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Sermon: The First Sunday of Advent 2018

preached by The Rev. Virginia Vogel-Polizzi

In the words of the late Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”

Today marks the first Sunday of advent. The word Advent means “coming.” These four weeks before Christmas are a time to prepare our hearts and our lives as we wait for the coming of Jesus. It is a time to slow down, a time to be quiet, and a time to meditate about the real meaning of Christmas. It is a time to focus on the promise that God made to his people and how that promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. It can also be a time for a new beginning for us as Christians.

Today, on this first day of Advent, we are offered an opportunity. It is an opportunity to not only wait on Christ, but to grow in Christ. It is what Bishop Curry has so frequently referred to as The Way of Love. Let me share with you, once again, this journey we are invited to take. Let me share with you the words and invitation of Bishop Curry.

In the first century, Jesus of Nazareth inspired a movement: a community of people whose lives were centered on Jesus Christ and committed to living the way of God’s unselfish, sacrificial, and redemptive love. Before they were called “church” or “Christian,” this Jesus Movement was simply called “The Way.” Today our vocation is to live as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. But how can we together grow more deeply with Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so we can bear witness to his way of love in and for the world? The roots of our Christian tradition may offer just such a path. For centuries, monastic communities have shaped their lives around rhythms and disciplines for following Jesus together. Such a pattern is known as a “Rule of Life.” 

The Way of Love Advent Calendar of Practices outlines a Rule for the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. By entering into reflection, discernment and commitment around the practices of Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest, we have the opportunity grow as individuals and to grow as communities following the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus. His way has the power to change each of our lives and to change this world.

  • There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
  • There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
  • There’s power in love to show us the way to live.
  • There’s power in a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.

We are told in John that early in his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth was surrounded by crowds. He turned and asked, “What do you seek?” (John 1:38). For more than a thousand years, monastics have greeted pilgrims knocking on their doors by asking: “What do you seek?” 

Today, each of us can pause with the same question. As much as the world has changed, the fundamental human hopes and yearnings that draw us to faith may not be so different. For so many, the answer to “What do you seek” is…

WE SEEK LOVE

To know God’s love, to love and be loved by others, and to love ourselves 

WE SEEK FREEDOM 

From the many forces — sin, fear, oppression, and division that pull us from living as God created us to be: dignified, whole, and free.

WE SEEK ABUNDANT LIFE

Overflowing with joy, peace, generosity, and delight. Where there is enough for all because we all share with abandon. A life of meaning, given back to God and lived for others.

WE SEEK JESUS 

The way of Jesus is the Way of Love, and that way has the power to change lives and change the world. 

THEN COME AND FOLLOW…

Since before the time of his installation, but particularly as we begin this season of Advent, Presiding Bishop Curry has invited the whole church to take up The Way of Love, a “rule of life” focused on practices for Jesus-Centered life. As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we follow the Way of Jesus. His way is the Way of Love, and that love has the power to change lives and change the world. But what are these practices? While each of us will have the opportunity to learn by doing, if we choose to follow our advent calendar, what do each of these practices mean?

On Sunday we Worship: we gather in community each week to thank, praise, and gather with others before God to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. And together we break bread together, coming into the presence of Christ, and we are made one body, the body of Christ sent forth to live the Way of Love.

On Monday we Go: each Mondays we are encouraged to cross boundaries, to listen deeply to someone whose ideas or beliefs are different from your own or to someone whose voice is all too often ignored. We join with others as part of the Beloved Community.

On Tuesdays we Learn: We read and reflect on scripture. We open our minds and we open our hearts to the life and teachings of Jesus to better enable us to incorporate his ways into our everyday lives. 

On Wednesdays we Pray: to pray is to take the time to stop and dwell intentionally with God. Whether in thought, word or deed, individually or corporately, when we pray we invite and dwell in God’s loving presence. We take time to hear God speak to our lives.

On Thursday we Bless: Jesus called upon his disciples to give, forgive, teach, heal, and love in his name. Today, we are his disciples. We are empowered by the Spirit to bless everyone we meet, practicing generosity and compassion and proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ through both hopeful words and selfless actions.

 Friday we Turn: We look back and reflect. With God’s help, we can turn from the powers of sin, hatred, fear, injustice, and oppression toward the way of truth, love, hope, justice, and freedom. In turning, we reorient our lives to the Way of Love, the Way of Jesus.

And on Saturday we Rest: From the beginning of creation, God has established the sacred pattern of going and returning, labor and rest. Especially today, God invites us to dedicate time for restoration and wholeness – within our bodies, minds, and souls, and within our communities and institutions. 

By entering into reflection, discernment and commitment around the practices of Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest, together we can grow, together we change each of our own lives and together we can change this world.

Today everyone has been offered an Advent Calendar of Practices, focusing on how we can daily and personally, follow the way of love. As we come together for worship, each of the weeks of Advent, we will focus on The Way of Love and these seven practices. And this is not what Bishop Curry, what Bishop Fisher, what Janet and I alone encourage each of you to do. It is Jesus, who for two thousand years has asked and encouraged us to say “yes” to this journey through Advent season. 

In Luke we are told…

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

And so begins the journey. It begins with Mary saying, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord”. It begins with Mary saying, “Yes.” 

Today, as we begin our Advent journey, together we too are invited to say, “yes.” Let each of us commit to walk the Way of Love during this season of anticipation. Each day on the Advent Calendar offers a suggestion for following the rules of the Way of Love as we journey through this weekly cycle of Turn – Learn – Pray – Worship – Bless – Go – Rest. By undertaking this journey we can grow, we can change our own lives, and, given our dedication and commitment, we can follow the way of Jesus and change the world. 

Now together, let us join our voices together to affirm our commitment to the way that Jesus offers each and every one of us. Please…. with the joy offered us in the anticipation of his coming…repeat after me:

We are the Episcopal Branch / of the Jesus Movement. / The Jesus Movement / is the community of people / who center their lives on Jesus / into a loving/ liberating / and life-giving relationship / with God / with each other / and with creation. Amen!

Credit: The Way of Love as envisioned by Jesus and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

link for the Advent Calendar

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