On the second Sunday of Advent a long time ago, I was sitting in the Verger’s* chair and waiting to hear the sermon. The priest steeped forward and in an over the top voice shouted out, “You brood of vipers!” Well you could have heard a pin drop in the parking lot. All felt the shock but were better prepared to hear a sermon about the Holy Spirit and the loving gift of God.
“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Is not Advent a time for thinking about the hope we have? If I went around the room and asked each of you what you believe this hope is, I wonder what answers I would get? When I asked myself this question, my first reaction was to give a schoolbook answer. A better way to ask the question would be, “What is my real hope in Christ?”
It is a given that we have eternal life. It is a given that we have an intimate relationship with Christ. So what are we hopeful about? After some real soul searching, here is what I declare as my hope in Christ. My hope in Christ is that: I will always be open to his seeking me; I will be open to the Holy Spirit sent to me; Is what I know about our savior, nothing more, and nothing less; My hope hinges on faith; wait faith and hope are the same. If I were to go back and substitute the word faith for hope: does the question change? Well it could because “In him the Gentiles shall have faith” and Advent is a time for thinking about faith.
The spirit of God is what our hope/faith is all about. The Holy Spirit is active among us and strengthens us so to live the Christian life. So where do we get this Holy Spirit? Some would say that the only means to receive the Holy Spirit is through Baptism by water. Others would argue the means is Baptism of the Holy Spirit (or Spiritual Baptism). I say the Holy Spirit will go where it wants and be with whom it wants, no matter what man says. I know that is a bold statement! Some will say preach the word of God and stay on the paved road. I encourage you to go to Holy Scripture and look up: John 3:8 or Ecclesiastes 11:5, Ezekiel 37:9, Acts 4: 31, 1 Corinthians 2:11: or 1 Corinthians 12:11, just to name a few. Perhaps John the Baptist’s words are the best summary: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Next week’s lectionary readings we will here the words of James addressing the church as “Beloved”. In the school for ministry, we often addressed each other as “Beloved”, giving us an awareness of being a part of a community of loving individuals. These words and acts are the Holy Spirit moving through the community. The same Holy Spirit blows thru this community at St. Alban’s and sets our hearts on fire. Know that each of you are doing the work of the Kingdom and that work is on behalf of the poor. Always remember that the Holy Spirit gives us: wisdom and understanding, counsel and boldness, knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
I would like to close with some thoughts about boldness. Boldness is having fear but confronting it. Boldness loves freely. Yet boldness is only fearless when the Holy Spirit leads. Knowing then that you have the Holy Spirit as your hope and that serving the poor is the work of the Kingdom, let’s go forth into the world. Having faith and confidence in the slow work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Reverend Deacon Phil Loveless
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
El Cajon, CA
*A verger is a person, usually a layperson, who assists in the ordering of religious services, During the service itself, a verger’s main duty is ceremonially to precede the religious participants as they move about the church; he or she does not typically take any speaking part in the service itself. It could be argued that a verger’s main pride during a service lies in his or her inconspicuousness; vergers often play a very prominent role “behind the scenes” — helping to plan the logistical details of service and discreetly shepherding the clergy through it. -(Source: Wikipedia)