I love Advent! Most of us do, I think. Many call it their favorite season of the church year. Part of it is that we love Christmas, and Advent is the season of preparation for that great feast. I love the royal blue vestments (which we will bless today); I love the Advent wreath and the smell of greens in the church. I love the great Advent hymns and the powerful readings from the Bible (especially the Old Testament) which we get to hear during these four brief weeks.
Part of it too is that Advent is, above all else, a season of Hope — The hope of the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. The hope of God’s in-breaking into our lives every day in new and exciting ways. The hope of God’s Reign one day coming in its fullness here “on earth as it is in heaven.” All these are Advent themes, and they make for a season of hope, a ‘”theology of hope.” Which, to my mind, is largely what the Christian faith is all about.
We have expressions of hope in all three of our Lessons from Scripture today: “In the days to come,” Isaiah shouts, “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills.” (Isaiah 2:2). St. Paul agrees, writing some 800 years later: “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers,” (Romans 13:11b). “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,” warns Jesus, “Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:36, 44) All proclamations of hope and of expectation!
So, if Advent is a season of hope and new beginnings, what about us? What about us at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, Illinois? Are we all about hope? Are we all about new beginnings? You are an historic church…launching into your Sesquicentennial Year. For 150 years generation upon generation of young people have been baptized and confirmed in this parish. They have learned the story of Jesus Christ and his Church. They have served as acolytes and choristers and they’ve enjoyed youth groups and outreach events.
Hundreds of couples have had their marriages solemnized in this beautiful building. Confessions have been heard, the sick have been anointed with oil. Priests and deacons have been ordained in this church, and at least one bishop who shall remain nameless graduated from Seabury-Western in this church in 1972!
Many of your forebears have had their caskets brought down this center aisle and had their souls commended to God in the same church where they worshiped Sunday by Sunday. And, oh yes, Sunday by Sunday the Word of God has been preached, the Body and Blood of Christ has been received in the Eucharist, and the joyful praises of God have been sung by choir and communicant alike. And, because of all these things, members of St. Mark’s have gone forth from this place to make a difference for good in this community and beyond.
But Sesquicentennial observances are only partly about celebrating the past (though they surely are that). They are about preparing to take the next step into the future. We’re doing a few simple things this morning that indicate that future – blessing a new outdoor sign to point newcomers in our direction; blessing a new Altar, altar cloths, and vestments. Perhaps these are outward signs of the fact that you have a new motto at St. Mark’s – Being in Place; Growing in Faith; and Living from the Center. And that you are refocusing on being and becoming a real neighborhood church, responding to the needs of the local community. I hope so.
We had a wonderful Diocesan Convention last weekend. And Bishop Jeff Lee had some words to share in his sermon which I think may be useful for you to hear…or hear again if you were there! He said, “The theme for this 176th convention is that we are doing a new thing. Actually…I think I‘d rather say, God is doing a new thing. God is always doing new things. Our scriptures, the vast sweep of the contemplative tradition, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection itself and the sending of the Holy Spirit – they all testify to the truth of it. God is always doing a new thing…”
“…God is the prime mover, the creator and sustainer of all that is or ever will be, and God’s mission is the repair, the restoration, the renewing of that creation…The new thing is God’s project and we who have been redeemed by God’s unexpected action in Jesus…have the staggering invitation to join in God’s mission of making all things new. That’s what we’re for; that’s what all of this is about. There’s a phrase ascribed to everyone from Abraham Lincoln to management guru Peter Drucker: ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’ The Christian faith proclaims that God invites us to be nothing less than co-creators (of that future).”
Co-creators of the future with God! Did you know that’s what you were about today? Did you know that blessing new signs and altars and vestments were just icons of the new mission you are being called into? Well, it’s true! And the amazing thing is: you will fulfill that mission by just showing up and doing three “simple” things:
Being in Place
Growing in Faith
Living from the Center
Thanks Be To God!