17 December 2007

Pre-empted Sunday Homily

Well, blowing and drifting snow and other weather-related factors led to the cancellation of services yesterday in the parish I was scheduled to celebrate and preach at. I decided to put my homily notes and other material together in an accessable format for those who had planned to be there, so I now share it with you.
Please note that St. Paul's EOC makes use of an adapted version of the Revised Common Lectionary, and not the Lectionary of the Synod of Saint Timothy.

Year A

Prayer of the Day
God of glory and compassion, at your touch the wilderness blossoms, broken lives are made whole, and fearful hearts grow strong in faith. Open our eyes to your presence and awaken our hearts to sing your praise. To all who long for your Son's return grant perseverance and patience, that we may announce in word and deed the good news of the kingdom. We ask this through him whose coming is certain and whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

First Reading - Isaiah 35
Our Old Testament reading employs the language of recovering an ecologically ravaged land with fruitful vegetation. Isaiah's words today, however, have nothing to do with global warming. They go far deeper than any ecological project – they reflect God's commitment to provide for renewal among his people, quenching their spiritual thirst and nurturing them on their journey of faith. Give your attention to the Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Second Reading - James 5: 7-11
It's great to know that God will quench our thirst and protect us on our journey of faith, but there will be times when we feel challenged as we wait to see indications that the promise is being met in our lives. Just as so many believers have experienced ‘dark nights of the soul’, we too will have our good days, our bad days, and – yes, at times our ugly days, as we struggle through this world. The good news, as our second reading tells us today, is that with patience and endurance, we will come through our difficult and heart-rending days, praising God because he did provide for our needs while we were making our pilgrimage through this world. Give your attention to the Reading from the Letter of James.

Gospel Reading - Matthew 11: 2-11
Note: I rarely type out complete sermons, so I am putting my various notes and thoughts together rather hastily and outside of the context of the Divine Liturgy. Nevertheless, I hope that something in the following material will be beneficial to you as you continue your Advent pilgrimage.
From the day of the fall, our sinful nature has been the driving force behind every disaster that has befallen us, for at the time of the fall, the universe itself was shaken. As the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned."
Death –spiritual death– characterized in many respects by a lack of personal unity with God, creates a spiritual desert in which we must walk. In the Old Testament, we see how, time and time again, the Israelites put worldly advantage, idolatry, or personal gain before their relationship with God. The fruitful (spiritual) pasture God wished to lead them to became a parched desert land because they chose to put their trust in idols and, ultimately, in themselves.

But Isaiah sees a time in the future when the people will seek God anew. He sees that as a day when the 'wilderness and desert will be glad…', when, 'the wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.' This is improbable in the minds of the people Isaiah is preaching to, they have lived in the midst of their land for many years. It was a constant, an unchanging feature of their lives. But Isaiah isn't prophesying about the Hebrew equivalent of reversing global worming. He is prophesying about personal relationships with God as we travel the pathway of faith through this life.

Remember the words from Romans: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world."
Every destructive impulse in the universe finds, as its source, sin. This is true of physical natures just as much as it is of spiritual ones. Satan's influence... sin. Our predilection to do as we please... sin. Our desire to take care of our own needs and ignore the needs of others... sin. We struggle with it every day, and as believers - Christian believers - we often times become far more aware of our shortcomings and failures than others. We are called to ask ourselves "Why remain bogged down in sin? Why not take courage and abandon sinful ways?"

The prophets of the Old Testament ask similar questions... "Israel, will you ever find the backbone to do something about your broken relationship with God?"

Someone had to forge a pathway to God... one that extended part of the way. Indeed, it is this pathway that John the Forerunner paved for Christ in the deserts in his own day. And yet John himself had his own worries and fears. Was this Christ the one who was to be the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies? Would he make the wilderness blossom? Jesus' response to John's question was simply to point to the actions that came about as a response to faith. One can aptly say that the wilderness metaphors of Isaiah's prophecy can be applied to the blind suddenly seeing, the lame being enabled to walk, and the dead being brought to life. The ecology language of Isaiah is turned into a spiritual ecology by Jesus, who reassures John the Baptist – giving him the courage to stand firm in his faith and convictions, ultimately leading to his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas.

Our reading from the letter of James teaches us that we too can find the same confidence in God as we walk through our own spiritual deserts. All too often, we feel parched and alone in the wilderness; we feel a need to draw closer to a source of refreshment and grace. Sadly, even those of us who call on Christ will sometimes try to justify using material goods – a new car, the latest DVD, a trip to the movies – to make up for what is lacking in our relationship with God.
This isn't to say that there is anything intrinsically wrong with any of these items, but when we use them to bring great joy, instead of finding our joy and peace in the person of Jesus Christ, well… we have a problem. The joys of the material world are fleeting and brief; the joy of the knowledge and love of God in Christ Jesus is eternal. It will support us even when the car is wrecked, the DVD won't play, or the theater is sold out. It will sustain us when we loose a loved one, and it will be our anthem when our joy is complete and full. Finding joy in Christ will also help us to ensure that we are good stewards of our finances and all of creation.
How much of our time, and how much energy do we expend, all seeking the joy and happiness that only Christ can really bring?
If contemporary environmentalists really want to do something about global warming, man-made climate change, and the other 'impending' ecological disasters they continue to predict with increasing urgency, then perhaps they should begin including mentions of Jesus Christ in their words, for truly, only Jesus Christ is able to lovingly redirect us to find joy in a relationship with him, to rejoice in the beauty of creation, and to be good and faithful stewards of all creation.

Isaiah knew that.
James knew that.
John the Forerunner knew that.
We must know it too.


JohnP December 24, 2007 at 1:02 PM  

Thanks, Rob+! A very merry Christmas to you and yours

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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