“Ave, verum corpus
natum de Maria Virgine,
Vere passum immolatum
in Cruce pro homine,
Cujus latus perforatum
unda* fluxit (et)* sanguine,
Esto nobis praegustatum
in mortis examine.”
Those are the words in Latin to the magnificent motet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart written in 1791 for the feast of Corpus Chrisi at Saint Stephan in Baden, Vienna. This is how the words translate into English:
born of the Virgin Mary,
Who truly suffered, sacrificed
on the Cross for man,
Whose pierced side overflowed
with water* and blood,
Be for us a foretaste**
In the test of death.
I tell you that this evening because as I made a second attempt at writing tonight’s sermon I had this magnificent music playing on a continuous loop. I had gone to sleep the night before with a lot on my mind. And as I began the new day… somehow with humility and prayer, God had helped me find a way to face some difficult issues that were troubling me a great deal. I didn’t want to concentrate on the news of the day or what was going in Washington, I wanted some music that would help me to focus on the centrality of my faith. Because once again I was feeling overwhelmingly grateful for the help I had been given to find a better path and to begin again. It seems like Advent has just begun and here we are already at the Second week. The Gospel reading this week from Mark starts with two words:
I think if I had my way I would call this Sunday “Beginning Sunday” because we are not just at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark which we will continue reading through Lent but we are also at the beginning of Advent and the beginning of John the Baptist. Of the four Gospels that feature the life of John the Baptist, Mark introduces us to him at the earliest time in the Jesus story and gives the briefest of the four accounts. It says “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” But before we go there, our Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah is indeed prophetic because within his words “a voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” we find the genesis of the entire story of John the Baptizer.
It is here, that the role John will come to come to play in the lives of the early church and in our lives even today finds it’s true beginning.
Jesus will be born and this will change the world. And although all we know about his birth, his life, his teachings and his death on the cross could be interpreted as a beginning and finally as the end… we Christians believe that the end has never come and that with his death and resurrection we entered into a new beginning which has no end.
In the beginning of the Gospel of Mark (and as far as we can know, this is the very first time in the bible that the word “Gospel” which means “Good News” is used to refer to a written account of the life of Jesus Christ”) we are told that Isaiah said “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”. That messenger in Isaiah is assumed by most to be John the Baptist who while proclaiming a baptism for the forgiveness of sins was assumed by many to be the Messiah, that is until he told them directly “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me, I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
So here we have a people who are looking for a savior, a leader and many think they have found him in John. How disillusioned and disappointed many of them must have been when John refused this notion and said NO. I am not the Messiah but I can show you the path to him that starts with me and ends with repentance, forgiveness and salvation. I wonder, how many clung to him thinking…I’ve gone all in on this. I’ve bet the farm and the future of my family on John being the Messiah. It could have been seen as a dead end but it was really the beginning of the extraordinary. In a real way, the arrival of Christ that we await during this Advent time could not have happened if John had not come first, preparing the way, clearing the path, setting the stage for a new beginning.
I am in a stage of my life that finds me trying to understand once again how I fit into God’s world. But I too am making a new beginning. 15 years ago in another place I began the path to ordination as a vocational deacon. And I am still on that path with the expectation of that ordination in the next year. There have been many stops and starts during those years. Many times I thought my path had come to an end but the end I could see only blocked my view of the beginning that was coming my way. In fact, it is only through the encouragement and support of the late Capers Limehouse, a Deacon of this church that I am here at all. This is how I think the our lives are. A series of beginnings and I do not believe they end until we die which my faith teaches me is nothing more than another new beginning. So for each of our lives I think it is a good thing that this week’s readings focus on beginning.
There is a saying that I think is attributed to Helen Keller who supposedly said, “When a door is closing, most people are so focused on the door that has closed that they cannot see the door that is opening.” And I believe that for all of us, there is almost always another door opening, another potential beginning that we either cannot or will not see.
Advent is a good time to do some self reflection and to try to come to terms with and cast off some of the negative feelings and beliefs that we harbor that make our lives less joyful than they can be. I have a confession to make: I have been thinking a lot about justice recently. Not about the court system or about what happens in Washington but about what justice means in my life and yours. Over the years of my discernment for the diaconate many things happened, which were not to my way of thinking, either fair or just. Where I know now that I should have simply accepted these things and gone on with my life, I stored up the hurt and resentment they have caused me instead of letting them go. Rather than move on to my next opportunity I have fed on the anger and resentment I have allowed to to damage my heart. I have carried this feeling with me until very recently when I was finally able to understand it is true that life is not fair. It is sometimes, but not always so although justice is indeed a good thing, it is in no way guaranteed or promised to us. Unjust things happen all the time for reasons that are sometimes impossible for us to understand or explain. Babies die, innocent people are sent to jail, people lose their jobs, their homes and their security and housing. Even God cannot promise Justice. He can and does promise unquestioning forgiveness and love through Grace. He gives us the gift of free will and the loving heart to be fair and to engage in acts of justice, but he does not insure a just outcome. Just look at the world and the absence of justice in so many of our human conflicts. I realized some time ago that I had this allowed this fixation on un-promised justice to hold me back, make me bitter and angry at times and keep me from a deeper and more rewarding relationship with God. Like expecting our imperfect lives to ever be perfect, my expectation that everything would always be just was an irrational and unachievable expectation.
So now every morning with every new beginning and the gifts it brings, I ask God to free me from the unreasonable expectations I carry around with me and that has helped to make me a more generous humble and happy person…much more aware of the gifts I have been given than those I lack.
I came upon the following Advent meditation this week from the Virginia Theological Seminary:
“Simplify, travel lightly. Cast off the things and thoughts which are dark and heavy. Put on the “armor of light”. Clean out the closets of your mind and of your house. Simplify and share the best of your mortal life”.
As we enter into the second week of Advent I invite you to the new beginning that God gives us each with every breath and with every new day. I invite you to unburden yourself from those thoughts and convictions that hurt you and keep you from God. To clean out the closets of your mind and of your house of the troubleing and soul deadening things that are holding you back from the love, understanding and forgiveness of God and to use each rising of the sun…as a fresh beginning…a new and unsoiled opportunity during this season of Advent as we await the coming of the one who will save our broken world as we begin anew.