December 17,  10:00 a.m.

Advent 2B*, 12/10/17                                                                          St. John’s Church

Rev'd Jennifer Phillips                                          Isa40:1-11; 2 Peter3:8-18;Mk1:1-8

Sometime over the holidays I always haul out that old videotape of Casablanca and watch it, with the same satisfied affection lots of people have for It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, or  The Wizard of Oz. (Maybe I just go for the heroic-tragic more than the stock happy ending?) There is joy and delight in retracing a story in which people act well and things work out for the best, in which the rigors of life are endured and people's connections and affections left deeper for having shared them. I find myself turning this week toward the particular qualities and spiritual discipline of confident waiting.

The apostle Paul said, "we do not wait as those who have no hope". We bury our dead "in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life" as our prayer reminds us. "Comfort, comfort ye, my people" says God through the prophet Isaiah..."Here is your God! See!"

And the first words of Mark's Gospel announce "the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." No doubt. No confusion. This is it. Jesus is the one. In case you weren't convinced already ( or in case you had been, in the first century, a disciple of  the prophet John the Baptist), John appears in Mark's narrative to point directly to Jesus and say, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming...He will baptize you with a Holy Spirit." And since Mark is writing after John's execution, after Jesus' resurrection and appearance to the women at the tomb, Mark wants you to know, this is the One for whom we have been waiting, the holy Child of God, the Beloved, the Savior of the world.

By the time of the second letter of Peter was written around 125-140 C.E. Christians are looking at their watches, tapping their feet, feeling that the "imminent" return of Christ in glory is taking a lot longer than they expected. The author (who was not the apostle but a couple of generations later) responds to this impatience with a theological argument about time which is fairly satisfying to modern ears - God's time is not our time. Indeed for God a thousand of our years may be as a day, or vice versa. Physicists might happily agree that if God is beyond the whole of creation, then God must also be outside time as we know it, and about that spacetime before or after the cosmos has is being, physics has nothing to say except that there was/will be no spacetime there.

Okay. So we don't know why we have the time we have and why God is taking the time God is taking to perfect everything, and  why the time we have feels alternately highly uncomfortable and quite delightfully compelling to us, and often swallows our attention so completely that we hardly stop to take notice of where we are and where we might be going, with or without God. When we do stop, we notice that we are waiting. There is an incompletion about us and the world. We have an inkling that there is more going on than we know about. Undercurrents swirlk through history. And as those made in God's image, we utterly reject, we vomit out the idea that all the suffering and struggle of our lives and world are meaningless and valueless - though in despair, it sometimes feels so. God in us knows that it is not so. God is up to something. God is up to everything. It is going to come out allright, no matter what we or death or the devil throw at it. "All will be well and all manner of things be well," as blessed Julian of Norwich famously wrote. Do you dare to believe this?

Plenty of sensible people in the world say this is craziness! To think that God will play a role in bringing what seems like a chaotic, even a downward-spiralling human history to any good end - what are you Christians, nuts? And then there are some quietists who would stand at the other pole and say, Climate change, spreading wars, new diseases, misery of all kinds - what me worry! God’s in charge. God will fix it. I’m righteous, I’ll get saved, and to hell with all of you others. Neither point of view has anything to do with Julian’s firm hopeful confidence: All will be well. We have been given responsibility in this world and equipped to work and care for it as wisely as we are able - and surely in Jesus God is saying (among many things): one human life without money or privilege or protection from suffering and death can transform the universe, so you, too: be holy (be full of the divine life I have put in you), be fully human for the sake of the world. And recognize the divine spark you carry within- the Holy Spirit breathed into you. You work by my side. Take heart. Don’t fear. All will be well.

Such conviction is not a shallow hope. We live in that same war-torn Casablanca world in which the train leaves with us, loved ones left behind, or the plane carrying our greatest desire flies into the cloud leaving us standing in the rain in questionable company. All will be well doesn’t mean we always get what we want or even what we need in this world. It means that we have reason to labor alongside God and to trust that God has the universe in hand - to hope for this, work for this, trust this, has power to make the days rich and full of meaning and direction and joy, despite everything.

Now hope is a spiritual gift which some have in greater measure than others, and for which some must work with much energy and prayer. Optimists, pessimists, you know who you are! So pessimists, do not be downcast that all this seems like a lovely dream-bubble that bursts as soon as you try to lay hold of it. Rather, pray earnestly for the gift of hope. Ask for what you lack and desire. And remember that spiritual gifts are given not for personal comfort but for the building up of the whole community of God. So, optimists, hopeful ones, your hope is given for all; spread it around. Hopeless, downcast ones, let the hope of the hopeful carry you long. Trust it. Trust what God gives you through your sisters and brothers: a sure and certain hope that through God's grace all will be well. "Comfort, comfort you, my people," says your God.

We are actors in the great drama of God bringing life out of death, good out of evil, hope out of despair, love out of everything. As the ancient prophets told us, all will be well. Our sin is pardoned. Our tears will be dried. As John the Baptizer told us, we are immersed in and remade by Christ's Holy Spirit; Christ's very breath is in us. As Jesus showed us, the grave has no dominion over us and the forces of this world only petty  power to cause us brief misery before the huge and eternal love for which God has destined us and everything. We know how the story comes out. We tell it again and again lest we forget the great spiraling, ever new joy of it. We wait in confidence. The Holy One of all creation is looking at you kindly, is tipping back his hat, is putting an arm around you, is saying to you, "Louie, this could be the start of a beautiful relationship." 

WEEKLY SCHEDULE                          

Office Hours:  
Tuesday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Thursday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Friday 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Sunday Worship:  10:00  a.m. 
Wednesday Eucharist: 10:15 a.m.

This is St. John's Episcopal Church... please click on photo below to see more photos of church life!

This is St. John's Episcopal Church, Westwood MA

Want to check on the readings for a particular Sunday or other day?  Click below to go to the Lectionary page...  all readings available for 2017:

Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips

Sunday, December 17:
 ~10 a.m. Eucharist
Christmas Pageant

Tuesday, December 12, 7:00 p.m.:
Bible Study

Wednesday December 13, 10:15 a.m.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Services
December 23, 7:00 p.m.
Celebrate Advent 4
No Sunday Morning Service on December 24

December 24, 4:30 p,.m. 
Christmas Eve Family Service

December 24, 7:30 p.m.
Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

December 25, 9:00 a.m.
Quiet Communion Service

Looking Ahead:

Advent Adult Education Evening Programs
Wednesday, December 13, 2017:

7:00-8:30 P.M.

A Difficult Mystery of Waiting: visiting and caring for people suffering memory loss and dementia, open to the public, held in the church narthex. Light refreshments. (little error in Hometown Journal re 12/20)


Wednesday, December 20, 2017:

Blue Christmas: Waiting to heal from grief and loss. Maybe you have lost a child, a pregnancy, a parent or sibling, or a part of yourself; maybe celebrating holidays is hard for you…. prayer and gentle conversation, held in the rectory living room. Soup supper served.

Christian Discipleship in Action via St. John’s

Come join in:

Oasis Ministrieswe cook and serve a monthly hot chicken dinner to about 100 homeless neighbors in down- town Boston on 2nd Mondays.

Ecclesia outreachwe invite homeless and poor neighbors to Hale Reservation for a summer picnic and for a Spring bowling afternoon in Norwood.

Tutoring after-school reading and homework help for city children at Church of the Holy Spirit, Mattapan on Tuesday afternoons.

Pantry support for the Westwood Food Pantry and the Center for Life elderly housing complex in Mattapan – bring non-perishable groceries to church year round.

Habitat for Humanity home buildcoming soon, a St. John’s team to help build an affordable home in Westwood.

Prayer Shawlsknitting group prayerfully makes shawls for people facing illness or crisis.

Urban Promise Honduras missioners from St. John’s & CHS travel to learn and work with children at a school in Copan every few years.

Boston B-SAFE summer program our team works during a July week each year to provide meals and a field trip & picnic for this large city children’s program.

Eucharistic Visiting members are trained and take the Sacrament, offer healing prayer, and make friendly visits to people who are homebound, in hospital, or other institutional settings.

Speak to Rev. Jennifer if you’d like to put your discipleship to work in one or more of these parish ministries!