Happy New Year!
Today we begin a new church year. Today we move from Year C to Year A. Our primary gospel source changes from Luke to Matthew this year, and for the next three years our first lesson will be tied to the gospel in some manner. All things are new and begin afresh.
Advent can be an odd time of year. We can begin thinking about the holidays (trees and decorations begin to go up), but we are also asked to think about the end of days. We are to spend time making preparations, but we are also asked to wait. We begin hearing Christmas music everywhere but in church. We try to hold onto the sacredness of this season while battling against the onslaught of Christmas advertising.
Advent pulls us in two directions – the action and stillness of the already and not yet.
This two-pronged focus should be familiar to all of us here at St. John's. In May, 2015, Rev. Ann left this parish and your interim, Rev. Kim, arrived in August. Those events set you on a course of study, self-examination, and discernment as you began the search for your next rector.
Earlier that same year I began my own discernment process. Part of me wanted to get out of Dodge. Part of me wanted to stay and fight. Part of me was angry at my perceived failure. Part of me was hopeful for the future.
For both of us, doing nothing was not an option. You needed to prepare and develop a plan of action. You needed to develop a profile, form a search team, read portfolios, interview candidates, and spend money to make this work.
I needed to update my portfolio, evaluate and reevaluate why it was time to move on, and then pore through the many parishes advertising on match dot com . . . um . . . I mean the Office of Transition Ministry database. This process involved my wife, sometimes my daughter, what the officiating prospects looked like, what the Sweet Adeline prospects looked like, and a variety of other criteria. Most times I was told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Sometimes that was my line.
We both needed to prepare and take certain actions. But that was only half of it. We also both needed to be still, pray, and listen. I sat and prayed over every profile I read multiple times. I began every Skype interview with a prayer, whether the search team planned for that or not. For your part, you had a prayer for a new rector that was said every Sunday.
And after what seemed like forever, God led us to each other.
In other words, we all just spent well over a year living in Advent. During that time life continued to flow around us. That can, at times, be awfully depressing. It can also be calming as we are able to fall back on familiar routines. But Advent reminds us that we need to pay attention to both.
Advent reminds us that we can't be so focused on the here and now that we miss what's coming. Had either of us done that, I'm fairly certain you still wouldn't have a rector and I'd still be on the west coast.
Advent also reminds us that we can't be so focused on what's coming that we miss the here and now. Had I done that, the parish I left would be in shambles as I would've neglected my duties to those good people.
And now I'm going to be a little blunt. It's possible that some people here at St. John's have been overly focused on what's coming, while neglecting the here and now. Some people in the interim period may have decreased their attendance, or volunteerism, or pledge because they would rather wait to see what the future holds than commit to what's going on now. That happens, I get it.
But now is the time to realize that what's coming is here. Now is the time to realize that the not yet has become the already. We all need to understand that the already is upon us and be active ministers in the kingdom of God while continuing to prepare for the not yet.
Advent is the time of the already and not yet. In one respect, Jesus has already arrived. In liturgical respects he has not yet arrived. And in both respects, we are waiting for that arrival, but we know not when. The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. So was baby Jesus. It is our job, therefore, to prepare for that coming with both action and stillness by recognizing God in the already and in the not yet.
We can prepare for the here and now, the already, by recognizing that we are all called to be ministers of God's kingdom through our time, talent, and treasure. We need to actively support the here and now, or the here and now may, like Jesus said, disappear like a thief in the night. And we can prepare for the not yet by recognizing that stewardship of our time, talent, and treasure will ensure that not only this parish, but the wider one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church will continue to be here.
But we also need to take time in quiet stillness, to pray, to listen, and to discern. Because if we don't do that, we will become what Paul described as a loud, clanging cymbal. And when we pray, we pray for both the already and the not yet.
We have all come through our own Advent. What was to come has arrived and become the already. The not yet is still to come. The question we need to answer is this: Which not yet will arrive? The not yet of God's kingdom fulfilled where the church lives into the mission of God, or the not yet of a people focused on themselves to the point where, like the people in Noah's day, they are swept away?
Advent gives us a lot to think about. Advent gives us a lot to pray about. In this new year, we are asked to stay awake and be alert, for you never know when the not yet will become the already.
Happy new year.