December 2, 2012


Sermon for Year C, Advent 1
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
December 2, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church

This season of Advent that we are now in
  Is a time to watch, to wait patiently, and to prepare ourselves
  For the One who is coming into this beautiful, busted-up world 
    For the sake of its salvation.
God is sending a Son – an only child.
Jesus will be our master and our brother along the Way.
Because of him, we will learn to look outside ourselves
  When we need examples of how to live each day.

The First Sunday of Advent also means another year past and a new year ahead:
  A new time, another chance to start fresh in life.
You might wonder why the Christian calendar isn’t like the regular one,
  But all you really need to know this morning is that it isn’t.
And, liturgical Christians annually have the benefit
  Of being able to celebrate a New Year twice a year!
That’s two times of starting over fresh in a year –
  The beginning of Advent and the beginning of January.

I imagine that in the end, this probably comes as good news to most of us.
But how do you do it?
A new season in life can begin by doing something
  That helps us to know that the slate has been wiped clean.

We confess. God forgives. Everything turns over.

Now let me ask you:
  Do you think your words of confession being properly spoken from the BCP
    Are what stands between you and God’s forgiveness?
Of course not. God’s forgiveness is total and ongoing.
But boy do we need to say those words and be brought low by them.
It’s easy to get hung up on the form of them because we use the form over and over;
  We might sometimes reach a point
  Where we can’t hear the meaning of the words of confession anymore
  Because it’s tiring to spend any time thinking about
    “Things done and left undone,” all we did or did not do, things we said or didn’t,
    Take inventory of where we went wrong, got off the track …
    Things that, it’s safe to say, we’re just not very proud of.
That’s hard to do.

And what makes it harder is the feeling I think a lot of people have these days
  That so much of the time, we know deep down
  That we really are doing about the best we can,
    And that the effort has left us exhausted.

It is a great paradox of our age:
  We get down on the kneeler to confess everything we do that we aren’t proud of,
      Or just to acknowledge how easily we fall into evil and notorious living,
  And we find that we’re so tired from the normal living of our everyday lives,
    And doing the best we can,
      That it would almost be more helpful to take a nap than to confess our sins!
Why not? We’re kneeling; we’re halfway lying down already!
The pew has a cushion that could double as a pillow!

We don’t nap, of course.
We say the words that have been provided,
  And when the words of absolution are spoken,
    And the priest makes that announcement: your sins are forgiven you –
  It can be like a cool balm on a hot wound.
We’re so aware of what we want to confess that we dare not sleep, of course.
And in the end there really is no other response
  To those comfortable words of assurance by the priest
  Than what the book gives us to say, which is AMEN.
Amen. So be it. Thank you, God.
If I had the time and energy I’d run out in the street and shout it,
  But we have to do the Peace now.
But the fact is, all that junk is past. Past us now. Sins forgiven. Wow.

I can’t fathom a better message of love and comfort and solidarity by God
  Than to be truly and completely present
  In the imperfect, reading-rote-words-off-a-page confession of our shortcomings
    By a people so humble and so tired from living their lives and trying their best.

We confess. God forgives. Everything turns over.
And with clearer eyes, we watch and wait and look for Jesus this Advent.
And we hear and see and know that somehow, in God’s time,
  All our striving and struggle to lead a better life is not in vain.

“All is forgiven.”
Have you ever had one of those “all is forgiven” experiences?
Have you ever messed up so bad
  That you had no right ever showing your face some place again …
    But in the end, for reasons you could never quite explain,
    Someone was willing to set all that aside
    And to say, “I forgive you”?

Not that your behavior or your attitude were being given a free pass –
  If anything these may have changed as a result –
  But that you were embraced anyway, and forgiven, completely and totally:
    Not because of what you did, but for who you are.
Someone loved you enough to want to reconcile with you.

I can’t think of a more difficult thing to do in this life
  Than to let go of a deep wound that in the eyes of this world
  I have every right to hang on to and to nurse all the way to the grave.
But such is the grace of Christ: forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.
What a teacher he is!,
  Standing at the Easter, before the disciples who’d abandoned and disbelieved him,
  Bearing the bright new scars of death,
  Breathing the Holy Spirit upon them,
    Saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven,”
    And in the same way, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I have made accounts with others over the years
  And I have held on to grudges, nursing them, nursing them,
  Being a small person of little mind.
I have loosed accounts with some because I had to,
  Had them pried out of my greedy hands by life’s circumstances,
  Been humbled and brought low many times.
I will tell you that there is someone who has been dead now 25 years.
There’s someone else who’s sitting out 40 years in prison.
They did what they did; the consequences of their actions ensued.
And still, almost every day of my life, I have to wake up and forgive them again.
It never seems to get any easier.

In the same way, I have been thoughtless and careless with others in this life,
  And in more than one I case I apologized until the cows came home
  And at other times, especially in my youth, I was arrogant and coarse
    And it did not occur to me until many years later to seek forgiveness;
    But in any case, sometimes my supplications would not be heard,
    And in the end I packed boxes and I left those places where those people were
  Wondering if they would ever forgive me;
    And in a few cases I’m still wondering today about what I even did;
    And in some cases I know precisely what I did.
Some of these people have decided that it’s the better part to be forgiving.
For the others, if I wanted, I could make myself sick with worry.

And in all these things,
  As I wait on my Advent kneeler-bed for the strength to move past those hurts,
    The ones I have inflicted and the ones that have been inflicted upon me,
  God tells me very clearly in Jesus Christ,
    Look, it’s time to move on! Forgive as I forgive, and move on!

So I stand before you, a peculiar Priest of the sacrifice of the Mass;
  And you before me, the peculiar baptized folk of God.
And we all, in our turn, before Christ, the Son of God on whom we wait,
  The judge of our souls:
  His body the bread of life, his blood the cup of salvation.

May we learn, again, this New Year, to forgive as he forgave –
  Even those who disowned him, sold him, gave him up for dead.
Learn it, and practice it to perfection.
And may we find within us that place that hears the words of absolution
  And sits with them even in the pain of life
  Seeking the solace of God.

In Christ’s holy name. Amen.

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