First Sunday in Advent 2016!

St Barnabas, Norwich VT

Sermon by Rev Jennie M Anderson

Lord, make us stewards of ourselves, that we may be servants of others. Take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, take our hearts and set them on fire, for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Good morning! Welcome!

First Sunday in Advent 2016!

Fullness - Life is ultimately iconic, it is revelatory and participatory. Life is pregnant with meaning because it is bursting with the presence of God, whom we will experience in the form of desire for something More, Who is God. -Br. Curtis Almquist

Welcome to the New Year of the Christian calendar. I know the Gregorian calendar begins a new year on January first, and our personal new year may happen on our birthday, I also know that the liturgical calendar begins for the new year today, this very morning, we are now in the liturgical calendar date of Year A 1st Sunday of Advent! So, happy New Year!

I love to get a redo, a moment to stop what I am doing and to turn over a new leaf, as my mom used to say. This season brings me a sense of how we might consider a moment, or a whole season and take a kind of spiritual inventory to see how we have been… then, in this particular season, we are desperately urged to look to the future with hope… that is the way of imminent birth… hope and expectation, awaiting the new thing about to come into the world, AGAIN! Of course, we can remember and go over saved recordings and inventories of the past and wish for those perfect days of old to return for us with the birth of the new messiah.

Today in Romans and in our collect we ask God to give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light so that we may rise to the life immortal. Taking stock of how we have been in our souls is a very important spiritual exercise. BUT beware that there is no perfect past outside of the existential experience of nostalgia. Nostalgia, I looked it up. It is a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning "homecoming", a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning "pain, ache." The word or expression was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by [Swiss] mercenaries fighting away from home. What embodies truth, though, is being in this very moment, and looking to the future with what we have in our hearts and abilities, our location and our conditions, our conditions of our souls right now. Wait, watch and be ready! Sometimes that takes some doing, to check in with what is real for ourselves right now and not what it was like a couple months, years or decades ago. Sitting in stillness with that one question for a good while can be very important to the process of truthfully birthing LOVE into the future of the world. We often spend so much time projecting our past or our unchecked projection of a future, we cannot perceive what is true right now. We cannot build a future not knowing what the truth of the present is. We have to meet “the person” before we can know who and what they are really like.

Once we take that step of being present to the presents (presence)… or even begin to start doing that spiritual work of taking stock of our souls, we can then honestly begin to move into building a better future. How might we, how can we make our whole human future so much better than any past has ever been? How can we adjust or change how we do things? Isn’t it hard when what we are learning is that our way of how we have always done things might be very detrimental to our great-grandchildren’s health? We must find a way to change and do things a little better. How can we envision helping the birth of the new Christ Child, the birth of LOVE, happen in a world that is helping to “bring the kingdom of heaven closer to earth?” We must keep the one single flickering light of HOPE and anticipation alive in our hearts and souls. So, I have been looking for ways that we can and are planting HOPE so that we can birth LOVE.

I found this article about a group keeping HOPE alive in the world. My friend (the Rev) Eric Law wrote about my colleague from seminary, (the Rev) Robin Reeves and her project called signs of hope:

There are signs of HOPE all over Texas City and here is how it happened. On Saturday, November 19, 2016, the Rev. Robin Reeves of St. George’s Episcopal Church charged cub and boy scout troops, members and visitors to their Annual Bazaar, to take a couple of Signs of HOPE and put them where there seemed to be HOPELESSNESS in their city. The scout group took it upon themselves to help make her dream of creating a field of 500 signs of HOPE a reality. Along the way they were caught up in the joy of this simple word and began making Branded signs of HOPE. The seeds of the idea were planted several years ago when Reeves, in a meeting with Mayor Matthew Doyle, learned that his deepest concern was "for our youth and their lack of a vision or a hope for a future.” In response, St. George’s built a community garden, in partnership with Blocker Middle School, Galveston County Food Bank and DSW Builders so local kids could learn how to grow and eat nutritious food. "You may have seen pumpkin patches,” Reeves said, “but they have to be replanted. HOPE is eternal and we want to cover the field with 500 hand-painted signs of HOPE, then invite people to pick one and carry it into the community to plant them throughout our neighborhoods.”

Another version of planting HOPE so that we can birth LOVE in our Upper Valley neighborhoods came to me yesterday at the Crafts Fair when I met Spark Community Center’s, Community Outreach Coordinator – John Fenley who was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at the age of three which required four surgeries to successfully remove. Though the resulting brain injury created obstacles to overcome, John strives to define himself by his abilities rather than his disabilities. He has made it his calling to speak openly and passionately about his experiences in the hope that it might inspire others to join the disability rights movement. He has built a dream of hope in the Community Center called Spark in Lebanon.

One of our very own annual planting of HOPE to harvest LOVE is reported by Dan Fraser himself, the 19 Days of Norwich, 1% for the Haven Program. He says that it began in 2013 when a customer came into Dan & Whit’s and said that the Haven food pantry was nearly bare! There was no food on the pantry shelves for people in need, and the few donations coming in were immediately taken. This kind soul had done a mini food drive, but it wasn’t enough to put food on the table for those who needed it most. A few days later, I landed on an idea, a bit crazy, but worth a try. This year, as Dan reported last week in the Telling Our Stories program we of the 19 days may very well accumulate an astounding $1 million in total donations over the four years at the end of this season. To this, St Barnabas’ milk fund is a leading contributor!

So, where are we now and how can we be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour? What is our spiritual condition? Our souls fitness? How might we change how we do things to better suit a new way of planting HOPE to help birth LOVE into the world this Advent season, today, this very moment?

Let us pray. Unexpected God, your advent alarms us. Wake us from drowsy worship, from the sleep that neglects love, and the sedative of misdirected frenzy. Awaken us now to your coming, and bend our angers into your peace. Amen.