“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)
These familiar words are found on page 332 of the Book of Common Prayer, the first set of the “comfortable words” and part of our Rite I Eucharistic Service. These words are, perhaps, not the first set of words you think of as you enter the season of Advent; as we see all the Christmas lights and shop decorations and drive around listening to Christmas carols; as we embrace the busy-ness and excitement of the season. But maybe these words should indeed be the first.
The season of Advent, in the secular world, has been denuded, taken from a positive to a negative. I lament it each year. On the outside, the weeks of December are not a season in and of themselves, but rather the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas. It has become a time to buy, buy, buy, worry, stress, and juggle plans and presents. Oh, it is lit with hope and the promise of “Christmas cheer,” but that light will be packed away on January 1st and that cheer will pass with the recycle bin.
Christians, since we are in the world, are not immune to this rush and fervor; we are, after all, most intimately acquainted with the tradition of receiving a wonderful gift on December 24th. It may be that people of faith are even more susceptible to the strain of the season precisely because we live in two worlds and are trying to balance the traditions and expectation of both. As a result, some people of faith have lost their excitement for the Christmas celebration, covering their fatigue under layers of busy-ness and their melancholia under the proclamation of “sage wisdom.”
“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
But look again, weary people. Advent, not “the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas,” is filled to overflowing with presence—not presents! It is a time of double meaning, a celebration of the birth of Christ and anticipation the Second Coming. Our salvation is at hand! God’s promises are fulfilled! We worship Christ for the fact that in His first coming He came in humility as the baby born in Bethlehem—the infinite God-Man in the flesh, our Emmanuel. The Incarnation is the sign and symbol of Hope, the affirmation of divine intention and the consumption divine will—we are of infinite value and worth to God. Now that is a season to hang your hat on!
When we, at worship each Sunday, affirm the 3-fold truth of our Christian identity: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” we profess faith in the ultimate and eternal promise of God initiated in the manger. The Second Coming is the promised completion of divine action in the current order and the initiation of the divine will to bring forth the New Heaven and the New Earth. Thus, to contemplate the Second Coming of Christ is to enter into a season of infinite hope and joy as “God will wipe every tear from their [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) We worship-in-waiting for the “coming” of our King when He returns to earth to rule and reign in righteousness and justice and make all things new. Talk about harrowing the grave. Talk about hallowing all life as it turns to Him. This is the power of the Advent season. It doesn’t mean rest, take a breather, collapse because you have overdone it; it means rest deeply, spiritually, wholly in the comfort that God’s promises are true.
Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Just as the Israelites in Egyptian bondage longed to be free from slavery and God provided a blood sacrifice through the Passover Lamb, we as pilgrims in this fallen world long for the day when we will be free from sin and live forever with our Lord. Advent is a time of hope and longing, anticipation and repentance, joy and satisfaction. So then, yes, rest.
This Advent season, I encourage you to “long” and “anticipate” the Second Coming of Christ as you celebrate His first. Amidst the fun of present buying and family gathering, laced through the eggnog drinking and friend visiting, under every well-planned moment and meaningful time, know the presence of the Holy Spirit and the companionship of Christ. Let the Lord alone refresh you as you lay down the burdens of activity, industry, and that heaviest of loads—expectation. Live the “Celebration Preparation” side-by-side with the One who celebrates. And dream of the life to come with the One comes to bring new life!
As we rejoice through Advent anticipating ‘food, friends, family, and fun,’ we are comforted and propelled to real joy by the presence and the promise! As a favorite Advent hymn proclaims,
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
Through, in, and by our Lord Jesus,
Advent: Know and Pray
The first Sunday of Advent always accompanies St. Andrew’s Day. Isn’t it fitting that the first apostle, who led his brother St. Peter to follow Jesus, would lead the Church to the opening of Advent each year? I find it so. In honor of St. Andrew, I give you a painting by Ottavio Vannini and a sculpture by François Duquesnoy; one work of art for each pivotal moment of his life.
Advent is a time of anticipation for Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. But that is only part of it. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” In the Greek translation, it is parousia. During the 4th and 5th centuries, Advent was a season of ‘preparation’ for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany: the celebration of God’s Incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), His baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and His first miracle at Cana (John 2:1).
During this season of preparation, Christians, anticipating Baptism, would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting. By the 6th century, however, Advent was no longer simply a time of preparation for Baptism by a few; it was a time to anticipate the Birth of Christ for all. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming, but His second coming as the Judge of the world! It was not until the Middle Ages when the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming … Christ-mas.
This year, as you anticipate the Birth of Christ and His second coming, add extra prayer time to your day as an anticipatory gift for the new-born King. Following are a few prayers, I hope you will clip and keep close at hand in this busy season.
God of Love,
Your son, Jesus, is your greatest gift to us.
He is a sign of your love.
Help us walk in that love during the weeks of Advent,
As we wait and prepare for his coming.
We pray in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day,
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!'
Amen. - Henri J.M. Nouwen
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a wonder at the wisdom and power of Your Father and ours. Receive my prayer as part of my service of the Lord who enlists me in God's own work for justice.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a hunger for peace: peace in the world, peace in my home, peace in myself.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me a joy responsive to the Father's joy. I seek His will so I can serve with gladness, singing and love.
Come, long-expected Jesus. Excite in me the joy and love and peace it is right to bring to the manger of my Lord. Raise in me, too, sober reverence for the God who acted there, hearty gratitude for the life begun there, and spirited resolution to serve the Father and Son.
I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whose advent I hail. Amen.
Peace to you in Christ,
The First Consideration
“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to God’s service, you could not give Him anything that was not, in a sense, God’s own already.”
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 11
As we are praying and reflecting on the stewardship of our parish home, we must remind ourselves of the true meaning of stewardship. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care.” The cornerstone of our deliberations on how much we are going to give must be understood through our faith.
In the 24th Psalm, King David reflects on the witness of God’s sovereignty laid out in Genesis 1: “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Ownership is, thus, the first fundamental principle of biblical stewardship, and from the beginning, our Creator God “owns” all. As with Adam and Eve, we are simply managers or administrators acting on God’s behalf. How we order our lives in reference to our common life expresses our obedience regarding the administration of everything God has placed under our control. Stewardship is the commitment of oneself and one’s resources to God’s service, recognizing all that we have is from God and is God’s.
In 2 Corinthians St. Paul writes, “God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:7) St. Paul is not simply extolling the mood of the giver, but rather the deep awareness and connection true stewardship displays. God loves a joyful giver because joyful giving can only come from a heart set on things above, not on earthly things. As God has created and sustains all things (including us), we love in response to our creation by caring for all that God has created and by giving of all that is, so that others may also know this love.
Our church has always depended upon faithful giving. Most churches do. In the past, Creator has relied heavily on “fundraisers:” the Yard Sale, the Stew Sale, and Arts in the Park. Even when Creator was at its most prosperous, we still needed these drives to sustain our budget. These events were far more than financial–they built comradery, fostered community, provided opportunities for evangelism, and witnessed to the love we have for our parish and each other. But sadly, they also fostered a worldly perspective of stewardship that moved many away from the biblical witness. Though we have an endowment (funded by single-purpose donations), in truth there is no grant, subsidy, endowment, or source of income that can replace—each one of—our call to support the mission and ministry at our parish to the Glory of God, our Creator.
I have long been saddened in my spirit when I hear lay people and clergy alike maintain the belief that our financial support to the American Cancer Institute or our alma mater is the same and takes the place of our support at the Church. I try always in these conversations to point out the biblical witness of corporate worship; gathering and giving that is the church. Pledging to worthy civic organizations is good and valued, but God’s instruction is not for us to support them in lieu of the church. When we (the church) confuse ourselves that we are simply another non-profit organization or charity, we have lost the connection that marks true devotion and enables joyful giving.
As people of faith, faith itself is the imprint of God, Stewardship in all forms and expression, is deeply embedded in the lives of each and every congregant: a fundamental truth about what it means to live an intentional and faithful life before God. Yes, we support the various organizations sending year-end drives and pleas –give generously from what is left, what you can afford. But when we support the church, our parish home, our starting place (and ending, for that matter), it is the first consideration, the first calculation, after which all other financial concerns flow.
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your income. Proverbs 3:9
In Christ Jesus,
November 08th, 2022
In the Rector’s Bible Study, which meets Thursday nights at 7:30, we have studied many biblical manuscripts. For the past several months we have been studying the Book of Revelation. To say that this Book is misunderstood by many and avoided by most may be an understatement, so it is understandable when my description of the Book raises a few eyebrows: the Book of Revelation is a love story!
Any casual reader, or movie-goer for that matter, most likely has a very negative impression of the Book: obscure, negative, scary, un-understandable, are only a few of the descriptions I have heard. We have been inundated by reports of tele-evangelists and obscure, but news-attracting groups that claim the Book is literally accurate. Others attempt to re-frame the Book as a complete allegory. Still, others say it is an elaborate secret “code book.” There are countless novels, movies, and references in pop culture that have further eroded and obscured the message that God set forth in the Revelation to St. John: the Book is a witness of love, devotion, and faithfulness.
Of the many places in the Book that point us to God’s love, the 5th chapter, a chapter in which the Scrolls are opened, and the judgments start, is preeminent. The Lion of the tribe of Judah is the designation of kingship prophesied in Genesis 49:8-10; this image is one of royalty, power, authority, and might. At the time Jesus came, many, if not most, of the people expected that the Messiah would conquer as the avenging Lion through miraculous power (Moses) or military might (David). The truth of this prophesy is witnessed by the Revelation to John in chapter 5: And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
If this story ended here, it would be enough to know that God, faithful and true, did not abandon the world to sin and death, but it does not. The scripture continues: And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain. When John looks for the Lion, the majestic, conquering King, he sees instead the Lamb, the gentle, wounded, and bloody sacrifice of love. God will open the Scrolls of Judgement, not from a place of overlordship or vindictive righteousness, but out of love and for the purpose of gathering those who are lost.
In the Book, God continues to call to everyone through every means possible reminding them of the sacrifice that God has made to make God’s presence and intentions clear. Parents re-enact this witness every day with children of all ages. The child disobeys, even questions the parent’s authority and the parent, out of love, discipline, and shows examples of sacrifice and hardship that are present and await the child if they do not change their behavior. The child then chooses which way to go, acknowledges the parent’s love in the midst of the discipline, or re-doubles their defiance. The parent then has the option of giving up on the child or doubling down the discipline in order that the child will reach the “saturation point” and choose the better path.
In the Book of Revelation, God is doubling down the discipline through God’s own sacrifice of creation, the creation that God made and loves. God’s purpose is to saturate the children who have chosen the lesser path and bring them again to life and light. The Book is a love story from start to finish, filled with blessings, hope, and repeated calls and offerings of unspeakable rewards for the treasured bride of Christ.
Sadly, one passage in Chapter 5 cannot relate the breadth and depth of God’s love poured out and God’s devotion displayed. That you may receive the witness of what the Book truly reveals, I offer you St. John’s continued witness:
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Please join us on Thursday night so you too may receive the witness and understanding that will bless you as we grow in the likeness of Christ.
Through the Lamb,
HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER
LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD SAVIOR,
HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER
Last week we looked at the historic origin and scriptural references for the first part of the Jesus Prayer, “LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD SAVIOR.” You recall that the first half has multiple references in Holy Scripture and is also an acrostic formed by ICTHYS--fish, and used as a clandestine Christian greeting. Today we will finish with the second half: “HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER.”
You will recall I characterized HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER, as a “somewhat offensive sentence” and, “an honest proclamation of self-awareness in the light of divine love.” Allow me to explain. Many times in the past, people have shared with me their displeasure with Scripture as “doom and gloom,” depressing, or as oppressive when it referenced human sinfulness and our need for forgiveness. Many times, I have heard comments that the Jesus Prayer was unfavored due to its accusatory second half and discarded for that reason.
I will be the first to say that it brings me no pleasure when any of my many faults are pointed out to me, let alone when I am forced to confront my own sin. The reason for my displeasure, though, is not because I disagree with the assessment; rather, it is that I am being brought back to face the truth of who I am. The faults I have are simply the outward expression of the sin that propelled them. The sin that formed the fault is simply the sin that interacts with the world; another sin lies behind that sin and it is there where I (we) must go. Embracing the truth of this prayer (as we do liturgically in Lent) we are drawn up into the light —the Light of the Gospel! —liberated from falsehood and offered forgiveness and freedom.
Perhaps the most powerful witness to this section of the prayer found in Scripture is in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, where Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 18:10-14
Sin, once discerned, is an unavoidable reality of our lives. Gone is the presumption to claim, “I am alright.” We are able, then, to reflect that it is not the sins of the flesh or the momentary flashes of anger that really keep us from God. We know these are wrong. No, the sins that keep us from the Lord's mercy are the sins that abide deep inside and are formative in all that we do: inordinate pride in our accomplishments; judgmentalism and condemnation without regard to divine presence; secret envy in the success of others, ambition for more power and more influence; at the root of all of these lies a distancing from God that makes these sins possible. I am a sinner who has separated myself from the vision of God by not considering God first before my own self and desire.
The proclamation, HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER, once embraced honestly, opens the core of my heart and spirit to the Sacrifice of the Cross. We are made aware that we stand in the shadow of Christ’s sacrifice and, in the place of sin, cry prayers of thankfulness and praise to God for our salvation. The salvation to eternal life is also the salvation from self-destruction and condemnation. The mercy we cry for, we are invited to accept as already given and Christ ascends from the darkness of our past to light the life we live in every new Holy, blessed moment.
Holiness, for the Christian, is not an event and does not consist in living an upright moral life. Holiness, for the Christian, resides in the sure and certain hope that our sins can be forgiven—are forgiven, and that we can obtain true amendment of life.
Jesus tells this simple yet powerful parable to show the stark contrast between a worldly view and a heavenly view of life: we are explicitly called to the latter, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” So well is this understood that the Scriptures abound with this teaching as implicit in the witness of our Savior:
2 Peter 3:9 ESV
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1 John 1:9 ESV
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Titus 3:5 ESV
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
Acts 2:38 ESV
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 4:16 ESV
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Romans 5:8 ESV
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 1:8 ESV
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
1 Peter 1:3 ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
Luke 13:3 ESV
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
The second half of the Jesus Prayer is nothing less than a proclamation of self-awareness and a recognition of Divine Love. Through it we are united to the witness of Christ for our salvation and by it we are remade as children of the light! (Thess. 5:5)
LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD SAVIOR,
HAVE MERCY ON ME—A SINNER
Father Bill Burk†