The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Note: This text is a transcription from the recorded audio.
Gracious God help us always to seek the truth, come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.
In my office next door there’s a card propped up on one of my bookcases, and anyone who comes into my office and sees it has a very discernable reaction. The card depicts Jesus knocking on a door, and it reads, “Jesus is coming: Look busy.” Now on the face of it, if one just looked at it superficially, it would seem a rather irreverent thing for me to have in my office, being a priest and everything. But I think if you only take a cursory consideration of it, you miss the deeper truth that undergirds it. And I think, in fact, that really sets up in a quick synopsis the gospel lesson you just heard today. That’s where I would like to spend a few minutes with you this morning: looking at the Scriptures and looking at what they say to us today, now, in this place and in this time.
As you know, we’re in the season of Advent. The word Advent is taken from a Latin word meaning coming, that time when we prepare ourselves to welcome the Christ in our lives once again. In these four weeks leading up to Christmas we’re invited to do something totally counter-cultural: slow down, step back, be still and reflective, preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ. And of course that’s totally counter-cultural. If you look around, let’s face it, we live in the time of text messages and twittering tweets. We want everything now. So the whole notion of waiting and watching almost seems like a quaint custom from an era long ago. But that’s exactly what we’re invited to do in this time of Advent.
Jesus in teaching the disciples tells them a little bit about what it means to be waiting and watchful. Obviously Christ has come, but that vision of the Kingdom of God lifted up from the passage in Isaiah of God’s peaceable kingdom—has not come to consummation. We can look around the world today and see that it hasn’t happened in our time either. A time when nations are living peaceably among other nations, and people living in peace and harmony. So Jesus lifts up a vision of what it means to live faithfully in the time of already that Jesus has come, but not yet—not yet the Kingdom of God as God envisioned and created it to be.
So Jesus, in taking the time to teach his disciples, is asked earlier in the Gospel of Matthew, “What’s the most important commandment?” And Jesus responds, “Love God with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The double-love commandment: love God, love your neighbor. Then Jesus lifts up again for the disciples what that looks like: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, tend the sick, bring release to the captives. Jesus lifts up a vision of how each one of us can walk faithfully in the light of Christ when we’re living in the already but not yet. How do we live faithfully in the meantime? And, of course, we know that Christ has come, Christ is with us, and as we celebrate the season, Christ will come again.
Sometimes Jesus shows up totally unexpectedly. Sometimes he shows up when we most desperately need the light of Christ to shine in the darkness in our lives. We know that from our own experience; we know that from the experience of others. Professor David Bartlett refers to that as waiting in hope, because we wait in memory. Jesus just has a habit of showing up. In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talks about the time when Jesus showed up in her life in one of her dark nights of the soul. She talks about how she was engaged in really pretty self-destructive behavior: unhealthy relationships and addictions to drugs and alcohol. She was in a bad place, and one night, one deep, dark, depressing night, when she was at her lowest, she was going to bed. She turned out the light and all of a sudden she felt this very tangible presence. I mean as tangible to her as the dog who was sleeping beside her. And it was so present that she turned on the light to look around and, of course, she didn’t see anything. She writes that she knew it was Jesus, crouched in a corner, waiting patiently, exuding the love that surpasses all understanding.
She wasn’t ready to go there, so she turned the light back out. But Jesus continued to follow her all week. She described it like a little kitten nipping at her heels, going everywhere she went. She couldn’t shake it. She went to church that Sunday and you know the little kitten was still sort of around, and then all of a sudden in the middle of the service this presence just overwhelmed her, and she writes that she felt like a scared child in a loving embrace and she finally gave into it, and as she was running home after the service, and the kitten following her right along, she finally opened up the door to her house and to her heart. And she said, well I can’t say exactly what she said—it’s not proper for church—but she essentially said, “I quit. Alright you can come in.” The light of Christ, in a very dark place in her life. It changed her life, and she’s continued to write and talk about amazing things can happen when you open the door and let the light of Christ into your life.
In her book Take This Bread, Sara Miles talks about when Jesus showed up, totally unexpectedly in her life. Sara Miles was raised an atheist, but one day she happened to stumble, literally, into St. Gregory’s of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, and she walked in and looked around and people were standing, and singing, and sitting, and standing, and singing, and sitting. It was an Episcopal Church. There was a lot of up and down, and she didn’t know what was going on. She was an atheist! She didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. She didn’t know the Bible. She didn’t know what all of this was, but she somehow felt drawn into it, and then someone standing in a robe said, “Jesus welcomes everyone to his table.” So she followed what everyone else was doing. They got in a circle, and so she looked to see what people were doing. She put her hands out. Everyone had their hands out and a person came around and put this warm, moist, crumbly bread in her hands and said, “The body of Christ broken for you,” and she took and she ate, and then someone came around with a cup of wine and said, “The cup of salvation,” and she took and she drank. And she said then the most amazing thing happened: she was totally overwhelmed. She was totally overcome, so much so that she had to sit down, and she was totally in tears and she had no idea what was going on, but she finally realized what had happened to her. Jesus had happened to her. Today Sara Miles runs a food pantry that she helped start at St. Gregory’s Church that gives away 12 tons of food to the hungry and the poor in her city.
Amazing things can happen when you open the door and let the light of Christ into your life. We’re in the season of Advent, the time when we step back, be still. A time of waiting and watching. To look for the light of Christ and where we may be called to be in ministry in the in-between time, the already and the not yet. And if you’re looking for a way that you can live into that ministry in your life, please know that this Cathedral—and I’m sure wherever you come from—people are actively engaged in ministries to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to tend the sick, and yes, at the Cathedral we have a prison ministry, too. Myriad ways for us to reflect the light of Christ to a hurting, broken, and suffering world.
It reminds me of a hymn we sang in this Cathedral a few Sundays ago, on All Saints Sunday, when we had the privilege to baptize eight babies—brand new Christians into this community of faith. The hymn, although not an Advent hymn, I think is nevertheless apt for the season. The first verse is, “I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus. God sent the stars to give light to the world. The star of my life is Jesus. In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The Lamb is the light of the City of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.”
Advent, a time of waiting and watching. A time of preparing ourselves to welcome the Christ in our life once again. Open the door. Be ready. And be prepared to be amazed! Amen.