10 December 2023
Sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year B)
by Bp. Lyngine Calizo
Gospel - Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So if you've ever Googled or seen an image of the Judean wilderness, it's not what you necessarily think of. If you think of an American wilderness - when we think of what an American wilderness looks like usually, we think about trees, forests, bushes, lots of greenery. And so it says, make the path straight. It's like - Okay, there's some effort involved, but maybe that's not too hard to do. I mean, most of the land is already level. We just have to clear it.
But if you look up what a Judean wilderness looks like near the river Jordan. it's vastly different. It's not a forest at all. Most of it looks very brown. and it has tall hills and low valleys all throughout. To the make path straight for someone to come through - that kind of wilderness takes a lot more effort. Those hills have been there a long time. The rock has been carved over centuries. Making the path straight isn't going to be easy.
And so it's actually not a bad analogy for what it's like for us to prepare our hearts or Christ's coming. Much like the wilderness, our hearts have been carved over time by many experiences. Some of them will help lead us closer to God. Many of them will not. And much like the Judean wilderness, it's not simply clearing out the brush and seeing the straight path. Our hearts have high hills and low valleys carve there over time, solidified over the centuries.
And so it takes time to begin to make a straight path to make a way for God come to us. So what we hear today is John's call to that. It's not a situation where, you know, for all that we hear over and over and over again that we don't know when Jesus is coming. John actually is there saying, "Jesus is coming now." So it's not a complete surprise, and so we get a little bit of warning - and the second week of Advent is a good time for that.
This morning I actually looked at the calendar and was like, we're 2 weeks till Christmas. Oh, my goodness! So if, like me, you have been surprised by the speed of Advent - with Lent you get you get 6 weeks; Advent is 4 very quick weeks - then perhaps the beginning of Advent came and went. And perhaps you were prepared and ready to go. But perhaps you're not, and this is a good time to hear John's voice, to hear him say, "Prepare the way of the Lord." Preparing our hearts for Jesus to come.
The question I always have after that is like, "Well, what am I supposed to do? What? What do you mean? Prepare the way of the Lord. How do we do that?"
And I think some of the message comes from the very person of John himself. You know the gospel describes him, as you know, eating wild locus and honey and being dressed in like a leather belt, and if you've ever seen depictions of him, he looks like a wild man who has lived out in the wilderness for a long time.
And if we are honest with ourselves, if we were walking down the street on a dark night, and we saw someone like John the Baptist. There might be a good chance that we would cross the street because someone like who looked like John the Baptist might make us incredibly uncomfortable. Might signal some kind of danger definitely. Signals - not the establishment not respectable - not who, we expect, perhaps to announce something as significant as the coming of God.
And that's important. Because what it says to us is that the message of Advent - that the form, the person, the way in which we will hear that call to make our way straight is not going to come from the people who make us the most comfortable. The way we will hear the call in our hearts to make way for the Lord will actually come from the people who make us the most uncomfortable, the people who we may not think about, the people who we actually don't like. Perhaps even from the people who may not like us much and the people who make us cringe a little.
That's John the Baptist. That is where the call to prepare your hearts will come from just as they did before. And John's call was to learn of repentance and forgiveness. So again, that begs the question, will we then also get that call to repentance, forgiveness from those who make us the least comfortable? Because it is those people - those folks who make us the least comfortable, that highlight for us the parts in our hearts where there's darkness, where we are more judgmental, where we block the message of God because we think we have the answer. We know the right way to do things.
So this past week I sent out a very unusual email that most of you got unless you blocked it with spam filters. And it was one actually suggested by by Mike and Tom and as one of the things that folks are doing this Advent is a Novena to St. Nicholas. So I released this on the night of the Feast of St. Nicholas, otherwise name was Santa Claus, and it was a Novena to St. Nicholas, but acknowledging the International Day Against the Violence Against Sex Workers.
That email has been open more times than any other email I have ever sent out to folks. Which tells you something. It tells you that people are curious about - Why would a church send out an email like that on the Feast of St. Nicholas? You know, isn't Christmas about Santa Claus, and you know, babies and mangers and bright lights and happy things? We all associate that with Christmas. We also associate Advent wreaths and Advent calendars.
Sex workers. Who the heck sends a prayer of request in a Novena about sex workers on the Feast of St. Nicholas? I actually debated sending that back and forth a little while, because it is uncomfortable. But I think that is part of the reason for Advent - that we will hear the message to make our hearts ready for God in precisely those folks who make us the least comfortable.
Why wouldn't we pray for sex workers? The fact that we questioned that perhaps makes one wonder. Do we see people less than we should? Do we see them the same way God sees them? It's those questions when we encounter those folks who make us not so comfortable that help us make the path, straighten our own hearts which take those valleys and lift them up, which pave the way for God's message to us -- which make us ready, not only for Jesus's coming in the manger, but Jesus is coming once again. Because they challenge us to live the kingdom now.
Because if you can't pray for those who make you uncomfortable, if you can't think about folks who make you angry, who challenge your world, who for that split-second tempt you to think of them as less than human, then when Christmas comes, it's gonna be very difficult to see God in a lowly manger, because that's not how God is supposed to come. It's not respectable. It's not powerful. It's the exact opposite.
So today let us hear John's call to make our hearts ready for Christ's coming - to make that path. And there's no guarantee that's going to be easy. You know, like I said in the beginning, those hills are high. They've been there for centuries. Those valleys are low. To make a straight path is hard.
But we're invited to that - not only by John's call and John's very being, but also by the words from Isaiah. You know the first words from Isaiah aren't, do this, or I will smite you. They're "comfort, O comfort, my people." So we're called again to do this as a way to prepare for Christmas, as a way to prepare for Christ's coming, not as something we do out of shame, not something we do out as guilt, but something we do out of love because that is what we are called to by Christ, and that is how we prepare ourselves now to be able to meet Christ when Christmas Day comes.
So may you have a blessed Advent, and may you this week contemplate who in your life is John the Baptist? Who are those folks who make you uncomfortable, the ones who challenge our own thoughts of how good we are, but also challenge us to view them the way Christ sees them also?
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
*Transcript generated by Zoom with minimal editing.
26 November 2023
Sermon on the Feast of Christ the King
by Mtr. Sandra Hutchinson
Oratory of St. Catherine of Siena
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Recently I was watching the movie Robin Hood. Not one of the recent movies, but the one with Errol Flynn from 1938. There’s a scene in it that I love. Robin Hood and his men in Sherwood Forest are outlaws because they are taking from the rich who pass through the forest and giving to the poor. They have set themselves up in opposition to the sheriff and especially in opposition to Prince John, who has usurped the regency for King Richard the Lionheart. Robin Hood proclaims his allegiance to King Richard to a group of men who seem to be an abbot and his monks traveling through Sherwood Forest. To his shock, the abbot removes his robes, to reveal Crusader armor underneath. Armor with the three lions of England emblazoned across it. Unexpectedly, the “abbot” whom he tried to rob turns out to be King Richard himself.
First Robin, and then every member of the Sherwood band, kneels before their king. The king is delighted by their loyalty and after a few dramatic sword fights, he pardons them all—and allows Robin, now named Baron of Locksley to marry the king’s ward, Lady Marian.
I’m recounting this story because it both parallels and stands in contrast to today’s Gospel. Both stories focus on a king who has been absent from his realm and returns. Both kings focus on restoring justice in their kingdom, and both pronounce judgment on those who have done well and those who have done evil.
But there is a difference. King Richard is focused on those who were loyal to him—and those who would betray him. In the Gospel account, the judgment goes along much different lines. There the division is between the sheep and the goats. The sheep are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed those who were without clothes, cared for the sick, and visited those who were in prison. The goats—well, they didn’t do any of those things. In the Gospel, the king, Jesus, declared that what he wants is for each of us to see Him in our brothers and sisters who are in need, in those who are the “least of these.”
If we are true followers of Jesus, and acknowledge him as king, we need to do more than just swear loyalty to him with our lips—we need to show that loyalty in our actions.
If we see him in our brothers and sisters, and we act accordingly, then we see Jesus and Jesus will acknowledge us in the final judgment. If we don’t, well…
I have a favorite story about this passage and some of you might have heard me tell it. I was teaching Sunday School with a class of elementary students. I was pretty cautious about emotionally scarring them, so I was reluctant to get into the judgment aspects of it. Instead, when we acted it out –I liked having the kids take parts and play the roles in the day’s lesson—I had them stop after the division between the sheep and the goats—stressing instead what Jesus wanted us to do.
That didn’t sit well with one of the students, a forthright young lady of 6. She turned to me and said, “Are the goats bad?” I reluctantly answered yes.
She announced, “Then they should be punished.” Before I could say a word, she turned to the goats and proclaimed, “You! You have to go to bed early every night for the rest of your lives!”
Out of the mouths of babes. Because as I thought about it, going to bed early for the rest of their lives was the worst punishment that she could think of—being shut away from the community, and fun, and the light. And yet, the goats, by not seeing God in their brothers and sisters, by turning away from others, are turning away from all these things.
Now, I don’t know how Robin Hood would fare in the final division into the sheep and the goats. While we might definitely be dubious about his acts of violence, it is true that he is portrayed as feeding the hungry, and providing for the necessities of those in need including those who were thirsty and poorly clad—albeit by acts of theft. He also welcomed the outcast and marginalized into his community. So perhaps he would be spared the fate of going to bed early every night for the rest of his life.
More seriously, in both the movie and the Gospel, the King’s return is unexpected and breaks into ordinary life, restoring order and justice to the world. We celebrate that reign of God today in the Feast of Christ the King. But the timing of the feast is not random. It comes just before the 4 Sundays in Advent—which prepare us for the celebration of Christmas, the unexpected incarnation of the Christ the King into our world. The Incarnation was just as unexpected as the future return of Christ will be.
With Advent, we do have time to prepare however. And by prepare, I mean more than decorating the house, baking cookies, and buying presents. I mean looking at our lives and seeing how we are seeing Christ in our lives, both in terms of worship and in those around us, especially in the least of these. I encourage you to take some time to make this concern for others part of your Advent preparation. Each of us are called to respond to the world’s needs in different ways, but we are all called to respond. What is God asking of you?
I’ll be honest, I’m still working through what that means for me this season—I’m still thinking about how I’m going to observe Advent. It will include celebrating mass on Wednesdays for those who are struggling and areas of the world that are in conflict. It will include donations, especially to local charities. It does include meeting the Christmas wishes of a nearby family. And as I said, I’m still thinking about what else it will mean.
May God guide you as you journey through this time of preparation.