Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Advent I, 2010

Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Anglican Church, West Lebanon


Let us pray: Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favor, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works begun, continued and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name and finally, by thy mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Welcome to you all in our Post-Thanksgiving euphoria. Our great national holiday is over. Many of us have plenty of turkey left over, especially if we have prepared meals in our homes. We know it is all there, ready to be made into sandwiches and the like. Many others know it's there, too. If a stranger were to be plunked down in front of some typical American refrigerator and directed to open its door, he might be able to guess the date. If he were to know the precise date of Thanksgiving, he would have a good chance of selecting the correct date on the calendar based on what he saw there. “Ah,” he might say, “it is a day or two after Thanksgiving. I can tell by the profusion of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce I see there.” Of course, our stranger would be completely lost if the owners of this mysterious refrigerator went out for Chinese food on Thanksgiving Day. But the signs of the times would be there in other ways. Without going too far afield, he would recognize the signs and wonders of the season.

 

Have we eaten too much? That, too, is a sign and wonder of the time. The diocesan chancellor called me on Friday. He joked about having eaten too much and decided it should be a law; everyone should do so on Thanksgiving day.

 

We gather today at a particular moment in time. We are very present with it. We can measure this moment. We know the precise date on the calendar. We like to measure things like time, to know the times of our lives. It is one of those things that makes us human, our ability to recognize our present and our past. We use the past as a marker, a way to identify where we have come from. But the past is past. It is over and done with. We know this. What does God think about the past?

 

Today, we celebrate the first Sunday in Advent. It is the beginning of our church year. We are never ready for this day, though we can see it clearly on our calendars. It stares back at us as we look at the dramatic change in liturgical colors. We put our green vestments away until next year. We adopt the penitential and royal color of purple. And we hear of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. It is this last detail that may trouble us just a little. Though we know the Passion Narratives very well, we expect to hear of them in the days before Easter. Why now? Why, in the days before Christmas, do we hear of Jesus as he enters Jerusalem in triumph? Why do we hear of the cries of “Hosanna?” Why now? And why do we see Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers and reminding them of the prophet Isaiah, who said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” And then adding, “but you have made it a den of thieves.” The gospel for today is packed full of information. It is rich in the fulfillment of prophesies. It shows us Jesus at the peak of his powers, a man in charge calling people to the service of God.

 

But wait a minute; this man, Jesus, has not yet been born. At least, according to our normal calendars. He is still a child in his mother's womb. How is it He arrives in triumph at Jerusalem, a city He had visited many times before? When we hear of this message from St. Matthew's gospel, what season do we choose to see? Yes, we see the last days of Lent, the coming of Spring, the full unfolding of the Easter message.

 

The timing of this gospel message is disruptive. And it is meant to be. Coming at a moment in our own lives when we are recovering from our Thanksgiving feasts, we are surprised by the presence of God. This is the God who is on His way to calvary. But it is the God who is also not yet born. As we await the birth of the Christ child, we are made aware that this child will also find His way to Calvary. In the precise calculation of God's journey to the cross, we are made to hold both realities in our minds and our hearts. And in this way, the very calculations of our simple calendars are shown to be limited and imprecise. It is God's time that is made known. We are given a window onto the infinite in this gospel message heard at the time of our new Christian year. The Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.

 

God's calendar does not have neat dates written on it to describe His passage through time. Only when He enters into human life does He measure a temporal beginning and ending. But there is one way in which God does measure our beginning and our ending and that is in the strength of our hearts as we express, in our own ways, the love that has been given to us.

 

Many temples were built in the ancient world. Most were supported by massive columns. Those columns needed to be perpendicular, precisely calculated to receive the weight that would be laid across them. If the columns were not perfect, if they leaned to one way or the other, they would not support the weight and would crumble. But the columns that were perfectly created would rise to meet the cornices that would be placed above them. Not only would those columns support the weight, but they would be stronger in their task of supporting that which was above. It is a perfect example of how a house of prayer stands, giving strength to all who enter in with a heart seeking after God. Is it any wonder that Jesus attacked those in the Temple who turned away from Him. Because they had turned away from God, they left the Temple, both physically and spiritually, weakened.

 

Our own hearts, when they are drawn to God, will support that love and grow stronger by what is above. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, just as when Jesus entered Bethlehem, there were those who knew the love of God, who reached out to uphold the love that was brought there. In their hearts, they knew of a love that was beyond time, that it would strengthen and preserve them forever.

 

Let us pray: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so may we with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.