A sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio
Advent is a season of anticipation; of awaiting the long-expected unexpected. We sing of the second coming of Christ, with clouds and great glory. We read warnings to stay awake, to be alert to the coming of the kingdom. On the earthly and mundane scale, we wait for Christmas, to celebrate the Incarnation, the cataclasm of time and eternity born in the body of a baby; while here and now we wait for Christmas, our souls and our spirits wonder when we will see God for ourselves.
John the Baptizer had a word for the priests and the Levites about that. John the Evangelist takes pains to make sure that we know that John the Baptizer was not claiming any kind of status for himself; he pointed instead to the one who was coming after him. But there is a line that we sometimes miss while we are looking for what comes next:
“Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
That is, the one who is to come is already here.
Richard Benson, the founder of the Cowley Fathers, wrote that the saints are bound together in the
“joy of perfect sympathy since all are pouring forth their whole being to the One who is the center of their conceptions and the common principle of their life. They turn not aside from God to speak to one another; their whole being is rapt in the thought of God, and they live in the knowledge of the mutual love which binds them all because that love binds each to God. …
“Eternity is the manifestation of the marvelous unification of life.”[i]
When we recognize Christ among us, in the friend or the stranger, in the one most in need of our service and our devotion; when we seek and serve Christ in one another, then we have no need to turn away from Christ in order to serve that one, or to love them, but we love Christ in them.
When we share in the anointing that Jesus himself proclaimed from the synagogue at Capernaum, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, when we “bring good news to the oppressed, …bind up the brokenhearted, … proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;” and do not, by any means, kill them, but show them instead the way of life; when we offer “the oil of gladness” to those who mourn, then we find among us the one who is to come, who is already here.
When we visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the lonely, the ones who are already here, Christ has told us, we do it also to the one who is to come.
When we love Christ in one another, then we see the one to come in the one who is already here; then we glimpse eternity in the “marvelous unification,” the solidarity of a shared life.
“Among you stands one whom you do not know,” said John, and if you knew, if you were to turn and recognize the Christ among you, the anointed one, then the Holy Spirit would be unleashed upon you in that cataclasm of time and eternity and you would have no need to turn from God to speak to one another because you would see the love of God, the spark of Divine breath, the image of God through it all.
And still, it took Jesus to be born, to be baptized, to be anointed, to be tempted, to be loved, to be crucified, to be risen, to make us know that love of God that enfolds us and unites us. It took that act of Incarnation to rupture the veil between time and eternity, and to repair the rift.
And he is coming; and “we shall see him, and our eyes behold him who is our friend, and not a stranger.” (Job 19:27)
For he is our end, and our beginning, and through his birth, that cataclasm of time and eternity, we find our way home.
[i] Richard Mieux Benson’s The Religious Vocation, is quoted in Love Came Down: Anglican Readings for Advent and Christmas, compiled by Christopher L. Webber (Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 45