Advent 1-C. Trinity Cathedral. I love Advent! It’s my favorite season and the beginning of a new Church Year. Part of it is that I love Christmas and Advent is the season of preparation for that great feast. I love the violet vestments and the Advent wreath and the smell of greens in the Church. I love the great Advent hymns and the powerful Readings from the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, which we hear during these four weeks!
Part of it too is that Advent is, above all, the season of Hope! The hope of the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. The hope of God’s in-breaking into our lives every day in new and exciting ways. The hope of God’s Reign one day coming in its fullness here “on earth as it is in heaven.” All these are Advent themes, and they make for a season of hope, a “theology of hope.” Which is my personal theology!
We have all three of these manifestations of hope in our Lessons for today. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord (in our First Lesson from Jeremiah), when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 33) Hope for the Messiah!
“Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus Christ direct our way to you,” writes St. Paul to the church in Thessalonika, “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…” (I Thes. 3) The great apostle is expressing his hope that he will soon be able to visit the little church he had started and which he so wished to visit again. And he hopes that God will allow that to happen.
And finally, in the Gospel, Jesus himself says, “…when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near…Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21) So, his disciples are to have hope that, in the ministry of Jesus, God’s reign, God’s kingdom has already dawned.
Advent is all about hope. And about new beginnings. How about us? How about us here at Trinity Cathedral? Are we all about hope? Are we all about new beginnings? We’re an historic church. We’ve been here in the City of Davenport for a long time, over 150 years – as those of us privileged to be at our first annual Founders’ Day last month learned in such a delightful and informative way!
Generation upon generation of young people have been baptized and confirmed in this parish. They have learned the story of Jesus Christ and his Church. They have served as acolytes and choristers and they’ve enjoyed youth groups and mission trips. Hundreds of couples have had their marriages solemnized in this beautiful building. Confessions have been heard, the sick have been anointed with oil. Priests and deacons have been ordained in this church, and at least one bishop who shall remain nameless was “seated” here when he took over as diocesan bishop in 1989!
Many of our forebears have had their caskets brought down this center aisle and had their souls commended to God in the same church where they worshiped Sunday by Sunday. And, oh yes, Sunday by Sunday the Word of God has been preached, the Body and Blood of Christ has been received in the Eucharist, and the joyful praises of God have been sung by choir and communicant alike.
And we have gone forth from this place to make a difference for good in this community and beyond. By providing leadership in the Quad Cities, by making contributions to business and the arts and education, by supporting community outreach and direct services to the poor, by supporting the Diocese of Iowa and The Episcopal Church – even sometimes, it must be said, when we may have disagreed with some of the directions our church has taken.
And these are only some of the things of which I am aware in the history of this great parish. As I begin serving as your interim Dean, I want to learn much more! I want my first several months here to be months of listening and learning. I want you to tell me your stories of Trinity Cathedral – by making appointments to come in and see me, in small groups and in large ones, formally and informally, at coffee hour and in Vestry meetings.
Part of the task of interim ministry is helping a congregation reclaim its past and its history. Not as an exercise in nostalgia, but in preparation for the future! You cannot really claim your present and move into your future until you understand your past.
That’s why our Advent Readings focus on the Old Testament preparation for the coming of the Messiah as we prepare to celebrate his birth at Christmas and his Second Coming at the end of time!
Our history has not been without its problems either. No church which has been around as long as this one, has been without its parish fights and budget crises, its scandals and its mistakes, its problems with clergy and its problems with laity! That’s because the Church is made up of human beings, and human beings are not perfect. We need to tell and hear those stories too.
I keep hearing that there’s a lot of pain here as well, and a lot of healing to be done. But I don’t know what that’s all about. I need you to tell me so I can help you tell it to one another. Because we need to learn from our past – all of it – as we live ever more consciously into our present and prepare for the future.
I’m going to ask you to be here every Sunday morning that you possibly can in the coming months. I’m going to ask you to contribute to the ministry of this parish financially by honoring your pledge, or even increasing it (we certainly have not reached our pledge goal thusfar!), and by involving yourself in the life of this church. On Sunday mornings for sure, but also in the various groups and ministries of Trinity Cathedral, in the myriad of education events we going to be offering, and in loving Christian service and outreach to this neighborhood and to the community God has given us to serve.
Yes, the season of Advent is all about hope. And about new beginnings. I have a lot of hope for the future of this congregation. And I am prepared to help you make a new beginning. A new beginning which honors your past…embraces your present…and prepares you well for the future. But I cannot do it alone. Nor should I. This is your church and your community. What I can tell you is that the words of St. Paul this morning to that little church in Thessalonika could be mine for you as well. For he wrote:
“How can I thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (I Thessalonians 3:9-13)
Have a blessed Advent, my friends. This is only the beginning!