The Third Sunday of Advent–December 14, 2014
Preacher: The Rev. Katherine G. Flexer, Rector of St. Michael’s Church
As I begin, I need to share with you some news that some of you already know. My sister Elizabeth passed away on Wednesday night in Seattle after a long battle with cancer. So I am not at my best right now – I’ve been looking forward to this Sunday with you for a very long time, but this loss has put me in a much different place than I expected to be in today. So I ask your prayers and your patience as we begin together, with me not as present and ready as I would like to be. In place of a full sermon, I will share with you some thoughts, and then turn it over to the wardens to tell more.
But this Sunday in Advent is the Sunday of rejoicing despite it all – or rejoicing with it all, more truthfully. So I guess that message is what we are having to live into together here today.
It is an amazing thing to be back here with you. Almost exactly four years ago I left you, after serving here for five and a half years. I moved my family to California so I could serve as rector in a congregation there in San Jose. Saying goodbye to you was painful, and I missed you enormously. After your rector Fr Brandt retired I was so curious to see whom you would call as your next rector. I even had someone in mind for you.
After three years went by, you were still in an interim, my handpicked choice had taken another job, and I was still thinking about you. We came back to visit during our kids’ fall school break last year, my first time back to worship with you since we’d left. I’d forgotten it would be St Michael’s Day, and I was overwhelmed with how good it felt to be here with you all. And you were just beginning to accept names for rector.
So we’ve moved back – our third time moving across the country. We’ve re-adopted our old address and renewed our New York drivers’ licenses (with great difficulty) and Jim has gone back to work at his job at Guideposts magazine and we’re running all our old routes in the parks again. We pulled our kids out of the suburbs and moved them into PS163. It’s all kind of bizarre and unlikely and funny. But that’s what you do for love. I love who you were when I knew you last, and I am thrilled with who you are now, and I am very excited to see who we are going to become together.
And we get to formally and officially begin this new start together today, the third Sunday in Advent, what used to be called Gaudete Sunday, Rejoicing Sunday, Rose Sunday. The day when the dark penitential quality of the season eased up a bit and the joyful giddiness of excitement was allowed to creep in in the form of a pink candle in the wreath and happier music in the service, maybe a few more treats to eat after church. If the church season of Advent begins mostly introverted, quiet, waiting and listening to the internal voice, then this is the Sunday when it all starts getting more breathless and excited: the pregnancy is far along and baby showers are being thrown and the imminent birth seems more real than ever before. We’re too excited to pretend to be repenting anymore – so light the pink candle! Sing rejoice!
The penitence of Advent and the lightening of the mood on this Sunday is an almost forgotten scrap of ritual now, especially when the season outside the church has been dominated by holiday cheer for weeks already. But the ritual remains, because it contains deep truth. This is the season that encompasses all of life: the times of waiting in the dark, not sure what is coming next, and the times of hopeful anticipation and excitement. The times of grieving and regret, and the times of celebration and cookies – it’s all part of the whole. And all of it in this season is leaning towards what is and is to come: the coming of God to be one of us, to live among us. All of it is about love – love and risk and desire. It’s God leaning so far towards us that she topples right into us, throws caution to the winds, picks up and moves to be one of us, right here, right now. It’s about to happen; it has happened; it’s always, always happening.
So it is a good season to begin anew with our love for one another. It’s a good time to start and restart our relationships together. Because what we will be doing together in the months and years ahead will be all about love. We will know and love one another more deeply. We will better know and love our neighbors in the community around us. And we will know and love God, and be known and loved by God, more and more profoundly through it all.
I am not the competent, pulled-together person I would like to be with you as we begin this new time together. But then, maybe you aren’t either. If we’re going to live in love and relationship, then I suppose it’s all okay. Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul writes to his friends, give thanks in all circumstances. Not just when it all goes your way, or when you are spared the hard things, not just in the time of celebration – but always. All of it is part of love. And so we begin anew.