Homily preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Second Sunday of Advent – December 4, 2011
Preaching professors often encourage their seminary students to find the Good News in the scriptures and make that news the core of any sermon they preach. During the season of Advent, it can be hard to find good news in the lessons appointed for our reading – but today’s lessons are loaded with it: the over-arching Good News, of course, is that Jesus has already come into the world and that he will come again – probably in some wonderful and mysterious way, just as he did in Bethlehem.
Another piece of Good news is that God has acted through men and women over the centuries –prophets who have, through their words and actions, prepared the way for God’s presence. That presence of God will usher in things that are new – a world where peace and righteousness are at home – a world where godly living and holiness are the descriptors of human life.
This movement – this new thing that is to happen – is made possible, according to the Gospel lesson, because God has sent the Spirit – a powerful force of new life which is available to all.
Those are the pieces of good news I’ve found in the lessons this morning: Jesus has come and is coming again. God has sent prophets to point us in the right direction. Things are going to change. The Spirit has been sent. Alleluia, right?
Yes, this is all good news, but, perhaps you noticed other things in the scriptures today that make you say, “Not so fast there, Cindy!” That’s what went through my mind anyway. Each piece of this good news is paired with news that may not, at first blush, seem so good.
Jesus’ birth and return is necessary because something was and is amiss. The world is not the way God wants it to be. War, oppression, hunger, deception, the ugliness of broken relationships, the fear of failure – these are things we’ve come to expect, but they are not what God intends for us.
We need prophets because we aren’t always able to see, let alone, prepare the path ourselves. And the preparation of the path – that includes some pretty monumental change – change that can feel like bad news: things that are high will be made low; things that are low will be lifted up. Crooked things will have to be made straight and all of this.
This kind of excavation – whether personal or corporate – is risky and costly – because this excavation means change. Things are going to change around us and there are things that need to change within us. That’s what repentance is about – discovering that the direction in which we’ve been heading is not the direction God wants and we may need to turn around. Whether that change involves a new attitude or a new behavior – we may very well need to do a 180.
The context for all of this good and not-so-good news is that God is establishing a new kingdom and has invited each and every one of us to be builders of and in it.
This is how I picture it. There’s a river – I think of it as a river of grace. It flows from God and returns to God and we are on the river’s bank. As we stand there, we can see and hear the water – sometimes it’s awfully quiet and calm, at other times, it is a rush of spray over waterfalls. It’s clear and clean and it’s water that we need to in order to be fully alive.
There are various ways to get some of that water – we can approach the edge with our tin ladles, stretching our arms and legs to get just close enough – but not too close – to get a swallow or two. Or, when the river seems calm, we might roll up our pant legs and dare to wade in a ways – cupping our hands to bring that precious water to our mouths – and then hustling back to the riverbank to dry off.
Today, however, we are invited to at least imagine what it might be like to throw off our clothes – throw off whatever is keeping us from diving in – and go for it – getting not only our feet wet, but putting our whole selves in this river of grace – the river of God’s kingdom.
I don’t know what that would mean for each of you. It might mean a turning away from something – a fear or a temptation. It might mean turning toward something – a conscious effort to commit to being a builder of the kingdom – perhaps getting more involved in this parish, reaching out to someone in need, sharing your story of grace with someone who is waiting on the riverbank for encouragement.
I do know that diving into the river of grace is risky. Sometimes the riverbed is rocky – we can get bruised and tangled up. We may even be pulled under for a time. But the risk is worth it. God is doing something new – something wonderful – something beyond our imagination.
Things will change because the God we worship is a living God – a moving God – a God of surprises. We can be a part of this mystery, or we can stay dry on the river’s bank and remain thirsty. The choice is ours.
My prayer for all of us this Advent is that we are able to hear God’s invitation – to listen to the prophets who are already beckoning us into the river and showing us where to put our feet, to accept the challenge that change requires and to trust the Spirit to be present as we take the plunge and meet God in the river of grace – the kingdom of God. And when we do, be assured that God’s glory will be increased, as the reign of God becomes the reality of the world. Amen.