The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Come, Lord Jesus, come. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this season of giving and Thanksgiving, I have found myself reflecting on the many blessings that I have received from this Cathedral community—not just the resident Cathedral community, but our online worshipers, our visitors, our friends, literally all across the country and around the globe. I’ve been so profoundly blessed and find myself on this day filled with gratitude.
Your gifts have been many and varied—some notes and cards, including until recently, cards and notes from my hundred-year-old pen pal Clara in North Carolina who now worships with us on a distant shore. I’ve received many crosses. What’s a priest without a lot of crosses?! Again, from all across the country and around the world, reminding me of the rich diversity of our brothers and sisters in Christ all around the globe and how they experience Christ in their context.
I’ve received books, lots of books. Anyone who’s ever been to my office knows that I have a thing about books. But there are two that I received from online worshipers that seem particularly appropriate for this season of Advent. One from my dear friend Norris, a faithful weekly worshiper with us. He worships with us. He worships in his home church. A few years ago, he gave me a book called Live as Children of Light. It’s a combination of homilies and prayers for this season that recognizes it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Some of us are experiencing loss and grief and pain and hurt and his Praying Our Goodbyes ministry is an important recognition of that. This year, the Cathedral will be offering a Blue Christmas service on December 12. So, for those of you who are in a tender place, please come and we will be there with you.
A year ago, at Advent, I received the most precious book from a weekly worshiper in California—a young woman named Katrina, who for health reasons is not able to get out very much and she worships with us each and every week from her living room. She sent me her favorite book last year, which is a pop-up book of the story of Christmas and I can’t wait to pull it out and share it with Katrina again this year.
For those of you who are our online worshipers, know that even though we may not be able to see you, you are always very much with us. We carry you in our hearts and in our prayers, each and every day, in our ministry here at the Cathedral. You are part of our Cathedral family.
In addition to those beautiful and wonderful gifts, along the way, I’ve received a few gifts that might be of the more irreverent variety. One I received is Wash All Your Sins Away air freshener to put in my car. It purports to have the faithful fragrance of altar flowers. I’ve not checked that out yet, but that’s the marketing. Then there’s the little Jesus key chain that comes, of course, with a button to share the light in the darkness. Good for this season. Two are particular favorites and appropriate for this season. One is a magnet that says, Don’t make me come down there! —God. Then there’s the card that is now up on my shelf in my office that shows Jesus in long flowing robes, one hand having the shepherd’s crook, the other knocking on a door and it says, Jesus is coming. Look busy!
You laugh. But there’s a lot to that, in a more serious sort of way, because in this Advent season we live in the in between time. Christ has come, Christ is coming again and it’s how we live our lives in the in between time that matters. When I speak of the in between time, I’m not referring to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is not about conspicuous consumption. It is about being conspicuous in our care and concern, one for another. As you heard in the gospel reading, Jesus calls the disciples quite sharply—and you and me—to keep awake, to pay attention, to look around you where God is calling us to serve. We do not know the hour. We do not know the day. But Christ is coming again. And what will Christ find when Christ comes?
You see, I believe that at its heart, the season of Advent calls us out of our complacency. The season of Advent is about marrying what we believe with how we behave. Christ’s whole ministry was about serving, not being served: looking around and paying attention to the least, to the lost, to the lonely, those on the margins. So, too, we are called to go and do likewise.
When I was growing up, the season of Advent took on a very penitential tone. All of the altar hangings and the vestments were purple, like Lent. Even the music took on a more somber tone in a minor key because we were called not just to watch and wait, but to reflect, to look at our lives and how we were living them and how, with the coming of Christ once again in our lives, we would be empowered and strengthened to go and to do and to serve.
We know that God’s kingdom has not come. We don’t have to look very far to see the brokenness in our world. Wars have not ceased. Violence has not ceased. Bigotry has not ceased. Fear of the other has not ceased. And the catastrophic results of our lack of care and concern for our fragile earth, our Island home are ever in front of us. But we put our hope on the knowledge that Christ will come again. That is where we put our faith. That is where we put our trust.
This past Thanksgiving, I was so proud of how the entire Cathedral community came together for a record breaking of over 1500 Thanksgiving baskets, 40,000 pounds of food, over 1600 turkeys—feeding over 6,000 hungry people in our city. If you want to imagine what that looks like, picture this cathedral filled to the brim twice—plus. It was extraordinary. It was an outpouring of feeding the hungry and those on the margins.
But it’s not just about Thanksgiving Day. It’s about the next day and the next day. There was an article in the Washington Post on Thanksgiving Day, you may have seen, that talked about the rapid decline in our food banks around our area and, surely, other areas around the country. Those who run the food banks are concerned because they’ve got empty shelves and the need is great. The article cited several reasons why they think that is the case, one being the change in the tax law that makes charitable deductions more challenging for some Americans. I would say, my brothers and sisters, the tax laws may have changed, but the need for the hungry and the poor has not. Keep awake. Look around you. We do not know the day or the hour, but Christ is coming and how we live our lives in the meantime matters.
In her book titled Advent. Fleming Rutledge makes the point that “Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires.” We don’t always know where Christ will lead us. We can’t always see our way clearly, but we step out in faith, knowing that we have work to do, meaningful work that matters and makes a difference.
In his book, Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells a true story about a Bahamian priest whose two- story home suddenly caught fire and was engulfed in smoke and flames. The priest and his wife grabbed their three children to hurriedly get out of the house to safety and they ran outside. But at the last second, the youngest son broke free from his mother’s grip. He was terrified and he ran back upstairs and to their horror, the parents and the two siblings were looking up at the youngest son who was covered in smoke and flames and was crying and screaming because he was frightened. His father looked up at him and he said, “Jump son, jump, I’ll catch you.” The son looked down at him and he said, “But Daddy, I can’t see you.” And the father looked up at his son and he said, “Yes, son. I know, but I can see you.”
Our Heavenly Father sees us, knows our needs, knows our fears, knows our hopes, knows our dreams, and is always there to catch us, to pick us up, to empower us, to guide us and direct us to do that which God has called us to do. God is indeed our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Stay awake. Look around you because we have work to do.
Come Lord Jesus. Come. Amen.