In the Name of the One who is the Source of all true unity, who was, who is, and who is to come; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
‘I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built as a city, that is at unity with itself.’
“Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee?” So begins that wonderful old hymn, Land of Rest. Jerusalem: A city, an actual place here on earth. A real city. You can actually go there if you take the opportunity. I am sad to say that I have not as yet done so.
Jerusalem. Yes, a real city, regarded by many as the Holy City. Jerusalem, a real city, an earthly city. For many people of faith, Jerusalem is more than meets the eye; it is also a holy metaphor, a worldly symbol of a greater spiritual aspiration. For many people of varying beliefs, we claim Jerusalem as our heavenly destiny, the end, the the goal for which we strive in our spiritual pilgrimage. By the grace of Almighty God, we pray we will one day enter the renewed and restored holy Jerusalem as our eternal home, to live forever in the arms of our Creator and with those we love.
Today, the Church invites us to begin a new year by seeking to reawaken within ourselves the message of the Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are called to seek a renewed awareness of his presence in the world, our nation, our cities, villages, towns and homes and above all, to renew an awareness of his presence in our own hearts, souls and minds. Hopefully, we begin again in our determination to make this new church year truly a year of renewal, a new year of faith, a new year of hope, a new year of love and joy as we seek a new infusion of God the Holy Spirit within and among us.
As with all notions of any sort of a new year’s observance, we anticipate a new adventure, a new awakening, a fresh hope enters into our heads, hearts and minds. As we set out on this journey, this adventure our spiritual ancestors called the Way, let us pray, hope, work and strive for a fuller, deeper, more life-transforming gift of God’s grace, love and power.
We know that this world has many, many dangers, evils, lies, haunts, injustices, slanderings, crimes, murders and yes, even wars in the name of wealth, self- aggrandizement, greed and power. Much of it in disturbingly high places. The inner works of so many communities and political systems great and small do not look so much like the heavenly Jerusalem as they do the front porch of Hades. It would be so easy for us to just throw up our hands and declare the world around us as lost. A hopeless case. A lost cause.
There is one very important thing to remember when we teeter on the brink of despair: all is not lost. The God who loves us and treasures us never gives up on us. So often I have heard people say things like, “I don’t believe in God any more,” or “If there is a loving God, why does he allow such evil?” Probably every caring human being has asked that question at one time or another. I could guess that the answer to that has something to do with God allowing us to exercise free will. But for a definitive answer to that question, you will need to ask someone way above my pay grade. The only answer I can give to the person who cites the world’s evils as an excuse for rejecting God is this, “ I am sorry that you no longer believe in God. I think that’s unfortunate. But the good news is that God still believes in you.” No matter how much we may disappoint God, God never gives up on us.
Some people think that God must not care very much or even that God, if he exists at all, must be an old-fashioned kind of god who is a self-serving tyrant, a god of severe judgment who must be appeased. Or maybe, God may not be a God of power and might after all. Maybe, he is indecisive. Take poor Judas Iscariot. Yes, I said, “Poor old Judas.” I think that when you consider the evidence, he probably hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, but found that Jesus was too slow in unleashing his power. Maybe, he just wanted to give him a little shove. He might have thought that in turning Jesus over to the authorities, it would force Jesus to come forth and exercise his godly power. Like many of the rest of us, we seem to be more impressed by the power of rockets, explosions, nuclear bombs, war machines, corrupt politicians and dictators than we are impressed by the greatest power of all: The creative power of God’s love, manifested in his infinite hope that when he set about his work of creation, his creation would rejoice with him.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul calls the Roman Church to a new awakening. He calls them to be aware, to remain steady in the expectation of Christ’s coming.
We could reasonably see this as a warning, but I also see it more clearly as a message of hope. Yes we are called to anticipate, to be ready for an event that is to come, but the blessing of that future event does not have to wait. Being watchful, being aware now is a blessing in itself. The preparation for that future event, that second coming of Christ, can be a living, joyous, powerful, presence of hope within us even now. For me, the second coming is not just an event somewhere down the way, an event that takes place someplace, sometime, somehow way down the road; Who knows how far. I have found that I can experience something of Christ’s second coming as I live my life for today, as I seek to live my life in spiritual fellowship with Him yesterday, today and tomorrow.
When it comes to my prayer life: I confess to you now that I am not the most organized or disciplined follower of Jesus Christ by a long shot. I had a grandmother who had nothing better to do than follow me around and clean up after me, make my bed, wash my clothes, pick up my socks. Today, my house is clean but usually messy. I spent my first semester in college wearing pink underwear. (You can guess why). I don’t wish to blame her for my laxidationalism, however. I am a grown man and I could be a bit more responsible and disciplined. But that aside, I have found even the most simplistic acts of self-discipline can make a big difference, especially in becoming more constantly aware of the presence of God in my life. Even the most simple thing; taking a moment when waking up to remember to say, “Good morning, Jesus. Good morning Father, Good morning Holy Spirit. Thank you for this new day and for the life of so many blessings you have given me. Help me to remember that you walk with me today and help me to listen for your voice.”
And you know what? He does make his fellowship known to me as I remember that it is I who endeavor to walk with him.
The word Advent means coming or arrival or onset. Many walk this world looking for something, someone, some purpose to fulfill their lives. Some seem to spend life looking but not finding. Some look outward for some entertainment or pleasure or purpose to make life meaningful. For me, I find my journey by looking inward, not so much outward.
I remember one young man who expressed the feeling that there was a hole in his heart, and said that he found the only thing that could fill it was Jesus Christ. That is how I feel. I have had so many blessings in my life, so many friends, a loving family, a wonderful life’s partner, so many pets that I think of as true angels of God’s love, the privilege of living in a free and prosperous country, more luxuries than the great majority of the world’s population.
I am thankful that our national celebration of Thanksgiving serves to lead us into the Holy Season of Advent. As we light that first candle of hope, may our hearts be filled with joy and gratitude.
When I was first ordained, I wrestled with the decision about my giving to the Church. Many said to me, “Oh, you’ve given your life to the Church, you’re not expected to tithe.” I wasn’t making much money, you see; me, just a newly-baked curate. Some months, I just barely managed to pay my bills. One night as I lay thinking about it, I thought I heard God say, “How can you ask my people to give if you do not?” The next day I handed in my pledge. It truly was an act of faith.
I held my breath, my hand shook as I turned my card in. I can only tell you this, since that day, I have never not been able to pay my bills. A miracle? I believe so. I made a recent trip back to the parish where I was the Rector for twenty-three years until my retirement. It was my first return in seventeen years. By the working of God’s grace while I was rector there, we had built a new church building, church school rooms and parish hall and when I left it was all paid for. I saw the sign still hanging on the door of the Rector’s office that I had put there so many years ago. “We don’t believe in miracles. We rely on them.”
May this Holy Season bring us all the miracle of new birth.
“Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall we come to thee?”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, God grant that we may see,
Thine endless joy and of the same partakers ever be.”