A sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2022
The Rev. Mark Nabors, Vicar
Readings: Matthew 3:1-12
“Advent begins in the dark,” so says one of my favorite present day theologians, Fleming Rutledge. Advent begins in the darkness of the world, the darkness of the human soul, the darkness of sin and evil and death. She continues, “Advent is not [only] about the first coming of Jesus, it is about the second coming. It is about the final breaking in of God upon our darkness. It is about the promise that against all evidence, there is a God who cares. Where is God? Until he comes again, he is hidden among us.”
I love the end of that quote: Christ is hidden among us, even in our present darkness. Christ is hidden among us, even as the world seems to spin out of control. Christ is hidden among us, even as our lives are beset by pain, by sorrow, by grief, by evil, by sin, by death. As John the Baptist tells us today, “the Kingdom of heaven has come near,” even into our very midst. Repent and believe the Good News. In Advent, then, we ask God to help us see in the dark so we may see that kingdom among us now. We ask God to help us discern Christ’s presence, even now among us, in the middle of our world today. When God trains us to see Christ among us now, rest assured we are also being prepared to see Christ on the Last Day.
Where can we look, then, to see Christ among us? If we allow God to help us, we will be able to see Christ coming to us, even now, in the Holy Sacrament, in the face of our neighbor, and in our own hearts. Today, let’s focus on how Christ comes to us, week by week, in the Holy Eucharist, in the mystical Body and Blood of Christ in simple bread and wine of Earth, given and given and given again, but truly beheld only through the eyes of faith. Do we have eyes to see him?
The question, what is the Holy Eucharist?, has divided Christians for centuries. I’m not going to get into what other Christians say. Come see me in my office for that. But here is what we say:
The Holy Eucharist is bread and wine. It never ceases to be bread and wine. But in the eucharistic prayer that we pray together, Christ enters the picture. This simple bread and wine, creatures of earth and of human hands, become infused with the literal presence of Jesus Christ. It is not a metaphor. It is Jesus.
But it would be easy to miss him there, would it not? We don’t suppose that the King of Heaven would give us the time of day, much less place himself in a humble wafer and cheap wine. But he does, because he promised he would. It’s as simple as that. We don’t have to explain how it happens. It’s foolish for mere mortals to do that. But we confess it nonetheless: Christ is present on this altar at the Holy Eucharist, in simple bread and wine. Christ is present at our very fingertips.
If we are able to discern his presence in bread and wine, transformation happens in our souls. We are made mindful of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are connected all the more to our gracious God, brought closer to the Divine Heart of Love, sanctified a little more by the Holy Spirit. We are strengthened for God’s service in the world, to be lights shining in the darkness.
In a moment you will hear me say some different words while I am distributing Communion. They are words that Queen Elizabeth I instructed her clergy to say in 1559. They continue to be the words of distribution in rite I: “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving.”
That’s what is happening here. Christ, hidden among us, visits us in humble bread and wine. He gives us himself in simple bread and wine, creatures of earth. Why? To preserve our bodies and souls to everlasting life. To allow us to feed on his graces, his goodness, his love for us. In receiving our Lord in bread and wine, we are spiritually transported to heaven itself, where one day we will feast with saints and angels in the kingdom where sorrow and pain and suffering and darkness are no more, world without end.
The Kingdom of Heaven has come near. Christ has come near. He’s put himself on offer for us, hidden among us, veiled yet fully accessible, at our very fingertips, on this very altar. Do we have eyes of faith to see him there?
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