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12/13/2009 - Alexander Webb - Advent III

posted May 21, 2010, 6:52 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:53 PM by Terry Brady ]
In the name of the One, Holy, and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

I have some worrying news to report: the days are getting shorter. There were thirty-five fewer seconds of daylight yesterday than there were on Friday, and today we will lose another thirty seconds. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if we continue to lose thirty or thirty-five seconds each day, we will not see the sun again after the end of 2012.

Are you worried?

More news: the seas are rising, and they’re rising fast. Sea level at Washington Navy Yard was 2.7 feet higher at 5:30 this morning than it was only six hours earlier. I am sorry to be the bearer of more bad news, but if the seas continue to rise this much every six hours, the U.S. Capitol Building will be completely submerged by the end of January.

Are you worried?

No, you’re not worried. You know that the seasons will change and that the tides will ebb, there’s no need to worry. Be at peace, Chicken Little, be at peace.

Paul’s message in today’s New Testament lesson is similar: Be at peace, Philippians, be at peace.

The church at Philippi is only a dozen years old at the time of Paul’s writing, and they’re already struggling. Internal conflicts are tearing the church apart from within, while critics and evildoers are simultaneously tearing it apart from without. Things probably seemed pretty grim in Philippi, yet Paul’s counsel gets right to the heart of the matter:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That’s beautiful, but it must have seemed ridiculous. Do not worry about anything? What an outlandish request.

The Philippian church is teetering on the brink of disaster, and Paul doesn’t want them to worry about anything? You can imagine their reaction. Here at St. Margaret’s, we’re in a much better position than the Philippians were, but even we would find it hard to believe someone who told us not to worry about anything.

We haven’t met our fundraising goal for next year, the building preservation fund is down, and transitions in our clergy team leave doubt where once we seemed to enjoy certainty. There’s a war on, our economic rebound is quixotic at best, and partisan politics are at their worst. How could we not be worried?

In Advent, preachers are supposed to invite their congregations to spend four weeks in quiet contemplation on the beautiful complexity of the incarnation. But, I have never been very good at quiet or contemplation. My Advent is almost always characterized by pre-Christmas fervor, year-end business, and the holiday trifecta of cleaning, baking, and wrapping. I work harder, and faster, and longer, but more work generates more anxiety. My feeble attempt to remedy my fear makes me worry all the more.

Paul advocates an entirely different approach. To the Philippians, he says: God is the only remedy for your anxiety. Paul asks the Philippians to have faith, deep and abiding faith.

Some two millennia later, Paul’s message still rings true. In the midst of overwhelming anxiety, Paul asks us to turn to God. Offer your anxiety to God, says Paul, and trust that your fears will be replaced by a peace that can neither be described nor understood. Right here, right now, Paul asks us to learn faith when all we know is fear.

Impossible, you say? Consider again the seasons and the tides: We all believe that the seasons and the tides will change, but often we forget just how audacious that claim really is. Our planet is careening through space at an average annual speed of about thirty kilometers a second, and we have absolute faith that an invisible force will turn it back towards the sun, exactly eight days from today. The Atlantic Ocean is advancing with such speed that the naked eye can mark its progress, but we have absolute faith that an entirely different invisible force will draw the sea back before any damage is done.

Daylight is waning and the seas are rising, but we’re not worried. Our personal observations point to imminent disaster, yet somehow we have learned to supplant fear with faith. We have faith that invisible, interplanetary forces will keep us safe, and Paul asks us to have that same level of faith in the invisible, omnipotent God who set those forces in motion.

Faith and prayer are the only paths to peace, and peace is a remarkable thing. Once we have made peace with the changing of the seasons, we can begin to celebrate them rather than fear them. And, I believe, once we have made peace with the changes and cycles of this mortal life, we can begin to celebrate them for the adventure that they are.

We worry about our livelihoods: our work, our homes, our children. But, year after year, our jobs evolve, our locations change, and our children grow. We keep moving forward, and God keeps providing.

We worry about our church: its mission, its staff, its budget. But, year after year, challenges come and go, people come and people go, money comes and money goes. The church keeps moving forward, and God keeps providing.

To all these things, and so many more, Paul says: “Do not worry about anything…”

The house will get clean, the cookies will get baked, and the packages will get wrapped. And, even if one or two items do happen to fall from our checklist, Christ will still appear in the manger on Christmas morning.

When we come to realize that changing is part of living, and that peace comes from having faith in God amidst those changes, we begin to look at our lives differently, and our anxiety abates.

Later today, we will celebrate the ministry of my friend and senior colleague, Caron Gwynn. Caron has been a great gift to me in these last eighteen months, but today she takes her leave from us so that she can prepare to lead her own congregation in Maryland. This is quite a step for her and it’s quite a step for us. Anxiety looms on both sides, the days are short, and the tides are high, but God remains ever faithful.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

1 Raymond Brown. Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Pages 484 and 487-488.
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