St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Advent 3 2011 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery
 
A Sunday school teacher in Kansas reports this conversation in her class: "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven?" she asked the children in her Sunday school class.  "No!" the children all answered.  "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?"  Again, the answer was, "No!"  "Well," she continued, "then how can I get into Heaven?"  A five-year-old boy shouted out, "You gotta be dead!"  Well, I guess that settles that question. How do you feel is the right way to get into heaven?
 
I think that John the Baptist had the right idea of baptizing all of the people that he could round up and promising them that he will baptize them with water and the one to come is greater than he and he will baptize them with the Holy Spirit.  When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to find out who he was and what he represented, they thought that maybe he was Elijah, or a prophet or even the Messiah.  He said "no," I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.  "Make straight the way of the Lord."

In keeping with the advent theme of High Hope and Great Expectation, the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah joyfully announces:  "The Lord has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly,  To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release the prisoners,  I rejoice heartily in the Lord.  As the earth brings forth its plants, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all Nations."
 
In today's Gospel lesson, the mood of keen anticipation continues as John the Baptist proclaims, "the one who is to come and bring light to the world, the strap of whose sandal l am not worthy to unfasten."
 
This is the season when, in the same spirit of high hope and great expectation, little children wonderfully sum it all up in three little words:  “Christmas is coming!”

Joy to the World!  Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men!  Christmas is coming! Christmas--symbol of our high hopes and great expectations for life's fulfillment in happiness.  That's what we're all after, is it not?  Isn't happiness the goal of life?  Or is it?  Does it surprise you when I say that happiness is not our goal in Life?  Do I not have things in proper perspective?  Yet, this is precisely the meaning of the Light that comes into our lives on Christmas Day.  The message of Christmas is that we are called to follow the Lord Jesus in doing God's Will. That is the constant teaching of the Gospel: Not "Thou shalt be happy," but "Thou shalt do the will of God."
 
Are we wrong to tell ourselves and our children that God wants us to be happy?  On the contrary, our fulfillment in happiness is God's promise to us.  It is the reason for our Christmas hopes and expectations.  But, as Jesus tells us over and over again, happiness is the result of doing God's Will, the fruit of doing God's Will.  It comes not because we sought after it; it comes by the grace of God.  Stop worrying over all those things you think are going to make you happy.  "Your heavenly Father knows what you need.  Seek first his Kingship over you, his way of Holiness, and all these will be given you,"  Besides, in other words, "Do my Father's Will and he will make you happy."
 
In Advent, it is the part of the year of waiting, the season of waiting for the days to get longer--the return of the sun, the return of the light and warmth.  We also find ourselves waiting for the birth of the Holy Child, the return of the Son, the Light of the World--just as John waited in his time for the coming of the Messiah.  Our earthly waiting mirrors our spiritual waiting.
 
We are like children waiting for the coming of Christmas.  I am sure we were all like that when we were kids.  What a great experience it would be if we would all get this excited about worshiping and serving the Lord.  We all have set goals for ourselves, sometimes they are really beyond our reach, but as long as we keep trying to do God's Will for us, well, maybe we can fulfill our own desire for happiness.
 
The will of God is our first priority.  We will, by the grace of God, catch our human glimpse of the divine life.  Our happiness is God's concern.  Our concern is to do God's Will, if you do God's will then he will make you happy."
 
What does it profit a Man--this frantic pursuit of what we have been conditioned to call "Happiness?"  A play was written in which a man dies and passes into the next world.  When he opens his eyes, he sees laid out before him more beauty and luxury than he ever dreamed possible, more than he ever dared hope for.  He finds himself in a state of being in which every wish is granted, instantly.  At the slightest whim, an attendant appears to see that it is immediately fulfilled.  After a time, the man grows restless, bored.  "If only, just once, there would be a refusal."  Finally, the monotony becomes unbearable, and he summons the attendant saying, "I want something that I can't have unless I earn it."  "Sorry," the attendant replies, "That's the one wish we cannot grant here."  "Very well," the man replies, "then let me out of here--I would rather be in Hell." Whereupon the attendant asks, "And where do you think you are, Sir?"
 
John the Baptist "Came as a Witness, as a Witness to speak for the Light," that's what the Apostle John tells us in today's Gospel reading.  In Apostle Paul's words, we have come into the world...
To "Comfort and build up one another"
To "Remain at Peace with one another"
To "Cheer the Fainthearted"
To "Support the Weak"
To "Be Patient toward All"
To "See that no one returns Evil to any Other"
To "Always seek one another's Good and for that matter.
The Good of All"
 
May the coming of Christmas enable us to see our life in this perspective!  "Lift up your Hearts".  We lift them up unto the Lord!"   Amen 



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