A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent + December 17, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Third Sunday of Advent + Year B
First Lesson: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
Second Lesson: I Thessalonians 5:16-24
Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

25463991_1578264392264811_890519488_nLast Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the ordination of the newest priest in the Diocese of Alabama, Worth Stuart, who is currently serving as the curate at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Hoover.

It was a lovely ordination service. Worth’s family and friends were there to support him in his new role as a priest of the Church. The music was lovely. There were several priests and deacons from around the diocese who were present, and the hosts at Holy Apostles were gracious and accommodating.

Any time I have the opportunity to go to an ordination nearby, I try to make it a point to attend. Not only do I want to support our new clergy, but I also find it helpful to me in my own ministry. Attending these services reminds me of my own ordination and the vows that I made, first as a deacon and then a priest, but it also reminds me that the ministry of the Church belongs to all of us, not just those of us who wear a collar.

If you’ve never been to the ordination of a priest, there’s a point that comes in the liturgy when the bishop, along with the other priests who are present, gather around the ordinand, who is kneeling, and lay their hands on that person as an outward and visible sign that something significant is about to happen. In that moment, the consecrating bishop prays for God to send his Holy Spirit upon the ordinand, saying, “Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to this person; fill him or her with grace and power, and make him or her a priest in your Church.” This part of the service is incredibly moving, not only for the ordinand but for everyone present. It’s what I sometimes refer to as a “fullness of time” moment, a moment when time seems to stand still and the veil between heaven and earth seems particularly thin. In those moments, we sense God at work in our lives in ways that are beyond what our minds can fathom. In those moments, we can’t deny the fact that God is truly present among us.

It can be easy to think that ordination services, like the one I attended last Saturday, are all about the person who is being ordained. It’s true, there is a lot of emphasis on the individual ministry of that person and the new role that he or she is about to take on as a bishop, priest, or deacon, but I want to suggest to you that ordinations are much more significant than that. Ordinations are actually about all of us, as members of the Body of Christ. They serve as signs that the Holy Spirit is still at work in our lives, moving in us and through us and around us as she will. They serve as signs that God is not yet through with the Church and its ministry of reconciliation and that God is still in the business of raising people up for the purpose of fulfilling the Church’s mission in the world. They remind us, as we pray at the beginning of the ordination service, that “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made,” our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Not all of us are called to serve God as bishops, priests, or deacons, but all of us are called, by virtue of our baptism in Christ, to serve as ministers of the Church. All of us are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit. All of us are given spiritual gifts for task of ministry in order to serve as witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus and bearers of the light- the True Light which came into the world to save us and lead us out of the darkness. I’m reminded of this every time I read our lesson for today from the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.”

I think that we’re gravely mistaken if we think that this passage from Isaiah is only about the relatively small number of us in the Church who are called to serve as members of the clergy. Yes, this passage is about me, but it’s also about you. It’s about all who have come before us and all who will follow in our footsteps. It’s about anyone who is willing to take up the mantle of Christ and commit his or her life to following the way of Jesus. Yes, the spirit of the Lord God is upon me and upon you, but God hasn’t called us and empowered us in order to serve ourselves. God has called us and empowered us with the Holy Spirit to love and serve others- to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted. This is the mission of the Church, and everything that we do or say as a community of faith should be done or said to support that mission.

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, a day traditionally known as Rose Sunday or Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is the Latin word for “rejoice.” On this day, we’re reminded that, through Jesus, joy has entered the world, and this is why we light the rose-colored candle on the Advent Wreath. Joy has broken through and filled our hearts, and we can sense this as we move closer and closer to our yearly celebration of Jesus’ birth. This is a joy that can’t be contained, a joy that compels us to proclaim that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, a joy that sustains us in our ministries, and a joy that covers us with an overwhelming feeling of contentment in knowing that our lives belong to Christ. So, let us rejoice, dear friends, and as we draw closer to our Christmas celebration, let us be bold in proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ. Amen.

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