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READING               I Isaiah 63, 16-17. 19; 64, 2-7
Psalm                       80
READING               II 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9
Gospel:                    Mark 13, 33-37

Hello friends and thank you for reading and watching this message. My name is Dr. Mark Hobson. I am a college professor, ordained minister, and author. My dad was an Episcopalian, and my mom was Roman Catholic. Growing up, I attended church in both traditions. I received a master’s in theology and was ordained a Roman Catholic deacon, serving in a catholic church for 17 years. Now, I practice faith in the Episcopal tradition. I share this homily, or teaching, from my home office with the technology to reach others with the message.

Our message today is about the First Sunday of the new Church Year B in mainstream Christian Churches.  Mainstream churches are those that follow the Apostles’ creed like Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran traditions. These churches follow nearly identical three-year cycles of readings for church services known as years A, B, and C. We begin the new Church Year with the season of Advent. So, happy new year!

The term Advent comes from the Latin term adventus, meaning “arrival.”  In Advent, we anticipate and celebrate the first coming of the Christ Child in Christmas and the second coming of the Risen Christ at the end of days.  The priests and ministers wear vibrant robes in shades of blue or purple with accents of red and pink. The altar cloths and flowers reflect these colors of the new season that lasts until Christmas eve. Churches also light an Advent wreath of four candles representing the weeks of Advent, and often a fifth white candle representing Christinas.

In Advent, the prayers and readings focus on the presence of Christ in our daily spiritual journey.  Advent readings and reflections provide three important themes:  light, love, and life: light, for Christ is the light of the world and we are called to be like Him; love, for this season of peace and charity; and life, for we focus on Jesus who brought us eternal life.

Today’s readings are about conversion, grace, and spiritual preparation.  The writing of the Hebrew prophet, Isaiah, is about anticipating a new heaven and earth where the Messiah will reign forever.  Isaiah writes we are all sinners and even our good deeds are soiled because we fall short at times of God’s plan for us. Isaiah ends on a positive note and says, Lord, you are our Father and we are like clay – the work of your hands.  Mold us to become the people we need to be to enter your Kingdom.

Next, we hear and pray the ancient Psalm 80 that tells us God is the good Shephard who will move us back to right living and worship. The Lord of Hosts will restore us to a right relationship with God so we will be saved in eternal life.

Our Christian Scripture reading is from Saint Paul who wrote to the believers in Corinth. In Jesus, believers have a special grace moving us to righteousness.  With Jesus, we lack no spiritual gift to become holy.  Saint Paul reminds us we are deeply loved by the Creator who made us in His image. We must become the person God meant us to be and we will be found blameless in front of God.  Our sins and shortcomings do not matter to God as much as accepting His Grace and striving to be better to one another, and ourselves.  We cannot give what we do not have.  We cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. We must be merciful to ourselves so we can be merciful to others. Above all, we need to count faith as our most important asset in life.  More important than our retirement fund, or the equity in our homes, or our health, and or even the value of family and friends is our faith in God.  Only deep and abiding trust in Jesus Christ will fill our lives and gain us eternity.

Finally, in Saint Mark’s Gospel, most likely one of the oldest eyewitness testimonies of the ministry of Jesus, we hear that believers must, watch, pay attention, and stay awake.  Jesus speaks of the apocalyptic end times. The word apocalypse is derived from Greek and means “to uncover.” The term is used in most every major world religion. Jesus uncovers for us that only God knows the date and time of the end of our lives, and the end of all life as we know it. We must be faithful servants who stay awake in faith waiting for the Lord. To be faithful, Jesus tells His disciples and us, we need to focus on our behavior.  This directive from Jesus makes perfect sense for the only person we may control is us.  Each of us has a destiny to fulfill – we are all blessed with gifts and talents. We must use our strengths to grow and be the person God calls us to be from the beginning of time.  The message of Jesus is a positive and strong command to be holy despite obstacles and act like a believer to the end.  We might rightfully wonder how do I remain a good Christian when the world is not always a holy place; life is not always great; people are not always kind.  To paraphrase Jesus: we must give to Cesar what is his but give to God and others our best self.  We live in this world with an eye toward eternity.  We must work well, or go to school, or take care of our family or whatever our duty in righteousness.  We must do our homework, pay our bills, clean the house, and be responsible to others yet we must always be followers of the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus tells us stay spiritually awake; be loving, kind and generous.  We must also relax and focus because God is in charge of the world, and we are not.

Around the year 335, Saint Macarius, Bishop of Jerusalem, wrote a homily to his Church for Advent.  Macarius wrote:

“When a farmer prepares to till his soil, he must put on clothing and use tools that are suitable.  So, Christ, our heavenly King, came to till the soil of humankind devastated by sin.  He assumed a body and using the cross as His plowshare…plowed the soul of humanity with the wood of the cross. He removed the thorns and thistles which are the evil spirits and pulled up the weeds of sin. Into the fire he cast the straw of wickedness. And when he had plowed the soul with the wood of the cross, he planted in it a most lovely garden of the spirit, that could produce fruit for its Lord and God the sweetest and most pleasant fruit of every kind” (D’Antuono, 2020).

This message matters to us today. In our Advent, we prepare for the arrival of God who comes in the person of the Christ Child.  In this Advent, may Jesus make us faithful and a light to others; may we receive His love so we may give it freely to others; may we experience His Divine life so we may joyfully keep Christ in our heart every day. May we focus on our strengths to achieve our destiny. This is our Advent journey – to keep Christ in us; to be a light to others; and to love others as God loves us.

Reference:

D’Antuono, M. (2020, Dec 20). In Advent and Always, Christ’s Cross is the Plow That Prepares the Soul. https://www.ncregister.com/blog/cross-as-plow-of-the-soul

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