Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on December 11, 2005
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Last Sunday at St Paul's Cathedral
Sermon preached by
The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker
December 11, 2005
It has been so many years since I was a college student that I remember precious little about those carefree days. Yet strangely, some experiences have remained in my memory box. One was how I eagerly awaited the approach of Amnesty Day at the college library. Amnesty Day was the one day each year when overdue books could be returned without question and, more importantly for a poor college student like me, without fine ! Amnesty Day was a great absolving occasion. Whenever I had an assignment,I would take out from the library lots and lots of books for reference, and when I was finished with them, I'd leave them piled up untidily in the corner of my room. I usually ignored the overdue notices sent to me, but not without some feelings of guilt about my waywardness. The library amnesty days liberated everyone; librarians were freed from their cold stares and nasty notes, wayward students like me were freed from guilty consciences and huge fines, and books were freed to do what they were supposed to do, be loaned out.
When the prophet Isaiah speaks of proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour, he's talking about a similar thing to amnesty. In the ancient Jewish calendar there was a built-in amnesty year every 49 years, that was called the year of Jubilee. On the eagerly awaited 5oth year, announced by a great blast on a ram's horn, major things come be done. Slaves could be emancipated, and debts that had been incurred could be forgiven. Isaiah in today's reading broadens the scope of the Jubilee year by including in it both psychological and political emancipation. It's a great reading for this third Sunday of Advent because along with the two other readings it affirms human freedom and authentic hope.
Isaiah's hope had to do with very human concerns; concerns for people with broken hearts and grieving lives. He speaks good news to the oppressed and the imprisoned, not only the politically oppressed and imprisoned, but the psychologically, the emotionally and the spiritually oppressed and imprisoned as well. When Jesus preached his sermon in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry, he quoted this passage and announced that Isaiah's prophecy was being fulfilled in him. What's more, he said the prisons and afflictions we encounter are within ourselves, and he had come to free us of them.
The Advent message is, Jesus is the liberator. He liberates you to be who you are created to be. Jesus grants you amnesty. You can put behind your guilty conscience, your fear of living, your captive self, as you cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
The reading from Thessalonians gives us the reason why we can accept our freedom, why we can have hope. Paul affirms that God can be trusted ! I wonder how much of our hesitation to live as liberated people comes from a basic unwillingness to believe that God can be trusted. We sometimes act as if we could probably do a better job of being God than God does. Paul says, stop trying to be God, be yourself.
John the evangelist in the Gospel reading sketches a great portrait of John the Baptist, one of the heroes of Advent. What is striking about John the Baptist is his self effacing nature. Although he attracted quite a following, he didn't get carried away with his popularity. He stepped aside ant pointed to another - to Jesus.
Liberation comes when we realize that the world doesn't revolve around us. Hope is born when we recognize that we are not the ones in control. These dark days of December are ones when feelings of hopelessness can swamp us like a wave. Things seem so intense. There's something about the shortness of days, the chill of the air, the fatigue of the body, that can make the heart ache. There are feelings of depression about oneself, and about one's station in life, feelings of anxiety about relationships, and fear about the future.
In these dark December days we need to hear those words by our Advent teachers of liberation and hope. To the depressed spirit they say, "You are forgiven and you are free. Nothing is held against you. You have amnesty. There's an open future waiting for you." To the tired they say "Wake up. Hear the sound of the ram's horn and know that the day of God is here." To the cynic they say, "God can be trusted," To the proud they say, "God id the ultimate one, not you.".
Now let me stretch this theme of amnesty to embrace St.Paul's Cathedral. These past "In the meantime" months have been like a prolonged amnesty for you. Here are some of the lessons you have been taught by today's teachers through the scriptures we have read. I urge you to heed them.
Isaiah says to St.Paul's, don't fret over the past, nor be slaves to it. Honour the lessons of the past, but free yourselves from its errors and look with hope to the future.
The Apostle Paul, your patron , urges you to trust in God. Go beyond a sole dependency on your own human resources, no matter how gifted you are. Don't rely solely on DeLiza Spangler for your future. Risk a whole lot on your own, and trust in God to direct you.
And be like John the Baptist. What you are called upon to build here in this place is not a monument to yourselves, but a Christian Community which proclaims by word and deed, and by your acceptance of each other, warts and all, - which proclaims to all humankind that this is the Day of the Lord .
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
Amen and Amen.
2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York