This Homily was given at 10AM Morning Prayer Rite II on Sunday, December 9, 2018 by Spiritual Director Pat Vine
Baruch 5:1-9 – Canticle 16 – Philippians 1:3-11 – Luke 3:1-6
I’ve heard that you can Google anything, so I wondered if there were any jokes on the Internet about Advent. Can you imagine? I found one.
Q. Why is it getting harder to buy Advent calendars?
A. Because their days are numbered!
Last Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church year. If you were here, Rev. Liz Golub, our supply priest, began the start of the church year with the possibility of a new beginning for each of us on our spiritual journey. She invited us, whoever wanted to, with no pressure, to commit or to recommit our lives to Jesus. Those of us who chose to do this initiated our commitment by standing up and coming to the altar while Rev. Liz and Deacon Deborah prayed with each of us, anointing our foreheads while we said a prayer of commitment. It was a very moving and meaningful experience.
So what do we do when we commit our lives to the Lord? One of the things we do is to look at what our first reading says:
“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the crown of the glory of the Everlasting, for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”
Let’s focus on the words, “Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God.” When we commit our lives to the Lord, there is a wonderful and marvelous exchange that takes place. The Lord receives our shortcomings, our failures, our sin, everything that has happened up to this point in our lives—and in exchange, He gives us His righteousness, the quality of being "judged" or "reckoned" as leading a life that is pleasing to God. He gives us the privilege to come before Him, to talk with Him, to make it right with Him.
So this gift of righteousness, or rightness, comes from God. We do nothing to deserve or earn this being right with God. It is a gift. God loves you and me so much and so unconditionally that he offers us the gift of being righteous before him. In today’s Canticle, The Song of Zechariah tells us that we are “Free to worship God without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.”
By a show of hands, how many of us have heard of the term “born again”? Of those of you who raised your hands, how many of you think of this term as positive? How many of you think of this term as negative?
I imagine your opinion is dependent upon your experience with other born again Christians. When I was profoundly touched by Jesus in 1978, I was so excited that I wanted everyone to experience what I had experienced, but unfortunately, I shared this experience without much wisdom and turned some people off. I didn’t give the creative room to God to touch people in different ways from the way that God touched me. I was overly zealous without taking a step back and waiting on God.
When we commit our lives to the Lord, we learn that we have been “born again” not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God, as the apostle Peter says.
Peter mentions both the perishable and imperishable seeds. What is the perishable seed that he is referring to? That’s the seed of the beginning of your earthly life in your mother’s womb. One day that seed will perish, when you shed your body and leave this earthly life for your heavenly home.
Peter also refers to the imperishable seed, which is the living and abiding word of God. Do you know that the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart?
Let’s reflect on this for a moment—the word of God is now living in you and is active! This is wonderful and powerful news, folks! And when you realize that Jesus is the Word of God—the very person of Jesus, the resurrected and living word of God, is now living in you and is active! You live and move and having your being in Jesus! If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, all things are made new.
Some of you may already know that one of St. Michael’s former Rectors, Fr. Fred Gutekunst, had an experience of being “born again” after he had attended a clergy retreat in Texas. He came back to St. Michael’s full of God’s Holy Spirit. You may have read in a recent E-News that one day while kneeling and praying for St. Michael’s at this very altar, Jesus appears in a vision before Fr. G and Fr. G senses that Jesus had something to tell him. When he asks Jesus what he wants of St. Michael’s, Jesus replies, “The Name of This Place is The Presence of the Lord.” We just learned from Fr. G’s former Secretary that there is more to this vision…Fr. G sees beams of love radiating from the heart of Jesus, receiving the meaning that we are incredibly loved by God and we are to bring God’s love to each other and to the greater community beyond us. This is a prophetic vision for the future of St. Michael’s!
“The Name of this Place is ‘The Presence of the Lord.’” Jesus promised Fr. G and He promises us today that His loving presence would be with us forever. And the love that radiates from Him is received by us and given to those to whom we minister. Over the 38 years I’ve been at St. Michael’s, I’ve heard people who come here for the first time say that when they enter this sanctuary, they sense a loving presence, something they can’t explain. The Presence of the Lord! The eventual culmination of Advent…Emmanuel, God with us!
So if someone gives you a beautifully wrapped gift in a box and you place the box on your bureau without opening it, would you be able to enjoy the treasure or experience the gift? Of course not. You would need to open the box, take out the gift and use it in the way it was intended. The same goes for the gift of righteousness that the Lord offers us when we commit our lives to Him.
So let’s open this gift together this morning.
When we peer into the box, the first thing we see is “A New Creation.” If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” You are made new. God with us.
The second thing we see is that we have received the gift of God’s robe of righteousness and we need to keep that robe on and never take it off. When you are tempted to doubt, be aware of whether the temptation is moving you away from God or towards God. This is one very important way to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit. Give no heed to any voice that moves you away from God.
So if you were not here last Sunday and wish to commit or recommit your life to the Lord, a member of the Prayer Team will be at the altar rail after this service to pray a prayer of commitment with you. What better way in Advent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus than to receive him into the manger of your heart. After praying, you will then leave this room a new creation, dressed in God’s robe of righteousness that no one can take away from you.