Thursday, December 15

Sermon, Third Advent

We are now entering the third week of Advent: Advent the season of coming and arrival. But what is coming what has arrived or is arriving?
We hear from John the Baptist again this week and quoting from Isaiah declares to us that what we wait for is the coming of God!(John 1:23) god in human flesh, Jesus Christ. We wait the final fulfillment of the arrival of Emanuel- god in our midst- when all will be completed and whole. In short in Ad ent we await the fulfillment of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
On this Third advent we are reminded that all that we seek is brought to fulfillment in Christ. The incarnation of god accomplished , is accomplishing and will accomplish the good, the justice , the unity and the community we seek. This is what Isaiah and Mary say to us.
In approaching Isaiah 61 we need to remember that in Lukes Gospel Jesus begins his ministry and journey to Jerusalem and the cross by reading this passage as applying to himself. This passage then is key for comprehending the meaning o fthe incarnation, not as philosophical principle, but dynamic reality of God at work in the world!
Isaiah 61:1-3 clearly proclaims God at work in his anointed one, in the messiah (Hebrew) Christ (Greek) whom we know to be Jesus of Nazareth. First we have God acting and then in the same thought we have human action along side God's action . God in Jesus Christ brings Justice, hope and community freeing God's people to repair their broken lives and communities. Read carefully we see not that the actions in vs. 4 are a response to the action of God in Christ but are made possible by the work of God In Christ. In vs 11 we then see that the act of God in Chris brings together Justice and worship. We are well aware of how often worship and justice are separated out and doing justice is presented as true worship in contrast to rituals performed by the unjust, but her e in Isaiah 61 a passage concerning the incarnation they are declare as one , to be joined together.
From another perspective we find a similar pattern in the Magnificat. We misread the magnificat if we seeit as primarily a manifesto for the poor and marginalized as some are tempted to do. (In saying this I do not want to diminish its importance for our working for justice.) In form, structure and content the Magnificat is a psalm, an act of praise and worship. In form it is similar to many of the Psalms and it is analogous to the Song of Miriam and Moses sung after the Red Sea and of the Song of Deborah. Thus, what it says about poverty, justice and the margnialized cannot be separated from it being an act of praise to God for his works.
The past few weeks I have been reading two books on urban ministry, one form a moderate Anglican Theological prespective and the other from a conservative evangelical Baptist perspective. I have found both books helpful in reflecting on the ministry of reconciler and of the place of justice in and of worship in urban churches. Yet I also found in both the belief that we create community and the church and we are the ones who will bring about justice and need to create forms of worship and liturgy that will help us accomplish these things. This attitude seems diametrically oppose to the perspective of the maginficat. For Marry worship is a response to the work God has done and is doing and will continue to do in creating communities that show mercy and accomplish just relationships. Specifically Mary is praising God for accomplishing these thing through the conception of the child in her womb. The Magnificat is not an expression of hope for a better world , nor Mary's imagining a beter and different world. She need ton imagine (with all due respect to John Lenon) we need not imagine for God has accomplished through he incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
Unfortunately for the two authors the incarnation is a principle, at best an act of God primarily in the past that we now live into. In Jesus Christ God has shown us what we need to do and now we must do it.
Mary's realization is that God had acted beyond her imagination or her ability to accomplish and this realization bring ehr to worhsip. In this worship she tells us that true justice and community is not only a gift from God but is brought about by God's action, ultiamtely in Jesus of Nazarth. The Magnificat is not an acto of human longing nor Mary's imagining a beter wrold but a proclamation that through the child in her womb God had accomplished the things she sings.
Isaiah and Mary this evening teach us that the priority is always with God. Our hope is not in findign the way to forma chrch or to bring about unity among Christians, or to creat jsut and merciful communities, but our hope is that God has decisively acted to make thse thigns so. We like Mary then need to act accordingly to open oursleves to God's continueing action- in the Church, in the world, in oursleves. The primary place where we open ourselve up to what God is doing is in worship, so that we may take up what the Orthodox cal the "liturgy after the liturgy." This si true because God's ultiamte act in history wa becoming one with humanity in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus Chrsit is the Justice of God. In Christ what Isaiah prophesied and Mary sings has occured. in worship we are formed into this truth. This is why we worship as we do in reading and meditation of the Scripture, in prayer, confession and coming to the talbe to be nurished by and recieve Christ. Thus recieving Christ we may se God at work in the owrld and join ourseles to that work. Without worship, wotout the incarnation , it woruldbe impossible for us to be partners with God in God's redemption of the world. This is the Chruch, not what we create but what we are formed ito and what we open ourselves up to! Amen.