Home
Christ Church
Worship
Sermons
Children's Ministries
Spiritual Formation
Music
Ministries
Mission and Outreach
Giving
Ways to Serve
Worship Times

Sundays
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
(spoken service)

10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist
(with full choir, hymns)

Wednesdays
7:00 a.m.
Holy Eucharist with Healing Prayer


Directions to Christ Church

handicap_sign
Our church, restrooms and meeting space are handicap accessible.

calendar button_72

Advent and Eclipses
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on the first Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2012

Advent 1 C 2012
Christ Church Andover

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
 

Happy New Year!  Yes, as you all know, today is the first day of the new church year, and being Episcopalians we know that is also the first Sunday in Advent.  We know this because it's before Christmas, which the world is already celebrating around us!  But we observe it by noting that the church trimmings and vestments have changed from green to purple (or in some churches, blue), and we do not sing Christmas Carols! NOT YET anyway!  One of the things I love about being Episcopalian is that we do have this marvelous rhythm of the church year to carry us through life, and in each season we can find the experiences, not only of Jesus and his life, but of our own, as individuals and as a community.

Rarely does the rhythm and timing of the church year coincide with our own, but it is aways marvelous when it does. Often the lessons seem crisper and the music more poignant when that happens. And for me -- and I suspect for this community of Christ Church -- this new year, this beginning of Advent, is one time when what is happening in the church year matches what is happening in the life of this community and many of us as individuals.

For me, it is my first Sunday among you as the Interim Rector, which totally delights me.  However, my standing at this lectern might be a sad reminder to many that Jeff  is not standing here, that you just celebrated his wonderful years among you as a much-loved rector, celebrated with him this beautiful new altar, and the incredible organ and reinvigorated music program that it will allow -- all part of Jeff’s legacy.  But still, he is gone, and the truth is, nothing will be the same.  

The juxtaposition of these wonderful celebrations and his absence is a poignant reminder that there can never be a new beginning without an ending.  Sometimes endings are painful, like the loss or death of a beloved or the ending of a marriage.  Or sometimes they just fall into the natural “flow” of things, a passage of life, like graduations and marriages, new jobs and retirement.  But new things cannot happen without letting go of what was.  And each year in Advent, we are reminded of that as we begin anew, as we remember and anticipate at the same time.  We remember everything that we have known and have seen and how wonderful, or at the very least, familiar and comfortable it all is, and at the same time we anticipate what is coming.  We learn to read the signs all around us, the things we carry with us from our familiar, comfortable past and present and try to discern what they anticipate for what is coming. 

Such reading of signs is what the gospel seems to me to be about.  Jesus reminds the followers that a fig tree sprouting is a sign that summer is near.  Likewise the gospel tells us, there are signs that the kingdom of God is near.  Of course, a clear list of those particular signs is not included!  They  must be deduced -- discerned if you will -- from the realities of our lives and times, by means of prayer and study and individual and communal reflection.  People of faith in all ages have been discerning such signs, and this parish, this Advent, begins to enter into the sign-seeking process.  You will, in this next year, discover much about yourselves because of such prayerful practice, and you will discern who your next rector is going to be.  

My purpose here is to help prepare the way for that rector, to encourage you in your self reflection, and, from my outsider’s viewpoint, to celebrate the many strengths of this parish, ones you may not even see.  And also to point out when there are things that could be strengthened, and how we might do some of that strengthening together in preparation for the new rector.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that things will change, perhaps even the things you love the most and everyone agrees on will change.  That is what happens when new people become part of a community.  And that is probably the best news of all because change is a sign of life.  When any person or institution stops changing and growing and morphing, then it stagnates, becomes inbred, until it simply does not exist any more.  

I have to say that based on what I know of you -- as a person who watched from afar for the past 15 years -- and the people people I have met, and the wonderful church fair yesterday, I am not worried that you will cease to change or cease to grow.  There is no evidence of that at all!  But the relationship between unwillingness to change and stagnation is a good thing to remember when the tendency or desire  to do things “the old way” or “the way we always did” rears its head.  ”What was” cannot be again, and even if it could, it would not be the same because everything around is changing.

At this point, we don't know what the changes will look like when they come.  Like the readings and season of Advent remind us, we can only read the signs of those changes and what they will bring.  I see signs that say this is a vibrant parish, a place of good hearts, a place to heal and be loved.  It is a real community, a place of worship, a parish that cherishes its children and its music, shows deep concern for others, not only in the community but in ministries to other communities.  And that because I am here and Jeff is not, that is a definite sign there is going to be a new rector in about a year.  We need to be watchful for other signs going forward.  Another part of my responsibility to you will be to point out those signs, and with God’s help, I will.

As many of you know, my husband Ernie and I just returned from Australia.  The reason we went to Australia is that he is an “umbralogist”, or “eclipse chaser”!  We went so that we could see the solar eclipse in Port Douglas, Queensland and saw a whole lot of the country while we were there.  But the purpose of the trip was the eclipse.  I had never seen a full eclipse.  I had heard others speak of them and heard the details of most of the eleven that Ernie has seen in great detail, so I knew what to expect, but was also reminded often that each one is different. 

The thing I had not heard much about ahead of time, though I am sure it was mentioned, was what turned out to be the most powerful for me about the eclipse.  I was  stunned by the awesome mystery and holiness of the darkness and shadows that cover the world when the sun is totally blocked by the moon.  It is not like the darkness of night or twilight or sunrise.  It is quite altogether something else -- something otherworldly -- something I found breathtakingly holy.  The quality and texture of the darkness filled me with awe and humility.  It was a moment out of time for me, a moment I will aways remember.  But not what I thought ahead of time that I would recall or even cherish about this incredible experience.

I anticipated the “diamond ring”, and first contact and second contact, and even looking at the sun without glasses.  I anticipated the interesting people and places that would surround the eclipse.  But I was unprepared for the darkness itself, and it was amazing.  When the sun was totally covered, it felt as though the wind stopped blowing.  The ambient noise around us quieted, insects and birds or other animal noises ceased.  (I cant tell you for sure that is what happened, but it feels to me as though it all did).

It was as if the whole earth was holding its breath to see what was going to happen next.  The clouds that a minute before had been bright and white became black. and the quiet stillness took over the land.

I think Advent is that time of such breath holding and quiet stillness.  I think the discernment time this parish is going to undertake needs to have that same element of breath holding, awesome, stillness -- of waiting, of accepting the darkness, of not knowing the outcome, or trying to figure it out too soon.  It is a time, this Advent, to embrace the shadows of not knowing, all the while trusting that the end will come, and there will be a new rector, the right one for this time in your common life.

And the thing about the church’s calendar is that while this time of quiet breath holding coincides with Advent now, it will last longer than liturgical Advent.  Indeed it might be wise if we as a community became comfortable and continually awestruck by the holiness of the not knowing darkness through many liturgical seasons. If we do, we keep ourselves seeking the signs, relishing the moments we have now, breathing deeply of the holiness of this time.  Then when the new rector comes, you will be ready and you will be able to rest easy in the reality that you have discerned well because you understood the signs correctly. 

I pray that we will all have a holy Advent in the awesome still darkness of not YET knowing.  Amen.

Last Published: January 4, 2013 9:16 PM