Archives for November 2005

1 Advent (B) – 2005

November 27, 2005

Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-27

There’s an interesting quote – from an unexpected source – that applies to this First Day of Advent, from a book you may have read to your children or grandchildren, or that you may remember from your own childhood. The book is by Dr. Seuss, and is entitled One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The quote to consider today is brief:

From there to here,
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere.

From there to here,
from here to there,
funny things
are everywhere.

Funny things are everywhere! And there are two things funny about this First Sunday of Advent, the start of a new church year. The first of them is that, here at the start of a new year, we don’t look back to the beginning, but we look forward to the end. Here on the first day of the new church year, we do not focus on the past, but we anticipate the future where Christ promises to meet us.

The second funny thing about today is related to the first. When we look forward to the end, when we anticipate the future, we do not treat this conclusion as some distant, far-off event. It is near at hand. It may be as close as the next second. So imminent is it, in fact, that the future comes and takes up residence in the present. The Christ who will arrive with power and great glory at the end of time comes to us also before the end of time.

But Christ does not wait until the end of the world, or even until our death, in order to approach us. He is always appearing; he is the lord of a million disguises.

A few years ago, the Associated Press reported a miracle. [Detroit Free Press, November 28, 1996.] In Bethlehem, at the Church of the Nativity (which is built on the traditional site of Christ’s birth) an icon of our Lord was seen to wink at worshipers there. Did this really happen? We can’t be sure, but if it really did, the one Palestinian Christian quoted in the news report, understood the significance of the event. Nadia Banoura said of the icon of Christ that, “He moved his eyelid up and down several times. This is a message from God that he is everywhere.”

That’s the point. God is everywhere. An old icon in a famous church may or may not wink at worshipers, but the living Christ winks at us all the time, but too often our souls are asleep, and we fail to get the joke.

What is it that drags us down, that drugs us, so that we do not notice the face of Christ looking at us, winking at us, asking for some response as we encounter him? What is it that drags us down?

We take too seriously the small things, and we ignore what’s important. We see the tinsel, but overlook the tree. Small preoccupations – hurts and desires and failings and achievements – loom large for us, far too large, and crowd out the glory of a greater world.

What is it that lifts us up, that enables us to notice the wink and laugh at the joke? Simply this: the expectation of Christ present and active.

A funny thing about our church calendar is how often the name “Gregory” appears. No name on the calendar appears more frequently among the lesser feasts. There are four Gregories commemorated: Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome; Gregory the Illuminator, who brought the Gospel to the Armenian people; and two additional Gregories who were bishops, friends, and eminent theologians – Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.

Why so many Gregories? Maybe there’s divine humor here. The name “Gregory” means “watchful, vigilant.” Perhaps these Gregories stand as a reminder that we are to be watchful, alert to Christ winking at us through the circumstances of life. The spiritual rigor to which we are called is to set aside our small preoccupations and recognize what’s really important. We are to allow ourselves to be lifted up by the expectation of Christ present and active.

Each of us can take “Gregory” as an Advent name, whether we are man or woman, boy or girl, we can add this name to our own in the depths of our hearts for the period between now and Christmas, and let it remind us to be vigilant and watchful. And so we will have “Charles Gregory” and “Mary Gregory” and “Rhonda Gregory” and “Jason Gregory” — and so forth.

Then the tinsel will not trap us and keep us from seeing the tree. We will look past our small preoccupations – the hurts and desires and failings and achievements – and see instead our source of life: the Christ who winks and jokes and lifts us up.

There’s something more as well: when we recognize Christ in the course of every day, then he will be no stranger to our eyes. When he comes again at the end of time, we will be fit to meet him. Without fear or shame or “un-familiarty,” we will rejoice to behold his appearance.

From there to here,
from here to there,
the Holy One
is everywhere.

from there to here,
from here to there,
the Holy One
is everywhere.

— The Very Rev. Charles Hoffacker is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Port Huron, Michigan, and is author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications, 2003).