This past Sunday I visited an Episcopal church, the first time for this particular church. For those of you who aren’t of the liturgical persuasion, when you go to an Episcopal, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox church, you go for the liturgy, not for the sermon. The sermon – which is usually and refreshingly quite brief by Evangelical standards – is somewhat of a bonus, especially if it’s good, although it is still is important in the whole worship context. I was very pleased on Sunday to leave the worship service impressed with not only the liturgy (standard Book of Common Prayer) and the quality of the music (which was incredible), but also with the quality of the sermon. It was almost like listening to N.T. Wright, without the British accent.
In the sermon, we were reminded and encouraged that John the Baptist, whose assignment was to announce the advent, as it were, of the public ministry of the Messiah, operated in the wilderness. He was neither a TV personality nor a street-corner prophet; he was, if you will, an oracle, and people had to go out to the wilderness to find him. In other words, he was inconvenient. And, if you believe at all that the medium is the message, and I think it does, it tells us that the Gospel is inconvenient. It’s not necessarily easy to find, and many of us have to walk a difficult road to access it. As is confirmed again and again in the Bible, God is revealed in the wilderness, in the desert, in exile, in prison; he is revealed in all kinds of very inconvenient places. The Good News is that in the midst of our trials – which I can relate to at the moment, as I’m currently out of a job and fairly stressed – God is revealed. The Advent season celebrates, among other things, the trials and tribulations of a pregnant woman forced to travel as her due date arrives. It’s all so inconvenient, but God will be revealed.
We were also reminded that Advent, the celebration of the incarnation and the revelation of the Christ, is also the advent of the New Creation. With the incarnation, God entering Creation in a new and very personal way, the New Creation was initiated. Advent is the celebration of creation and re-creation, it is the season of hope and new life. God has become incarnate, and is about to be revealed. Christmas is more than just a birthday, where we stand around the manger and think, “isn’t he cute?” Christmas is the acknowledgment that God has set the wheels in motion; the New Creation is underway, and we are a part of it.
These are some of my thoughts, loosely based on Sunday’s sermon. I know there were good points made that I’ve forgotten; this is one sermon where I wished I had taken notes. However, I’ve grasped the essence of the message, and I thnk it will have a lingering impact on my understanding and appreciation for Advent.
The wilderness? Uh, what did they have on the snack table?