity, that will be used at our monthly Vestry Meetings. They will no doubt help us hone in on our identity as either The Vestry or as St Stephen’s, or both. The challenge we find in today’s Gospel reading is understanding our individual identities as Christians.

 

If you were approached by the
religious and political elite of
San Luis Obispo and asked “What do
you say about yourself?”, how
would you respond in relation to
your Christian faith?

 

Bishop Mary also noted that some congregations struggle with articulating their identity. She said, “Articulating who you are is more challenging than articulating what you do.” That’s a very good point! “Articulating who you are is more challenging than articulating what you do.” I would imagine that you are thinking right now of a list of activities you engage in as Christians rather than considering who you are as a Christian. As I mentioned earlier, as Christians, we Baptize and we proclaim that The Messiah is Coming – we can easily state that that is what we do, but who are we, who am I as a Christian?

 

Bishop Mary wants us to reflect on our identity, who we are by virtue of our Baptism; the Presiding Bishop wants us to be Evangelists – the ones who are crying out into the wilderness of the 21C that The Messiah is coming. As we try to figure out what the Presiding Bishop wants from us in the way of Evangelism, we must individually and corporately be able to articulate who we are. It could be as simple as “I am one who proclaims Jesus Christ as The Messiah.” Is that still about what we do?

 

Is an analogy with buying Christmas presents a good one? Think of the person for whom you find it most difficult to buy a Christmas present. You find it difficult because you want the present to reflect that person’s personality, or their identity. But you also want the gift to reflect your identity, which gives the gift-giving exercise more depth of meaning. As Christians, we are being given this gift of The Messiah, the Savior of the World. Who are we, who am I to receive the grace, love and eternal life that is being so freely given to me? It’s time I sort out my identity as a Christian.

 

During this time of preparation, this time of self-reflection and repentance, sorting through our identity as Christians will help us do what Paul asks of us. He asks us to rejoice, pray, give thanks. Understanding our identity as Christians will also help us live up to our promises to Anna, Georgia, Hugo and Elliot, when we were asked:

 

Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Anna, Georgia, Hugo and Elliot in their life in Christ?

 

And we emphatically responded: We will!

 

When we have a better idea of our Christian identity, we will better support the newly-Baptized, and one another. We will better understand how to share our faith with others in ways that lead them to Jesus Christ as we get a better grasp on Episcopal Evangelism.

 

We will better understand what
it means to rejoice always – not
just on Gaudete Sunday or Stir-
Up Sunday – but to rejoice
always.

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