Sermon Archives

Sunday, November 27, 2016
The 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Letting Go For Something New

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

It’s amazing how much we put up and take on for Christmas. 

Already houses are being remade into winter wonderlands.  Lights are up all across town, inflatable snowmen are appearing before the first snowfall, trees are going up, and wreathes are being hung even now.  It’s not only visible signs that are changing, of course – the music around town and in our homes has changed as well, even our greetings are changing . . . happy holidays and merry Christmas will soon re-appear. 

Our calendars are changing, too.  Dinners out are morphing into Christmas parties and household errands are quickly becoming excursions to the mall in search of new bobble to place on or under the tree.

In so many ways, as Advent sets in, we turn our homes and our lives over to and for Christmas – place mats and door mats, napkins and towels, ties and sweaters, music and lights and cheer.  And behind it all, we give voice to a most profound hope – that all the darkness and all that cold, will be held in check if not pushed back in some meaningful way.  And so we string lights and light fires, to do our part to keep darkness and cold at bay.

But here’s the thing, the work isn’t only about putting up and taking on . . .  before everything goes up, quiet a lot must first come down.  Before the Christmas wreath can be hung, that beautiful wreath of fall leaves must be taken off the door and put away.  So, too, for the Thanksgiving place table setting and décor – ceramic turkeys and pilgrims must be boxed back up before reindeer or angels can find a place on the shelf.

Every year, as Christmas approaches . . . . (does it feel to you as it does to me, that, each year it seems to be come faster and sooner than ever before?) . . .

Every year, as Christmas approaches, we go through a quiet ritual of letting go.  As we rearrange our furniture and, even our lives, to make room for Christmas.  Over the coming days and weeks, we will quietly put away most the signs of fall . . . Halloween and Thanksgiving, joyous and fun as they are and were, are put away as we make room for a something new.

Of course, this annual ritual of communal decoration reflects something natural about our lives – every year, let alone every generation, we are changing.  We are, as we all know, though we may begrudgingly admit, we are changing – not only we, within these walls, but we in all of its implications – we, individually, we at home, we in the broad community of Grosse Pointe and metro-Detroit, and, of course, we nationally and even globally . . .  WE are changing – who we are today is not who we were last month, let alone last year, or at any point in history – who we are today is something entirely new and unseen before, and part of welcoming the new thing being created among us requires putting away things we have long held dear.  We must let go of Halloween, no matter how much we enjoy the frivolity and play of our costumes and kids, for Thanksgiving, which must also give way (no matter how relish the simplicity and profound joy of dear friends and loved ones around the table enjoying a warm and filling meal); no matter how much we enjoy it, Thanksgiving must give way to Christmas . . . and even Christmas will give way to the new year and to a new spring.

One of the most important learnings of our lives may simply be, how to let go.

This is equally true of our faith. 

As we begin our Advent procession, we hear again the remarkable vision of Isaiah – a vision of remarkable beauty and hope – a vision not only for the ancient world of Palestine, but a vision of hope still for us today – a vision in which the many peoples of the earth would “beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks” and the diverse nations of the world would “not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

With these words, first spoken nearly three thousand years ago, we hear again a hope and a possibility for our society and for our world, a hope and a possibility nearly as ancient as human society, yet still to be realized, still to be made real in its fullness, and so what is ancient remains equally new for us and every generation.

The realization of this new hope, however, will take something more than simply donning a new political infrastructure or way of relating with one another. 

It will require, even more, the ability to let go to many things we hold dear. 

For one, it will require letting go of our some of our greatest hopes.  Whether it is of us as a nation, or of us individually, we American’s inevitably strive for – hope for – greatness.  We speak almost incessantly of being the most powerful and wealthiest nation not only of the world, but in history.  And it is true, we have more political, militaristic, and economic power than any nation before us – yet, that is not the vision Isaiah casts.  And so, we will have to let something go.

So, too, of our reliance on power and might.  Since the dawn of time, human societies have relied on the use of force to maintain identity and to fulfill their aspirations.  So, too, of the remarkable individualism of modern society, the persistent self-reliance that unceasingly sets one against another. 

This is not the vision that Isaiah places before us today.  Isaiah’s is a vision in which the unique individuality of people and nation is expressed and maintained through our unique contributions to one another, not our power over one another.  And so, we will have to let something go.

It should come as no surprise then that both Saint Luke and Saint Matthew make quite big deal of letting go.  For the past several weeks, we have heard stories of change coming to Israel – of temple stones being overturned even.  And today, as we return to the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we are starkly reminded of the story of Noah, a dramatic story of God making way for something new to break forth into the world. 

Every year, as prepare for the arrival of Christmas, we naturally begin by letting go.  But the hope for which we long is not merely the arrival of Santa and a pile of new toys beneath a tree and candy stuffed stockings.  No, the hope of Christ is for more than a world filled with more stuff.  The hope we proclaim is for a transformed world filled with more peace and good will.

This hope will take more than simply rearranging our furniture and our calendars.  It will take more than simply letting go of our old decorations. 

A new hope lies before us.  Are we willing to let go of our old ways to make room for something new?