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St Paul's ChurchSermon preached by the Reverend Cynthia Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Second Sunday of Advent – December 6, 2009

Here we are already – the second Sunday of Advent – moving quickly through this time of holy waiting – a time of anticipation and preparation as we look forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth and, perhaps even more importantly, to the establishment of God’s Kingdom.

Last week I was lucky enough to hear two great sermons in this place. At our 8 o’clock service, Fr. Paul Carling encouraged us to wake up – to focus our minds and hearts on the coming of the Christ child, on the final coming of Christ and on the coming of God into our lives at every moment – in the here and now – we were invited to be surprised by joy as we live into the adventure that Advent offers.

At the 10:15 service, Fr. Nicholas spoke of interruptions – things in our lives that are unexpected and often unwanted that bring us to a place where we realize our dependence, our hunger, our need. Nicholas encouraged us to fill our pantries with holy food – an “arsenal” of those experiences in which we recognize and know – really taste and allow our bellies to be filled with God’s love – for us and for the world – so that the light of hope will break through the dark times we experience.

Today’s lessons add another layer to what we heard last week. The opening collect sums it up: “Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and to prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus.

Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

The new layer for this second week of Advent is that of a prophetic voice.

The prophets in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament are understood to be men and women who are a kind of mediator or go-between connecting God and humankind. They were people who had heard some kind of message from God and were then entrusted with the responsibility of sharing that message with others. Sometimes they were messages of hope and comfort, other times they were messages of warning and sometimes of accusation.

We don’t talk much about prophets these days… I mean, really, who needs them? It’s not like we can’t see things for ourselves – we know full well the power of darkness – the evil that leads to things like poverty, oppression, war – and as for the those pie-in-the-sky type prophets… well, we know better than to pay much attention to them, don’t we?

Why, then, are we encouraged to listen to the voice of prophets? And who might these prophets be? I’ve been thinking about these two questions this week and as I’ve reflected on them, I was reminded of something that happened in my family a few years back.

It was about this time of year and the church where my husband was the Rector was getting ready to host an alternative gift market. This is a project very similar to our practice of “Doing Christmas Differently” or the Heifer Project – you give money toward a project that will relive human suffering in the name of the person you want to give a gift to.

That year, we had decided to buy a very modest alternative gift – because we had some other gift –giving in mind.

After years of living on the edge ourselves, we had, at the suggestion of a therapist friend, decided to buy one gift that Christmas – a family sized tent that would allow us to take our yearly camping vacation without sharing equipment and a campsite with my parents-in-law… something we had done for many years in a row….. something our therapist friend thought should change….. something both my husband and I thought was an excellent idea!

So there, on our coffee table lay two brochures – one filled with camping equipment and one that included pictures of smiling third – world families: children holding chickens, women checking out new sewing machines, a man milking a goat – and then there was a picture of a whole village drawing water from a newly drilled well.

It was Saturday night – the alternative gift market was to take place the following morning. As I tucked the kids into bed and prayed our evening blessing, one of them looked up from her pillow and quietly asked, “Mama, do you think it’s fair for us to have a tent when some people don’t even have water?”

Oh, man – I had gone over this in my head hundreds of times already. Compared to our neighbors and most of the parishioners, we had very little. Living in a wealthy lake-side community, our kids were part of the 3% that qualified for the free lunch program at school and we already pledged a tenth of our income to the church. Certainly we deserved this one “extravagance.”

I went back through both catalogues and found what must have triggered my daughter’s question. The tent we had chosen and the cost of digging a well in Africa cost the exact same amount – $350, if I remember correctly.

I didn’t sleep much that night – I was angry and I was sad… and I felt some real conviction that we needed to take another look at our decision. And so we did – we called a family meeting before we even got out of our PJ’s – and through tears – lots of them, and mostly mine, I’m ashamed to admit – we decided that our one gift that year would be a well… clean water for a village of people we would never even meet.

So, back to my earlier questions: why are we encouraged to listen to the voice of prophets? And who might these prophets be?

I’ve come to believe – in fact, I seem to have staked my whole life on the promise that God is up to something much bigger than we can imagine. And not only is God on the move, we have all been invited into the adventure. Where we’re all headed is the Kingdom – a reality that God intended at the very beginning of time – a reality where we are brought into unity with God, and through that unity will be at peace with ourselves, with one another and with all of creation. This is a reality that we can only understand when we give ourselves to God and learn to love what God loves.

Prophets help us know these things – pointing us in the direction of God’s Kingdom.

But beware – living into the Kingdom is no easy task. When we get close, when we’re paying attention, things can get a little intense – the prophet Malachi in our first reading today compares our purification to a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap. This is no trip to the art museum to see the blown glass of Chihuly – nor is it a rose-water sponge bath, I’m afraid.

No, it’s not an easy task to join God in the building of the Kingdom. It means sacrifice, it means repentance, it means living righteous lives and it means working for justice.

But here’s the deal – we’re not in this alone.

God has sent prophets to help navigate our journey – some of them lived hundreds of years ago and I’m pretty certain there are some sitting among us this morning.

But more importantly, God is at our side – working right along with us – promising to bring all of this Kingdom-building to completion…. that’s what this Advent adventure is about.

Mountains need to be leveled and rough places made smooth. There are valleys that need to be filled in and crooked paths that need straightening.

Come to the meal God has prepared for you and eat heartily – Then put on your boots – Find a hard hat. God is on the move – And we’ve got work to do! Amen.

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