Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Dec. 3, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Dec 3, 2023 in Advent, Sermons

The First Sunday of Advent

Dec. 3, 2023

My husband Michael and I adopted a puppy last spring as a companion to our rescue dog, Maggie. What were we thinking?! My only defense was that we were intoxicated by puppy breath. So, “Honey” is now our funny, busy, cute, holy terror. She is a playful biter and a drama queen. She howls with the sirens, but always she’s right on pitch. She is also an early riser—5am early. I am not. She doesn’t observe Daylight Saving Time so we are up before 5am lately. So this groggy foolish dog-lover dons sweatpants over pajamas, I grab flashlight, keys, phone, bear spray, dog bags, leashes, —and two dogs. Most mornings it’s downright dark. 

Leaving the building I begin to notice my whole perspective changing! The blue-black sky is still lit with stars with a moon so bright you’d think it was laughing. We walk, and I try not to stumble as I stare up at the sky-show, smell the rain and puddles they drink from, the damp grass and fir trees. It’s quiet enough to hear rabbits dashing about and birds calling. On wet soggy days my hood makes the rain echo in my ears. Yes, I’m in danger of becoming “A morning person!” 

The dogs and I read the seasons like our gospel says; flowering trees and garbage cans overturned by hungry bears is spring. Big puddles and beds of wet droopy annuals mean winter is near. Earlier this week I went out under the usual deep black sky and as we walked one edge of the darkness slowly lightened, then glowed dark red-orange, and soon gave way to gold and pink simultaneously. The colors outlined the horizon and spectacularly Mt Rainier. “Christ whose glory fills the skies…” was all I could think of. These morning walks are where I start my daily prayers, and they always begin with some snatch of music or line of scripture jumping out at me. Today it was “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light…”  

We spend a lot of time between darkness and light and what a perfect place from which to glimpse Advent! There’s all sorts of darkness around us the world over and at home, both beautiful and tragic, and Advent says there is always hope in Christ’s light. My predawn walks press the relentless promise of that light returning to us every single day, even if just a little bit on those heavy grey mornings. We say Advent is a season of waiting, and it is, but we are not ‘waiting’ for God in Christ because he has been here from the very start. Much the way we speak of ‘sunrise’ knowing it’s the earth which turns to reveal a sun that has been there all along.

All times belong to God, we say when we bless the Paschal candle every Easter. All times belong to God, every moment, every encounter, conversation, times of grieving or laughing, anxiety or exultation—it is all in God’s presence and so are we. In Candles in the Dark Archbishop Rowan Williams writes that God is present and telling us, “this moment matters; it is a moment in which you can grow a bit or shrink a bit – as a human being. It is a moment in which my love is there for you, and my invitation is set before you. Don’t panic because you’re not in control. Your precious humanity is in my hands…’” Yes; already and always. (Rowan Williams, Candles in the Dark Faith Hope and Love in a time of Pandemic, SPCK, London, 2020.)

Jesus teaches them, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” That fig tree has begun its summer work — it is not waiting, those green shoots are not because of what is to come, but because of what is already working within it. We may not see figs yet, but deep in the branches and cells of that tree are already the beginnings of what will grow into figs. This is Advent, God is ever-present in our hope for what can be, in our hope for peace in the world and for sharing equitably, our hope for an end to war, hunger, oppression, gratuitous greed, and more. In all those things we’ve seen and done, and those yet to come, God in Christ is present and will not abandon us. He is in the hope and the longing, leading us to heal this broken world. Hear again Archbishop Williams paraphrasing God, “It is a moment in which my love is there for you, and my invitation is set before you. Don’t panic because you’re not in control. Your precious humanity is in my hands…

My favorite moment in going to the theater or last year taking our granddaughter to The Nutcracker is when the instruments are finished tuning up, the lights go dark except for the orchestra pit, and there’s a hush of expectation. Like drawing a collective breath with hundreds of others, all awaiting the same revealing moment, and when the curtain rises there’s a quiet gasp! That moment of silent anticipation before the gasp is Advent. We know it’s coming, we know the story, the singers, dancers, costumes, and wonderful sets are there, and yet we still hold our breath in anticipation.

We do that now, awaiting that inundation of holiness which is already within our reach. Our Advent preparation is kindling hope that his holiness will fill and hallow us, heal, delight, and invigorate us, challenge us and and perhaps even frustrate us. Think back with me to when we were children and there was something under the Christmas tree with your name on it. (I promise I’m not breaking the Episcopal rule of going all Christmas-sy in Advent!) In our home there were always a few presents “from St. Nicholas” and they would be the best ones. Can you remember a package all wrapped up and wondering what it was, or perhaps hoping it was the One you most wanted, or maybe you were 99% sure what it was and that it was for you.

You knew it was there. You couldn’t walk through the room without glancing to be sure it still was. You might have felt it or shaken it a bit—felt its weight. When no one was looking you held it up to the light in case you could see through the wrapping, but no. Even if your educated guess was correct and it was that present, and it was for you, we still had to wait until Christmas to open it and know it was yours. That’s what I mean by saying Advent is less about the coming of Christ than about our receiving of Christ in faith. Christ is here, we are the ones who must trust enough to open and let him into our lives. He is right here where he’s always been, it’s up to us to draw near, and Advent helps give us time and reason to do that yet again. 

T.S. Eliot says it another way; he wrote that Jesus’ cross is the “still point of the turning world.” The world keeps turning, but the still point of all creation is seen in the death of Jesus on the Cross and in his resurrection. All of history, all people – believers or not – live under the mercy of Jesus. It’s through this still point that we can come in faith. (Burnt Norton, 1935, published later in Four Quartets, 1940. Note: It’s possible Eliot paraphrased Carthusian founder St. Bruno, who wrote similarly of the cross standing still while the world turned under it.) 

Advent isn’t like the adverts telling you to shop black Friday, small business Saturday, or cyber Monday—this gift is already wrapped and waiting for us. Even if we don’t get a tree for weeks. It’s like my morning dog walk setting me to receive every day as a gift of light. Soon we will hear John the Baptizer pointing to that package tucked under the tree and saying it’s for us, then Gabriel will add the tag to confirm it’s you God has in mind. Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, shepherds and angels will help us shake the package, and wonder with us what God could be up to. 

Jesus reverses our ideas about gift giving and receiving. Instead of coming to us and entering into our lives, Jesus is that still point—and we come to him. We come towards that Christmas tree and find him waiting for us to claim him, trust in him. We see green shoots of the fig tree and know something special has happened already, is happening now and happening in the future. Even though we drift away or turn our backs, he is always and forever present waiting for us to open to him again. Even though we cannot know the how and when, we can “keep awake” and trust the promise of his presence. We need only to believe enough to unwrap the most holy gift of all. Amen.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Wed., Dec. 3, 2025.