As always I recommend reading the notes first, in the order they were posted for a Sunday.
The Answer is: God created us, Christ freed us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us … all so that we will be saints. On our own though we can do nothing good; we are always slaves to sin. Yet by the Holy Spirit working in us, we can be Christ’s hands, heart and presence in this world. Generally God does not disrupt the order of creation with obvious miracles; instead God uses the order of creation to bring us to be God’s miracles when and where and to whom God chooses.
That answer is to the real life exam question of this time of Advent: What must, can, and will we do? Like all the questions placed before us by the Gospel, God always gives us the answers first, then puts the questions to us. So I thought I best preach it that way, too.
The second answer that is needed even before the first is to the question ‘Who are we?’ We are God’s people, the people of the Covenant that God unilaterally made with us.
The citizens of the medieval-turned-modern city Coventry England can be truly proud of the 12th century Saint Michael’s Cathedral.
14 November 1940, Germany targeted Coventry’s factories, largely producing armaments and munitions, with a massive aerial bombardment. It was a clear and moonlit evening when the first of 400 bombers dropped its load. That night for 11 hours, 500 tons of bombs landed on Coventry. Collateral damage was extensive since the factories were close to the city center: Dead 554 people, Wounded 865, Four fifths of the city burned or destroyed. Of the gothic cathedral only a shell remained.
The next morning people gathered in the smoldering ruins of the Cathedral. Provost Howard, of the Cathedral, said: “It will be rebuilt to the glory of God.”
Jock Forbes, a stonemason, tied together two of the partially burned oak beams from the roof into the form of a cross, turning the smoking ruble into a Calvary. The Reverend A. P. Wale, a local priest, took three of the many medieval nails, which lay among the ruins, and bound them together into the form of another cross. These crosses are two of the most famous in modern Christendom.
They carried the clear message of forgiveness as the people chose not to hate and despise their enemy for the terrible destruction. Hatred and bitterness destroy life. They eat away at one’s soul. Instead the people ensured that their choice to forgive was understood by all.
Two months later Jock Forbes built a stone altar in the Sanctuary. His charred cross stood behind it, and the Cross of Nails sat on the altar. The words “Father Forgive” are inscribed on the wall behind the Altar.
The Allied forces similarly bombed Dresden in Germany. Coventry and Dresden chose each other to become sister cities after the war. (SERMONSHOP, Elizabeth Kugel Pastor, FUMC, reworked TL) They were Covenant people, together.
If ever there is a time for which the question is ‘What can and must we do?’ it is Advent. Of course the pressure to get ready for Christmas gifts, meals, travel, visits, parties, and holidays in general is great. But all that only displaces the real pressures of Advent. The lessons for today call us to prepare the way of the Lord and to behave so that we are pure and blameless on the Day of Christ’s return!
This is the ultimate to-do list. There are many tasks in life that are purely optional, like watching sports or playing cards or knitting sweaters. Yes, I am winking at all us die hard sports fans or card players. I just threw in the knitting, because it may not be optional at all.
Other tasks may seem optional but they really may not be so optional after all; like spending time with family and friends, or knitting.
Yet other tasks top out the important and urgent categories of life, like breathing, eating and exercising, and loving; maybe knitting if you need to stay warm through the winter. And praying, not just when our lives are threatened by the over-bold bus driver’s driving.
How then do we categorize Living as a Christian? Who gets to decide what it is anyway? Is it optional? After all we do get to choose, right! But is it even something we can do?
We are simultaneously saints and sinners. We can do nothing good or righteous on our own; we are always slaves to sin. But by Holy Spirit we can be Christ’s hands, heart, and presence. We can be Christ’s presence because God alone made a covenant with us. Our God is a God who gives the answers to the exams, then gives the exam, though it may not be as easy as it sounds.
When the Gospel cries out to us: Repent! Prepare! It requires a response from us. Then we can do the hard work of changing our hearts, minds and souls, again and again, from sinner behaviour to saint actions.
Being Christ’s hands, heart and presence requires of us everything we are, have, can muster, and more. It requires from us Courage, Kindness, Compassion, Forgiveness, Grace, and more just like Christ. We can only meet the challenges if we allow ourselves to be God’s miracles.
There once was a man who was wicked but he wanted to be good. So he went to a costume maker. The costume maker said, “Here, wear this.” It was a halo costume. The man thought it was foolish but put it on. The man saw a beggar and was about to turn away, but remembered he had a halo on, so he gave the beggar some money. Next he ran into his wife whom he usually abused, but he caught sight of himself in a mirror, and so he treated her well. So the man’s day continued. After he returned the costume that night, as he walked home the man glanced in window and saw that he still reflected a halo.
This may seem like Fake it until you make it. It’s also called Cognitive Counseling. For God it’s the other way around. God makes us saints. Then God calls us to be and do what we already are and can do, We ARE God’s miracles and blessings for others.
What kind of miracles can we be, besides being the people who choose to forgive instead of hate? We can hold a lonely, dying person. We can provide a meal that saves a life. We can provide shelter and homes to those who cannot afford or find or manage a home on their own. We can welcome the strangers, the sinners we find abhorrent, and give them a place to be heard, to worship, to be honoured as real people, sinners though they are, just like us. We can reach out across the city and across the world to share the necessities of life, which we have in abundance, with those who need desperately. We can work to bring governments to provide as we cannot: even in Canada we have not provided clean water to people in many communities, not just for years, but for decades!
We can be like Paul for each other; reaching out with holy words to guide, support and inspire each other to be the saints that God makes us to be.
As I read this list of examples, I know this is not only what we can do, it is what we, collectively, are doing; Because God makes us Covenant people the miracles that God’s people need.
The Real Life Exam Question for today, from the Gospel, is What are we to do this Advent?
The answer is God alone is righteous, gracious and forgiving. We are God’s children, and Covenant People. We are God’s miracles, God’s saints who are Christ’s hands, heart and presence of forgiveness, acceptance, and inspiration for all who need Christ this Advent season.
What are we to do? We do what God makes us to be.
Exam time is over, now comes the real test: Advent, week 2.
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