Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sermon: Call and Response

Sermon for Advent 1, Year A
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse, December 1, 2013
Lectionary readings for the day, click here.
Sermon for Advent Procession Service, 9:00 and 11:15am
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Happy New Year! Today, as you know,
is the first Sunday of Advent,
so we mark the beginning of a new liturgical year.  The season marks a time of new beginning for us as Christians.[1]

The word Advent means “coming.”
The Advent season is a time to
slow down, be quiet and meditate 
about the real meaning of Christmas.
We prepare our hearts and our lives
as we wait for the coming of Jesus.
This season, we focus on the promise that
God made to God’s people and
how God fulfills that promise in Jesus.

Our Advent Procession captures this sense of waiting
with the monumental 8th Century Latin hymn,
that we know it as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”
translated by John Mason Neale in 1851.[2]
This hymn captures the essence of Advent –
of “coming” –
that if we wait, while we wait, in the waiting, God comes.

The hymn resounds with a call and response
that accompanies any kind of waiting in our lives. 

Our waiting begins with our call to God –
a yearning or longing or pleading
for healing or wholeness, for justice and peace,
or for a deep desire to be known. 

Come, dear God, into our midst. 
Come be with us who are lonely,
be with us who grieve our losses:
loss of a dear loved one, of a relationship,
of health, of a dream, of our identity.
Come dear God and grant us knowledge and perspective,
so that we can understand
why it is hard to forgive someone
why it is hard to ask for forgiveness
Come in a cloud and a mystery.
show us your majesty
in ways beyond our imagination.
Come with power to save us from all that breaks us
and give us victory over our grave.
Come and open up heaven to us,
but close the path of misery,
of suffering, of need.
Come, dear God, be by our side
even in the dark night of our soul,
when despair seeps into our minds.
Come into the hearts of all humankind –
bind our divisions and be our King of Peace.
Come, dear God, we call…


And the response from God is a resounding promise,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee.
Emmanuel *shall* come, God promises. 

In today’s fourth lesson, from Luke,
the angel Gabriel offers God’s promise to Mary,
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 

This promise echoes the words of Hannah,
mother of Samuel, from the Hebrew Scripture[3],
when she hears from the prophet Eli
that God promised to be with her,
“Let your servant find favor in your sight.”

This promise echoes words of assurances
of power and favor given to the Judges of Israel[4],
“The Lord is with you.” 

The Gospel message echoes the words of assurance[5]
that the birth of Jesus
meant God’s promise of redeeming love
by means of “Emmanuel,”
which means “God is with us.”[6]

Today’s good news is that God is with us,
in our yearning, our longing, our pleading. 
God promises to be with us, always! 

Between the call and the response
lies the mystery of Advent. 

Thomas Merton reminds us,
“The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end
of all [that is] in us
that is not yet Christ.”[7]

During this season, we stay ready
for the full realization of Love.
That is a constant challenge for us –
to self-reflect and to be self-aware. 

Like Mary, we, too, may be perplexed by God’s promise. 
Like Mary, we, too, may need to ponder
what sort of greeting God has placed in our heart. 
Like Mary, we hear that
“nothing will be impossible with God.”

During this in-between time,
we remain constantly alert for Love.

Poet Denise Levertov
captures the essence of Mary’s
astounding ministry
with her poem, “The Annunciation”:

To bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power-
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
          Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.[8]


This Advent season,
the good news is God’s promise –
“Emmanuel shall come to thee!”

May we, like Mary, respond:

“Here are we, servants of the Lord;
let it be with us according to your word.”

May we be gentle with ourselves
and those we love this Advent season.


[1] Advent Seasonal information inspired by the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas’ website, on November 29, 2013
[2] Raymond Glover, Ed., The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Volume Three A, (New York, Church Pension Fund, 1994)
[3] 1 Samuel 1:18
[4] Judges 6:12
[5] Inspired by New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Luke, Volume IX, p. 50
[6] Matthew 1:23
[7] Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration: Meditations on the Cycle of Liturgical Feasts, (Ave Maria Press, 2009), forward by William Shannon, quoted by The Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D. in his Advent message
[8] As offered in Cynthia Bourgeault’s Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, (Boston & London, Shambhala, 2013) p.156-157, note 3 of chapter 14: Denise Levertov, A Door in the Hive (New York: New Directions, 1989), p. 87

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