Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 3, 2017
The 1st Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Keep Watch

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

According to legend, or at least according to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the sworn brothers of the Nights Watch have stood their post along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms for over 8,000 years.  Giving up family, these men of the Night Watch foreswear marriage and their birthrights to keep watch along the towering wall of ice that protects the seven kingdom from the untamed lands of the north and all that they contain.  By day and night, for centuries upon centuries, these men have stood guard, watching and waiting, for they know not the hour when the time will come.

Films, of course, are replete with the image of the night watch.  On a much smaller scale, there is Samwise Gamgee, struggling to stay away as his beloved Frodo restlessly sleeps under the shadow of Mount Doom and as Smeagol lurks.

While I hope none of us has had to keep such suspenseful and terrifying watch as they, such scenes such scenes are not, sadly, limited to film.  While CNN and MSNBC would have us keep watch of their daily ticker and news feed with the vigilance of a the brothers of the nights watch or Samwise Gamgee, the daily movements of the stock market or twitter feed of our politicians pales in comparison to the things that truly keep us up at night.

  • A mother watching over a sick child
  • A father worried about paying the bills and keeping a job
  • Parents or partners despairing at 3 am as a life of a loved one spirals into ruin through drinking or drugs
  • A couple heartbroken as a marriage falls apart
  • A son and daughter beside the bed of a dying parent

These are the White Walkers and Gollums that keep us up through the night; these are the very real terrors that haunts us by night.

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

Frightful as the night is, terror is not what we await.  Even as the darkness grows deeper over the coming days and the nights grow colder, even as the stories around us – the real stories of looming war and increasing terror – grow more threatening, we keep a different watch.  We watch not for the flaming arrow that will pierce our hearts and rend our lives, nor the gathering clouds that precede a devastating storm, but the light of a new dawn and a new day that will shatter whatever darkness looms along path.  The watch we keep is one that looks for hope on the horizon – the first signs of spring bursting from the soil and the first pangs of labor, signs that new life is being born even in the midst of our darkness and fear. 

We are not, however, simple bystanders, watchers in the night, if you will, charged only with spotting the changing seasons.  We keep watch, each in our own homes and workplaces and lives, not only to see the good that God is creating and causing to emerge, in order to see and to help! 

We keep vigilant watch, like an attentive midwife or passionate gardener, in order to lend our hands to the process of new birth.  We are there not only witness God’s hand at work, but to lend ours as well.  The rolls to play, of course, are many. 

  • For starters we must learn the story!  The night is a dark and often terrifying place filled with ghouls and gobblins.  We must learn the story so that we might see it even in the darkness of our lives.  We do this through study and reflection on God’s eternal story, especially the story of God’s life incarnate, Jesus – learning to see what he saw, so that we may see God’s creation emerging in and through our world.
  • We are also called to tell the story!  In the dead of night, as darkness and cold seem to overtake our hearts and the world about us, we re-tell the story of goodness and life that sprang forth from the darkness.  We retell it among ourselves in order to rekindle our hope – but we must also tell it to others, to help them see and fortify their hearts with the very same hope we know and see emerging about us.  The night is dark and full of terrors; we must be light of hope for others.
  • We tend the light, as well.  Anyone who has worked with wax candles our old oil lamps, knows that they require attention.  They take trimming and reshaping in order that they not only may burn, but burn well.  We must do the same within ourselves – we make ready our homes and our lives, and even the world about us, by softening our own hearts and practicing kindness and mercy so that good may more readily emerge through our own lives.  We do this through prayer and confession, softening our hearts for God and our neighbor, readying our hearts to offer mercy wherever and whenever mercy is required.

Friends, for nearly two thousand years, Christians like you and me have kept watch for God’s kingdom which is ever emerging.  It is our turn now.  “Beware, keep alert” for the beauty of God’s kingdom is near at hand and we must be ready to help.

So let us hear again the words with which we began our service:

Jesus said, “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Lord, help us to be ready to serve you, to follow you, and to know you, so our lives will reflect your love.