Sunday Sermon: Advent Hope
2022 11 27: Alan Storey
Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice by Joan Proudfoot.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
It is the start of the Christian calendar.
This calendar invites us to mark time differently.
Not just in years, but in yearnings.
Yearnings for the life-giving ways of justice, mercy, truth and grace that Jesus enfleshed to take root among us in the here and now.
Christian New Year is not just a day, but 4 weeks.
We have 4 weeks to prepare for Jesus’ birth among us.
We prepare for his birth by offering ourselves, as Mary did, to give birth to him.
We give birth to Jesus by practicing justice, mercy, truth and grace.
Perhaps this prayer by Bp. Ken Untener, may help our practice. I invite you to ponder and pray this prayer during these Advent days.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
This prayer was first presented by Cardinal Dearden in 1979and quoted by Pope Francis in 2015. This reflection is an excerpt from a homily written for Cardinal Dearden by then-Fr. Ken Untener on the occasion of the Mass for Deceased Priests, October 25, 1979. Pope Francis quoted Cardinal Dearden in his remarks to the Roman Curia on December 21, 2015. Fr. Untener was named bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, in 1980.
Today is Advent. Advent is the start of the Christian calendar. The Christian calendar invites us to do time differently. Instead of seasons or seconds determining our time, Advent calls us to re-set our lives to the clock of Jesus’ character of justice, mercy and humility. Advent is the grace-full invitation to start over. To begin again, to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ coming is the coming of love and truth in the flesh.
Advent asks each of us: How do we prepare for the coming of love and truth in our lives and world?
Here is a prayer and poem to help us wrestle with this Advent question…
“We carry old secrets too painful to utter,
too shameful to acknowledge,
too burdensome to bear,
of failures we cannot undo,
of alienations we regret but cannot fix,
of grandiose exhibits we cannot curb.
And you know them.
You know them all.
And so we take a deep sigh in your presence,
no longer needing to pretend and
cover up and
We mostly do not have big sins to confess,
only modest shames that do not
fit our hoped-for selves.
And then we find that your knowing is more
powerful than our secrets.
You know and do not turn away,
and our secrets that seemed too powerful
are emptied of strength,
secrets that seemed too burdensome
are now less severe.
We marvel that when you find us out
you stay with us,
taking us seriously,
taking our secrets soberly,
but not ultimately,
overpowering our little failure
with your massive love
and abiding patience.
We long to be fully, honestly
exposed to your gaze of gentleness.
In the moment of your knowing
we are eased and lightened,
and we feel the surge of joy move in our bodies,
because we are not ours in cringing
but yours in communion.
We are yours and find the truth before you
makes us free for
wonder, love, and praise—and new life.”
– Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People
“Go gently today, don’t hurry
or think about the next thing. Walk
with the quiet trees, can you believe
how brave they are—how kind? Model your life
after theirs. Blow kisses
at yourself in the mirror
you think you’ve messed up. Forgive
yourself for not meeting your unreasonable
expectations. You are human, not
God—don’t be so arrogant.
Praise fresh air
clean water, good dogs. Spin
something from joy. Open
a window, even if
it’s cold outside. Sit. Close
your eyes. Breathe. Allow
of it all to pulse
fingertips, bare toes. Breathe in
breathe out. Breathe until
your bigness, until the sun
rises in your veins. Breathe
until you stop needing
to be different.”
– Julia Fehrenbacher
The restoration of the CMM sanctuary is now complete. This is due to the incredible generosity and hard work of so many people. No one has sought acknowledgement for their efforts in any way, and this makes the gifts received even more beautiful. Thank you therefore, not only for your generosity, but also for your humility.
We have tried our best to restore the beauty of the sanctuary and retain its simplicity. Beauty and simplicity are values in and of themselves and we trust that everyone who enters the sanctuary will experience this to be so. As people discover that the CMM sanctuary is a cared-for-space, may we always remember that we care for the space in order for it to care for people. The building exists for people, not people for the building.
When everything is sparkling clean, it is tempting to make it our main priority to keep it like this forever, but it is a sanctuary, not a museum. It is a sanctuary that keeps its doors open for all. A sanctuary where people, especially vulnerable people, are reminded of their exquisite beauty and priceless worth. A sanctuary where the poor hear good news, and the captives find release. A sanctuary that brings strangers together around a font of water – and declares by grace that everyone is one family. A sanctuary in which we find a table that welcomes all to the feast of fairness – as we all eat from one loaf and drink from the common cup. A sanctuary that we can return to over and over again when we are lost to find our bearings that rest on the most sacred truth: You are born in love, by love and for love.
Last Sunday, around the perimeter of the sanctuary, we planted what we hope will become a Spekboom Forest. May it be a sign of life and beauty and a reminder of the resurrection power of nature that we all depend on, yet seldom acknowledge – the transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen.
We had hoped to celebrate in the Sanctuary by coming together this Sunday (29th November) which seemed appropriate on the first Sunday of Advent, but as a result of the very serious spike in Covid-19 cases in the Western Cape Metro, we have decided to delay all in-person activities. We will reassess this decision in the new year. In the meantime, we will continue to hold services via Zoom at 10 a.m. each Sunday. This will include the 10 a.m. Christmas Day Service. Please email: email@example.com to receive the zoom link.
Please take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously. I know we are tired of it, but the hospitals in the Metro are once again being stretched to capacity. Positive cases are increasing, and people are dying. Let us therefore limit time in crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. This means that we should all be re-thinking our Christmas and New Year gatherings to make sure that they do not become Covid-19 catalyst events.
Finally, don’t forget to practice the Trinity: 1] mask up, 2] wash hands and 3] physical distance by 1.5 m.
This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season in the life of the Christian faith. The word Advent essentially means “to come.” If you were to do a bible search, you would not find the word Advent for it is not contained within the scriptures. It is a practice that began in the 4th and 5th centuries as those being presented for baptism prepared for that marked time in their journey of faith. It was a penitent time of prayer and fasting, very similar to Lent. Pilgrims preparing for baptism would fast Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays leading up to the day of their baptism which happened on the 6th of January, the day of Epiphany.
The season of Advent invokes a posture of waiting. Waiting is not something we like to do, so one can understand how over the years, the practices began to morph until today the practice of Advent has become something quite different and can in some communities barely be distinguished from the Christmas season and all it has come to be. What might it mean for us to revisit the Advent of yesterday and engage in a period of fasting and reflection around our baptismal commitment?
Though waiting is not the favorite sport of the human family, it is necessary for us if we want to be formed and shaped into people who can receive the newness of life and to engage in the work of practicing the message of Christ in ways that give life in the world around us. The image on the front of this cover was painted by a woman I met in Cape Town a little over ten years ago. I didn’t have a lot of money on me and so I decided I would simply sit and talk with some of the artists and learn about their work. I sat with this woman long enough to learn she had HIV/AIDS and her concerns about the health of her unborn child.
This woman asked me to pray with her. I did. The next day I came back to visit with her again. I shared with her I had borrowed some money from a friend to purchase one of her paintings, for I felt like it spoke to me in a way that left me changed. The artist sold me the painting on the cover and gave me a second. She shared that I would know who to give it to when the time came. I did. When my friend Enuma Okoro was struggling to write her first book, I gave her the second painting for her birthday. She names it in that book–Reluctant Pilgrim: A moody somewhat self-indulgent introverts search for Spiritual Community.
My copy of this painting has hung on the wall in every place I have lived. It continues to speak to me quite powerfully providing for me two messages at the same time. The first is simply the awareness that God is always busy preparing to give birth to the promises of something more in the world. The second is this, that there are people desperately waiting for “something more” to be realized in their lives. The woman so long ago with HIV/AIDS, those involved with the education crisis in this country, people who have been impacted by Gun Violence around the world, those who live with too little to eat, those who do not have clean water to drink, those who live under attack for the color of their skin, their gender, or sexuality. The list is very long.
During this Advent season, my hope is that you will engage in a time of fasting from a place where you experience abundance in your life. Maybe it will be fasting from food, but it might not. It might be something else. Allow time in the Spirit to let that answer rise in you. As you engage in limiting in the area where you live with abundance, you will be creating space within yourself for a deeper awareness of your need and when we live with need, God can give birth to something new in us. I hope you experience a meaningful Advent journey, where your faith is deepened for the struggle and wrestle in it.
With you on the journey,