Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

St. Nicholas Anglican Church
December 8, 2013 (St. Nicholas transferred)

Let us Pray:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou has given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Blessings to you all. It is a joy to be here at St. Nicholas once again. This is my second episcopal visit to St. Nicholas Church and I well remember my first visit. At that time, Father Ed Ihde was ordained to the Priesthood and we have all been blessed by his ministry among us.

 

St. Nicholas has been a wonderful addition to our diocesan family. This parish has brought a sense of commitment and mission that has inspired us all. Thank you for all you do for God's Holy Church.

 

St. Nicholas does exist on the extreme western fringe of our diocese, a part of the diocese that is no stranger to interesting weather patterns. This adds considerable drama to your bishop's visit. Will we make it there? Will we get lost in snow drifts. Lots of drama indeed! As many of you know, my undergraduate degree was in drama and so I appreciate your kind consideration.

 

The Feast Day of St. Nicholas occurs on December 6. It is the prerogative of the clergy to transfer the feast day when appropriate. Given that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of this parish, it is entirely appropriate for us to transfer the Feast of St. Nicholas to this Sunday.

 

St. Nicolas is very important to this particular parish. It is also important to our family. The Marsh family celebrates this day because of its importance in our lives. By coincidence – or by God's design – St. Nicholas Day has seen births and baptisms, as well as celebrations of many kinds. It was so important to the family that it seemed entirely appropriate that we name our second child Nicholas. My wife had been baptized on St. Nicholas Day and, well, it seemed right. However, the more we thought about it, the more we decided against it. You see, our first child is named Alexandra. If you know anything about Russian history, you will remember that Nicholas and Alexandra were involved somehow in the Russian Revolution. Imagine what that adolescence might have been like. Our son ended up with the name Colin, which, we later learned, is a diminutive form of Nicholas. In any case, we all survived adolescence.

 

Perhaps St. Nicholas, as patron saint of children, watched over our children as they grew from childhood to maturity. St. Nicholas is indeed a wonderful saint, one we should honor and remember. St. Nicholas was an early martyr to the faith, having died under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Though we don't know a whole lot about the life of Nicholas, we believe he was at the First Council of Nicaea, where the Arian heresy was discredited and the Nicene Creed formulated.

 

But it was for his deeds of kindness and for his work for the happiness of children that we remember St. Nicholas. But we remember that St. Nicholas was also the patron saint of sailors and he worked for the relief of the poor. We also pray that those of us who are sailors through the oceans of life may find relief from the tempests of doubt and grief. There is an old Russian saying that I am very fond of. It goes like this: "to live a life is not to walk across a field." Sometimes our lives are filled with storms large and small. Jesus, of course, helps to calm those storms by His very presence. St. Nicholas understood this very well. He is an honored saint, as this holy place knows only too well.

 

Our gospel reading for today features that wonderful, necessary yet very eccentric character named John the Baptist. We know that John Baptist had the reputation for wearing unfashionable clothes and eating an unpalatable diet. But the food he ate is, among some circles, regarded as very healthy. Locusts and wild honey are likely filled with fiber and other nutrients. I have heard his diet described as Vegan, but I am not entirely sure what that means. In any case, I have never tried it – and have no intention of doing so.

But John the Baptist is important for two crucial things: he baptized Jesus and, perhaps even more importantly, he knew Jesus. John Baptist knew of the presence of Jesus even before he was born. We remember that the mothers of John and Jesus knew each other. They were related. And when both women were pregnant, the two infants recognized each other – even from the womb. It is a powerful reminder that John knew he was in the presence of God. Truly, John was the first human being to know that the birth of Jesus would happen soon– and that the prophesy of the coming of Emmanuel (God with us) was about to be fulfilled.

 

And it was on the banks of the Jordan River that Jesus approached John. He wanted to be baptized. John at first declined.

But Jesus persisted. And there, in the River Jordan, Jesus was baptized. Just like all who are baptized, Jesus received the grace bestowed on Him by water and the Holy Spirit.

How can we fail to be moved by this act of humility and grace; God in Jesus Christ submitting Himself to become one with us. It is something we see over and over again in the gospel; the good news of Jesus embracing his role as an ordinary human being while remaining the God who has created us all. And can there be any doubt that only a God who could love His creation would dare to place Himself at the mercy of an imperfect man.

 

We are in the midst of Advent. It is a time of waiting. Time for us to embrace God's time for just a few weeks of our busy lives. Perhaps it was only yesterday. But it seems like it was over two thousand years ago. Two children were about to be born in ancient Judea. One was an ordinary man, but a man who knew and loved God. He lived his life in service to God. And, when God appeared before him, he knew who he was instantly. The other is Jesus, a child to be born in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire. No one, at the time of his birth, knew who he was – or who he would become; except, perhaps, for that other child, a child who would one day reach out to embrace the God of his creation; would baptize him in the Jordan River and acknowledge him as his Lord. And the other child, the child Emmanuel, would reach out to the man, to take him into his heart and embrace him in the way of the God who knows and loves him.

 

Advent is that time of waiting and preparation when we, too, reach out to God, knowing he will be with us soon; that he will be born once again in our hearts; and that he wants only for us to be reborn in him - once again this year.


Amen.