Sunday, December 11, 2016
Advent 2A*. December 4,2016 St. John’s Church
Rev'd Jennifer Phillips Isa.11:1-10;Rom.15:4-13;Mtt.3:1-12
How shall we prepare the way for God to come among us? Must we move mountains, build roads? What shall we do to make ready? Somehow it seemed to me easier to make room for the coming of Christ in childhood. It is to those memories that I look in this season in order to spread the inner quiet like a white cloth, like a first clean blanket of snow that stills and holds and binds the world together into something fresh and made new.
I remember winter evenings in Schenectady, New York, crouching by the small window in my father's study, next to the radiator that hissed and creaked and toasted my knees in a sleepy security. There was the rusty smell of old pipe tobacco; Edgeworth ready rubbed. Next to the black square of night glowed an orange electric candle reflecting off the crimson of the carpet like fire-glow or old stained glass of some holy place. Far off in the house faint voices rose and fell in caroling on the radio. Outside (being in the snow belt), snow fell and fell, over the yews in the Carlson's front yard across the street, over the many-colored lights that peered from white hoods of snow, over hemlocks that sighed and settled under its eiderdown, over rooflines and walls that softened and curved and the road that became a shining track in the blue-black snow-light. The child at the window said to the snow-thick sky, "yes, the Holy child is coming. Coming soon."
In the bright brittle morning, plastic bagged sock-feet plunged inside thin rubber boots, and I was straightjacketed into my snowsuit. I trudged off across the field behind Cedar Lane where snow had covered the alfalfa stubble as deep as my thighs but light as air. Down into the ravine I went where the wind stilled and sunlight barely squeezed through pillars of pine. In the clearing down by the stream crackling under ice, someone had cut a spruce -- a thin and lopsided little tree, but as tall as me, or taller -- and left it lying in favor of some more symmetrical find. Clearly, it was a gift, no doubt about it, and for me. So I dragged it up the hill packing my boots with snow and my mittens with needles and sap in the process, and scraping a deep furrow in the snow. There were no bird-sounds in the pines; it was quiet as a nave. Across the field I lugged my prize. Parents were invited out for a viewing on the porch.
To closer inspection in the cold light of civilization, the tree was scrawnier than before, and crooked to the left, and lumpy on the right with a big gap halfway up. My heart wavered a bit. My Mum, ever diplomatic, said, "it's just what we need: a Christmas tree for the birds!" In an hour it was propped behind the back window and decked with cranberries and popcorn and the net bags from onions now stuffed with suet and peanut butter. Bluejays were already squabbling, and finches, and a prim nuthatch upside down on the trunk. By nightfall even a cardinal had visited, hanging briefly like a scarlet star in the wispy branches. And in the morning Christmas, and the Holy One, came. I felt Christ come with my small toes waking to warm flannel blankets, feeling the satisfyingly hard lumpiness of the stocking hung on my bedpost. All was well and all manner of things were well.
But now I live in cities where even the thickest blanket of snow does not quite succeed in making the rough places plain, and it is a little harder to feel the holiness which slips among us at this season and take comfort in it. And it is not so much the babe of Bethlehem fort whose coming I look, but the cosmic bringer of justice and peace, the one who will transform this sorry world into the fulfilled reign of the Holy One.
The multitudes asked John the Baptist, "What then shall we do?", and it seems to me that John's answer came in two different ways. First, he bellowed, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee tte wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham!" Which is to say, "don't be smug and rest on your laurels as the chosen ones, for God may choose to do a new thing". "Don't think your salvation can be taken for granted. Look at yourselves! Rouse yourselves! Get your house in order."
Second, John said in effect, "But do not despair either. There are ways you can prepare for the Lord's coming, and not by moving mountains! In Luke's version of this scene, John tells his followers, "You who have two coats, share with one who has none. You who have food, do likewise. Tax collectors, collect no more than is appointed to you. Soldiers, rob no one by violence or by false accusation and be content with your wages." And by extension: doctors tend and do not exploit the sick; researchers do your studies honestly and for the common good; politicians make policy wisely; managers direct with good sense and a concern for those who work under you; and so on. Simple instructions: do what you do honestly, sensibly, and well, and with compassion. To do this is to show the fruit of repentance. To do even this is to prepare the way.
Perhaps as adults we have little time to wait by a darkened window for Christmas to dawn. Perhaps it will take more than a spruce tree decorated for the birds, or tinsel on the mantelpiece to help us believe that the reign of heaven is already breaking in among us, being silently and wondrously revealed. Perhaps it will take more attention to let our hearts, hardened by the immensity and chronicity of suffering and the gloom of the world, be melted by the little lights of the coming Christmas so that we can believe our small acts of kindness and reverence worthwhile. We have a lot of sweeping away to do to make room for holiness to enter our crowded lives. Repent, act justly; sweep your heart, slow down, and be still. Wait. The Holy One is coming among us. The reign of heaven is at hand. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of he Holy Spirit you may abound with hope."
This is St. John's Episcopal Church...
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 2016:
Rev. Dr. Jennifer M. Phillips
Tuesday, December 6:
7:00 p.m. Advent Book Club followed by Night Prayers at the Rectory at 8:30
Wednesday, December 7:
10:00 a.m. Eucharist
Sunday, December 11:
10:00 a.m. Sunday Worship
Advent Book Club:
Tuesday November 29 -Tuesday December 20: Come on Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. during Advent to the rectory for conversations about race, diversity, and being American, as we read: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions
about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER | NAACP IMAGE AWARD WINNER | PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST | NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST | NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • O: The Oprah Magazine • The Washington Post • People • Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • New York • Newsday • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly
Tuesday Night prayers will follow at 8:30 in the rectory.
Sunday, December 18
@ the 10:00 a.m. service
Flowers enhance the beauty of our church and greatly contribute to our worship. We place flowers near the altar to remind us of Creation, which brings us to the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Sunday. Here at St. John’s, rather than have a general budget item for flowers, we invite our parishioners to provide the flowers in memory or honor of loved ones, or in thanksgiving for special events. There is a sign up sheet on the bulletin board on which one may select a Sunday, (or Sundays!), for a special tribute. The cost for flowers, which the Altar Guild orders, is $35. (Please be sure to note on your payment that it is for flowers.) We are grateful to Westwood Gardens Florist, which, for many years, has provided beautiful arrangements to us for a modest price.