The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2019
Good evening, and Merry Christmas to you. What a joy it is to celebrate this great feast with all of you here in this stunningly gorgeous space. Yesterday, as the elves were getting everything ready around here for Christmas, I became entranced with the crèche over here on the Annunciation Chapel altar. From the intricate figures of Mary and Joseph and the angels to the beauty of the candles and greenery – it’s a heavenly scene almost too much to take in. You must stop by and get a closer look after the service. As I was gazing upon the little bitty Christ child, I started envisioning the scene that St. Luke described to us in chapter two of his gospel .
The story begins with Mary and Joseph traveling to their hometown of Bethlehem in order to be counted in the census. This wasn’t a voluntary thing – Palestine was occupied by the Romans at this point, and the Emperor issued a decree that a census should be taken. During this particular census under Governor Quirinius (Kw-ihr-inius, we know that group of Jews rebelled against the Empire and were struck back by the imperial army. The Prince of Peace didn’t come with a sword to bring about the liberation of God’s people, he came as a weak and helpless babe. Mary gave birth to the child and laid him in a manger. A manager is a long open box that is used to hold food for cattle and horses. Luke tells us that she laid him in a manger because there was no place for them at the inn. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve always had a hard time not thinking of the inn as a Homewood Suites by Hilton or even a Motel 6. But the Greek word “inn” is only used one other time in the New Testament during the story of the Last Supper and is translated there “upper room.” In first century Palestine, most of the homes were two story, with the people sleeping upstairs and the animals downstairs. Because of this census, it is likely that there were other sojourners who had arrived earlier than Mary and Joseph and were taking up any guest rooms that may have been upstairs, leaving only the downstairs with the animals for them, and yet the owners of the home did not turn them away.
And yet, nativity scenes are typically in a barn or out under the open stars. The more and more I stared at the beauty of this creche and thought through the story of what actually happened, the more apparent it became that the scene wasn’t as pristine and heavenly and glorious as the scene before my eyes. Jesus was born during a time of intense political and societal unrest amidst the filthiness of cows and goats and sheep. The long-expected Messiah came into a world filled with fear and oppression and sin, much like our world today. God came into the world in the midst of human sin and suffering and met the Hebrew people where they were.
After Jesus’s birth, the angels appeared to bring the good news of great joy of the birth of the Messiah, not to the important people of the day – not to the Emperor, not to Governor Quirinius, not to the Jewish religious leaders – but to the lowly shepherds. Shepherds at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were seen as poor and dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. An example of this in our society might be a loan shark or a convicted felon. These shifty characters who probably didn’t smell so great from living out in the pastures believed the angel and immediately went to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger…the child who came to bring peace to all men and women, but especially to the poor and lowly.
At this point, I asked myself, “why in the world do we clean up these nativity scenes and make them look so beautiful? Why is it that we feel the need to take something so earthy and dirty and unkempt and artificially make it look so heavenly?”
The story we heard tonight was from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first chapter began with an announcement by an angel of the birth of John the Baptist in the place established to house the presence of God…the Temple. The angelic announcement of the birth of Christ that immediately follows was not in “God’s house” but in the fields. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking. God came into the world as a human child not in the Jewish equivalent of a place like St. Mary’s Church, but in the midst of the poor and lowly in their everyday lives.
Friends, this is good news of great joy indeed, not only to the shepherds watching in their fields by night, but to all of us gathered here. Note that almost all the Christmas hymns we sing speak of Jesus’s birth in the present tense, not the past tense. “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” not ages ago, but now. Like he did with the shepherds, the God of the universe stoops down and meets you and me where we are in life. God loves even – no especially – those whom our society ostracize and exclude so much that he gave his only Son so rescue us from evil and sin and death. And yet, as Paul says in the second chapter of his letter to Titus, “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The birth of the babe begins the process of the redemption of the world, and we rightly rejoice tonight. But we know all too well that this old world is still deeply wounded, and sin and suffering and abound. But with the grace we receive from Our Lord in our baptism and in Holy Communion gives us the strength we need to believe that he truly will lift us out of the mire day in and day out.
As I continued to gaze upon the heavenly nativity scene, I was filled with hope anew. Hope that what was promised to you and me in our baptism will be fulfilled one day. Hope that God can take even the likes of me and make me whole. Hope that God loves you and me so much that he makes us glorious and heavenly and beautiful much like we do with our nativity scenes.
Friends, let us join with the shepherds and go with haste to Bethlehem to greet our Savior with joy, and let us be filled anew with the hope that the God who came to live among us will make all things new in our hearts each and every day.
 See Acts chapter 5.
 Sermon Brainwave: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx
 Keck, Leander E., ed. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Vol. 8. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015, 49.
Advent VI, Year A – Matthew 1:18-25
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 22, 2019
Growing up, my sister and I were very close to all of our grandparents, but I was particularly close to my paternal grandfather Charles Everson. My granddad was an interesting character with interesting hobbies like flying airplanes and repairing old clocks, but one of the things I’ll always remember about him was fascination with our family history. Over the years, he traveled around the upper Midwest and Back East going from library to cemetery to county courthouse looking for clues that would lead him further back in time in our lineage. Ultimately, he was able to trace both the Everson line and that of his maternal grandfather to the late 1700’s on this side of the pond, but he ended with problem: he couldn’t figure out where we came from in Europe.
Matthew’s gospel begins just before the passage we heard this morning with the long genealogy of Jesus, and it too ended with a problem. The purpose of the listing of his genealogy was to show that Jesus, the Messiah, was the son of David, and as it lists “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah,” and so on, we expect to hear, “Joseph was the father of Jesus.” Instead, we hear, “Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.” This is this problem that St. Matthew is working out in verses 18-25 that we heard today.
Joseph was engaged to be married to Mary at this point, but they were not yet living together. Inn their day, engagement meant that they were legally married, but didn’t yet live together or have marital relations. Thus, Mary being pregnant meant that not only had she been unfaithful to her betrothed, but that she had legally committed adultery. Or at least so Joseph thought. If she had committed adultery, Joseph was legally obliged to divorce her. But being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, he planned to dismiss her quietly. Just as he had decided to do this, an angel visited him in a dream and explained that Mary was pregnant not by another man, but by the Holy Spirit. The angel addressed Joseph as “son of David,” reminding us of the lineage problem going on. The angel continues by instructing him to name the boy Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. We don’t hear it in our context, but there’s a play on words going on here that only the Greek speaking Jews would have caught. Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua which comes from the verb “to rescue” or “to deliver.” All of this was to fulfill the prophecy that we heard from the prophet Isaiah: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” It isn’t until the very end of the story that we hear of the actual birth of Jesus in the most back handed way. “But [he] had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son.” That’s it. The genealogical problem that Matthew is trying to work out is finally solved in the very last phrase of this passage: “and he named him Jesus.” By naming the child, Joseph acknowledges him as his son; in effect, Joseph adopts Jesus, and thus incorporates him legally into David’s line.
It is odd to hear a story of Jesus’s birth during the season of Advent! But this passage works because it isn’t really about Jesus’s birth. Matthew is much less interested in the story of the actual birth than he is in the identity of the one being born. The babe that is to be born is the one the prophets spoke of so long ago. He is the son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; he is the son of David, Solomon, Uzziah, Amos, and Zerubbabel; he is the son of Joseph and Mary. He is the promised one who will redeem Israel from all its distress and iniquity. He is the one who will finally lead them out of exile into the Promised Land for all of eternity. His name will be Jesus as he will save his people from their sins.
Now there are many in our world today who think that humanity doesn’t need a Savior. There are many who think that sin is an antiquated notion from the Middle Ages used by the Church to control people by fear and intimidation. But really, all one has to do is look at the public sins of the clergy who, in essence if not in fact, control the Church to know that humanity needs a Savior. Beyond public sins, most of the scandal in the lives of the clergy happen inside where no one but God can see, just like you.
God could have chosen to come into the world in a multitude of ways – perhaps using a 24th century transporter from Star Trek. But he didn’t. He chose to come into this world in a most scandalous way: he made a teenage girl from an unimportant village who was barely married pregnant by supernatural means. But thanks be to God, the scandal of the Incarnation meets us in the scandal of our lives today. We so often think that our own sinful lives, whether it’s out in the open like you see on Judge Judy or, more often, eating away at our insides and making us feel like we’re going to rot from within…we often think that a holy God would want nothing to do with us. Thanks be to God: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of David; the God of Joseph and Mary chose to become human in the person of Jesus Christ to rescue us from the mire we’re in.
I remember my grandfather telling me of various scandals he’d discovered in his research of our family history, some of which were quite salacious and even juicy. I also remember learning of various scandals in our own more immediate family over the years, some of which are quite painful and difficult to think about. But closer to home, I am very aware of my own sinfulness and need of a Savior.
Friends, this Messiah that had been promised to rescue Israel from exile is the same Savior we’ve been waiting for during Advent. He will come very soon to rescue us from our sin, and at the last day, he will come again to redeem this old world he created that has been so deeply and totally upended by human sin. Soon, our waiting will be over. Soon, we will see our salvation. Come, Lord Jesus!
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 95.
Advent III, Year A – Isaiah 35:1-10
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 15, 2019
If you haven’t figured it out by now, at St. Mary’s, we are very intentional about observing the seasonal traditions of the church. For example, during Advent, we wear violet vestments and put up an Advent wreath. Most Episcopalians and other liturgical churches do all of that. But in typical St. Mary’s fashion, we lean into even the obscure customs that may have died out in many corners of the church. You may have noticed that Fr. Bob is wearing a chasuble that is a rather unique color. On the third Sunday of Advent, along with the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us a bit of reprieve from the penitential and self-reflective themes of the season and bids us to “Rejoice!” The color of the day is rose, or pink, rather than penitential violet, and we get to dust off the old pink chasuble that is faded and almost falling apart. Another tradition that has all but died out is the practice of preaching on the “four last things” on the four Sundays in Advent: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These themes may seem odd in the weeks preceding Christmas, but the old topic for Advent III seemed like a natural fit for our first reading from the book of Isaiah.
At the time of this prophesy, the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon and living as slaves to evil foreign overlords. They were desperate to be rescued and to finally go home. All hope was lost; families had been destroyed; pain and suffering abounded. Isaiah had a vision of a place where waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Weak hands are strengthened, and feeble knees made firm. What he sees is a reversal of everything that’s wrong with creation. For the curse in Genesis chapter three because of human sin extends not only to humanity, but to all of creation. He sees a world in which the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The passage culminates in the homecoming of the Hebrew people via a highway called the Holy Way. This highway didn’t lead to Mount Sinai like the first Hebrew Exodus from Egypt; this highway led to Mount Zion, an important distinction for Isaiah, with Mount Sinai representing life under the Law and Mount Zion representing Jerusalem. The ransomed of the Lord shall enter Zion with singing, and obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The heart of this prophetic vision is verse 4: “Say to the fearful of heart, “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
The text says that the unclean shall not travel on this highway, but Isaiah isn’t saying, “Clean up your act so that you are pure and clean and can properly travel on the Holy Way.” This prophetic vision is about God’s action in the world, not ours. The message is this: in the midst of your pain and suffering, despite your being away from home against your will, there is hope! God will come and rescue you and bring you home, but your home will not be as you remembered it. All will be right as it was before the sin of Adam and Even in the garden. The blind will see, the speechless sing, the lame will leap, waters will break forth in the desert. You will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Friends, this promise given to the Hebrew people so long ago is a promise given to us today. Jay and I usually listen to NPR in the morning as we’re getting ready for work, but the other day, Jay said to me, “Can we please change our routine and listen to something else? I’m really tired of setting the tone for the day with such awfulness and anxiousness.” Many of you are suffering from physical or mental maladies, have trouble paying the bills, or are dreading another lonely Christmas separated from your loved ones either by miles or by death.
Like the Hebrews, we are waiting to be rescued. We long to go home to Mount Zion, a place that the author of the book of Hebrews calls “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” We long to go to heaven to be with God and our loved ones who have gone before.
During Advent, the Church reminds us that as we wait for that day, joy is just around the corner. For the One who will lead us to the highway that leads to Mount Zion is coming soon. The One who will redeem us from sin and death – the One who will give us joy and gladness and do away with all sorry and sighing is coming to save us. The One who strengthens the weak hands and makes firm the feeble knees will be with us very soon indeed right here at this altar, and in the manager at Christmas, and at the last day when all will be made whole. “Be strong, do not fear!” Look, your God in vengeance shall come, God’s retribution shall come and rescue you.”
 Though this is in the section generally referred to as First Isaiah, most scholars believe chapters 34-35 comprise a displaced section of Second Isaiah (generally chapters 40-55). David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 51.
 Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019), 734-735.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
8 December 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
Today we observe the second Sunday of Advent, the season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As Fr. Charles explained in his sermon last Sunday, our waiting is three-fold: we wait for Jesus to come to us as a infant in Bethlehem, we wait for him to come to us through His Presence in the Holy Eucharist, and we wait for him to come in all his glory at the end of time.
In today’s Gospel we join the Jews in first-century Palestine who are waiting for their Messiah. And out of the wilderness appears the strange and mysterious figure of John the Baptist, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. He identifies himself as a prophet announcing the imminent coming of the Messiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3). In his preaching, John urgently calls on the people to repent of their sins and be baptized as they wait for the appearance of the Messiah.
Although John saw his role as only a messenger, someone who was sent by God to prepare the way for the Messiah, he acquired quite a following of his own. We are told in the Gospel that “the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). His fame drew the attention of the religious authorities as well as the king. Prior to John’s birth, the angel Gabriel had appeared to his father Zechariah and foretold that John would become a mighty prophet like Elijah (Luke 1:13-17). And the greatest compliment that John received came from Jesus himself, who told his disciples: “among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28).
Yet for all the accolades and popularity, John never lost sight of his focus, to point to the Messiah, and he repeatedly humbled himself before Jesus. John called himself “the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.” Furthermore, he explained that Jesus “must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:29-30). And in today’s Gospel he states that he is not worthy even to carry Jesus’ sandals (Matthew 3:11).
It couldn’t have been easy, however, for John to play second fiddle, especially considering the fact that Jesus was his younger cousin. John was a great prophet, but he was also a human being, after all. He must have struggled with his ego. John had begun his ministry before Jesus and had a larger following. But then some of his disciples started to leave him for Jesus. Although he graciously accepted this as part of God’s grand plan, it is difficult to imagine that he wasn’t personally affected in some way – even hurt – to see his loyal disciples and long-time companions abandon him. And it seems that John occasionally had doubts and questions about Jesus. At one point he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you really the one?” (Matthew 11:3). Yet, in spite of the blows to his ego and his doubts, John remained faithful to the end. The Church remembers and honors him as the prophet who paved the way for Jesus, the last of the great prophets.
Moreover, John sets an example for us of how to live the Christian life. He takes the focus away from himself and turns it on Jesus. This is no easy task. I don’t know about you, but for me, the self – my ego – constantly intrudes no matter how noble and lofty my intentions may be. As you know, I was ordained priest this past May, but the process for ordination began about three years ago. We have several parishioners at St. Mary’s who are currently Postulants for Holy Orders – Lynda, Richard, Isaac, and David – and you can probably relate to what I’m about to share – or rather, confess.
For me, parts of the ordination process were rather narcissistic. I lost count of how many psychological tests I took to learn more about myself and how many times I had to articulate my faith journey, my calling, and my vision for ministry. On the one hand, this was a wonderful process of self-discovery, but, at the same time, I also struggled to keep the focus away from myself to the reason why I began the process in the first place – to serve Christ and His Church. And the struggle with my ego has not stopped. As you know, I’m a bi-vocational priest, and in addition to serving at St. Mary’s, I also teach history at the University of Central Missouri. There are several of you in our parish who are also teachers. And we all know that we get into teaching for the big money. As a clergy friend who used to be an academic once observed, we teachers may not make a lot of money, but we do tend to become obsessed with status. Academics measure their self-worth in terms of their degrees, the numbers of publications, the schools they attended, and official titles.
Unfortunately, the Christian ministry is not immune from the game of status and recognition. I’m sure you have encountered ambitious clergy who can barely hide the fact that they aspire to wear the purple shirt of a bishop someday or at least become rector of a large, well-heeled parish with a substantial salary. The Church is no stranger to power and money.
In this penitential season of Advent, let us examine and reflect on those areas of our lives in which our egos stand in the way of our faith. Where in our lives do we encounter the temptations of power, status, and wealth? When do pride and self-centeredness get in the way of serving God and those around us? How do we orient our lives so that it is not about us but about Jesus?
One of my favorite theologians is Karl Barth. Never mind the fact that he is a Reformed theologian, coming out of the Calvinist tradition, and I’m an Anglo-Catholic, and, of course, the two sides don’t always see eye to eye. I still like what Barth has to say. Well, Karl Barth had a painting of the crucifixion by the German Renaissance artist Matthias Grunewald hung above the desk in his study. In the painting there is an image of John the Baptist, who is standing off to the side and pointing his finger to the cross of Jesus in the center. Of course, this is not historically accurate. John the Baptist had died long before the crucifixion, but this image comes from the artist’s imagination. The story goes that whenever Barth would have discussions with visitors about his theological writings, he would direct them to John the Baptist in the painting, and he would say, “I want to be that finger." Barth did indeed become a finger pointing to Christ both in word and deed. Barth’s theology is firmly grounded in Christ as the revealed Word of God, and in his personal life as well, his focus on Christ never wavered. At a time when most of the clergy and theologians in Germany, threw their support behind the Nazis, Barth wrote a personal letter to Hitler proclaiming that he has no lord except Jesus Christ. He paid for this act of defiance by getting fired from his position at the University of Bonn.
Dear friends, in this holy season of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus, we give thanks for the witness and example of John the Baptist, herald of the Messiah. Let us listen to his voice calling us to “prepare the way of the Lord” and live not for ourselves but for Jesus. Let us also take a moment to visualize John the Baptist’s finger. It points to our crucified and risen Lord. And today that finger points to none other than our own Altar at St. Mary’s. For it is here that Christ will soon come to us in the Holy Eucharist. Come, Lord Jesus!
Advent I, Year A – Matthew 24:36-44
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 1, 2019
The audio recording of this sermon can be found here.
When you got to church this morning, you may have noticed that things are a bit different around here. Instead of green or white, there is purple. And it’s not just the colors that are different. We began by singing the Great Litany in procession, and we didn’t sing the festive hymn “Glory be to God on high”. The Scripture readings bid us to stay awake, to be watchful, to be ready. Paul, in the second lesson, calls us to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light. And in the gospel lesson, we hear of the end of the days when Jesus will come for a second time to judge both the living and the dead. Today, we begin a new church year with the season called Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word “coming.” And as we think about the second coming of Christ, it’s natural to wonder when it will happen. What day? What hour?
Remember how the passage began? “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s amazing how many Christians seem to believe that they can accomplish what the Son confesses he cannot do and proclaim they know the day and the hour of the Second Coming. If you want to dive into a fascinating internet rabbit hole, go to the Wikipedia page on “Predictions and claims for the Second Coming of Christ.” There have been dozens and dozens of predictions throughout the years, and guess what, none of them have come true. I think my favorite prediction that’s still out there is by a mathematical physicist who is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has published a book in which he claims to scientifically prove that Jesus will return in mid-2057. When I saw that, I marked that date in my Google calendar so that I’ll remember to be ready at age 77.
Maybe asking when the second coming will happen is the wrong question. Maybe the question should be, “How does the fact that Jesus will return one day change our behavior?”
Isaiah reminds us that one day God shall “…judge between nations and shall arbitrate for many people.” In light of which we are reminded by St. Paul that “. . . it is now the moment to wake from sleep” and “put on the armor of light,” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus reminds us that “about that day and hour no one knows,” so we must “keep awake therefore,” because, “you do not know on what day your Lord is coming,” and “the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 
Perhaps God isn’t calling us to try to figure out the “when” or the “how” of the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps He is calling us to be aware that life is short and can end in an instant, and to live our lives accordingly. We are called to stay awake, and to keep watch for the coming of Christ.
During Advent, the Church calls us to keep watch for the coming of Christ in three distinct ways:
First, we are to keep watch for Christ’s coming in the manger at Christmas, when we remember God’s inbreaking into our world in the birth of His Son. Out of his love for humanity, God proclaimed to Mary that she would bear a Son, who would be called Emmanuel – God with us. At Christmas, God became human, in order that the great divide between himself and humanity would be eliminated, and we would be reconciled. The incarnation of God into the world at Christmas is so important in the life of the Church that it is literally a 12-day feast. You may have heard the expression that you can’t celebrate the joys of the resurrection at Easter without first experiencing the suffering of Good Friday. The same is true for us now: the great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ s comes after a nearly four-week period of preparation in which we put our spiritual lives in order. This is hard work, particularly in our culture in which holiday sales began this past Friday, and in which office Christmas parties have already begun. We are called to take a step back and to watch and wait and to prepare in hopeful anticipation of the coming of Christ in a few weeks.
Secondly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is so easy for me to show up at church, sing the hymns and pray the prayers, hear the Scripture readings and the sermon, and not even think of the intimate moment of receiving God’s love in the Body and Blood of Christ until the moment it hits my tongue. One way in which we prepare ourselves for this moment in the service is at the General Confession when we confess our sins and receive God’s pardon and peace in absolution. But in Advent, we are called to focus on this preparation and perhaps go a bit deeper. One way to do this is to arrive at church a few minutes early, and spend some time quietly preparing yourself before the Mass begins. There are many traditional prayers you can use to prepare for Holy Communion, but next week, consider just kneeling or sitting for a few moments and asking for God’s help to “keep watch” throughout the service and to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. In other words, lay aside your cares and burdens and ask God to prepare your heart to receive his love and grace in the bread and wine.
And thirdly, we are called to keep watch for the coming of Christ as judge, both at our death and at the end of the world. Every time we say the Creed we affirm our belief that Christ will come again to judge both the living and the dead. The prospect of judgment is alarming, but the Church calls us not to respond with fear or denial, but rather by turning to Jesus Christ to save us and redeem us. Jesus’s teaching in today’s gospel lesson was given to his disciples in the context of preparing for his second coming in power and glory, inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He didn’t criticize people for getting on with ordinary life – eating and drinking, marrying and carrying on with daily work – we have to do that. We prepare for Christ’s second coming by living life faithfully every day. At the same time, we must also heed Jesus’s warning to be ready for when God acts. His example of people unprepared for the flood is vivid for us who are bombarded with images of sudden disasters around the world. We have disaster plans for many things because preparing and waiting with readiness takes determined effort. Our spiritual disaster plan requires us to keep awake spiritually because we have no idea when life as we know it will end, either through our death or because Jesus comes again. Either way, he will be our judge. And so, during this new year in the Church’s time frame, we intentionally cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. We vigorously cast away sin just as we would instinctively throw away something we picked up that is horrible or awful, and we put on the armor of light by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and living our everyday lives faithfully and rooted in prayer.
On this First Sunday of Advent, and for the next four weeks, let us keep watch for the coming of Christ – in the manager at Christmas, in the bread and wine at communion, and at the Great Hour of Judgment. In the midst of Christmas shopping and office holiday parties and hearing “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” on the radio, let us intentionally take a step back and put our spiritual lives in order so that we may “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 21.
 Much of this paragraph comes from here: https://lectionarylab.com/2013/11/23/the-first-sunday-of-advent-december-1-2013/
 This threefold purpose of Advent is spelled out by the New Advent Encyclopedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm
 Much of this paragraph is from a sermon preached by the Rev’d Rosalind Brown: https://www.durhamcathedral.co.uk/worship-music/regular-services/sermon-archive/advent-themes-death-judgement-and-the-second-coming-of-christ
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!