Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 13, 2020
The Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
Is Your Heart Ready

Make you straight, what long was crooked. Make the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble as befits Christ’s holy rain.
May I speak in the name of God the father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.

After receiving the first publicly administered dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Margaret Keenan’s name quickly circled the globe and no doubt our children will read about her in med school textbooks and her name will be a trivia for years to come. What’s amazing about her story, of course, isn’t that she was the first woman from the UK to receive the vaccine, but that the vaccine had been developed at all, let alone in less than one year.

What began with the genius of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, owners and scientists behind the BioNTech, included over 500 scientists whom they assigned to study and explore MRNA based viral vaccines. Over 43,000 ordinary women and men who volunteered for the vaccine trials, teams of independent scientists who reviewed the reams of data that have emerged and the scores of medical councils that have now recommended and approved the vaccine for trial use. And that’s not to mention the teachers funders and administrative support that have worked behind the scene to prepare, support and coordinate all of the participants through the years.

What took one nurse a matter of seconds to inject, took thousands upon thousands of people to create, test approve and distribute. The story of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the story of one singular recipient or even one singular scientist. Rather it is the story of human society at its very best, a community of independent and seemingly unconnected people working together to bring life to a stranger. And yet, the Pfizer BioNTech story isn’t alone. A similar story may be told about the Moderna vaccine we expect to be released in the coming days.

And of those by Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca in with the University of Oxford, Novavax, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck in collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Each of which has their own vaccine under development and trial still today. Thousands and thousands of individuals now in multiples working together across the globe for one primary cause, the health of others. In and of itself, this is a great story that so many people could be mobilized for such good is remarkable, especially given the great divisions that our society is grappling with today.

But it is also something more, an echo of sorts of the gospel lesson we’ve heard today, and a reminder of the remarkable work of God in the world. It’s easy and I’m to blame for this, no doubt. It’s easy to turn all of our advent attention to Christmas. That is to turn all of our attention during advent to what we await on Christmas. I’ve done my fair share of preaching about preparing ourselves, pushing away the distraction of shopping and the anxiety of decorating in order that we might remember that God is ever breaking into the darkness of our lives.

And yet advent preparation, I suspect, is more than just preparing for Jesus. It is more, shall I say, than preparing to be the next Maggie Keenan waiting for salvation to jab us in the arm. Advent preparation is also about preparing to join Jesus, preparing to join in the works of God. That’s a bit of what I think we see here in this story, this gospel story that we’ve heard this morning. In fact, in our Friday lunch, our study of the gospel, someone asked why was it that Jesus waited so long to begin as ministry? We ought to remember Jesus is somewhere 27 to 30-years-old when he comes to the water side of the Jordan to be baptized by John.

And it’s from there that he has catapulted into his teaching and healing ministry of his adult life. So, someone naturally asked, well, why is it that Jesus waited so long to begin his ministry? I’ll confess, I’ve always looked at that question from the vantage of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was still preparing himself for the work and teaching that he would bring to the world. But Barbara Nichols was the insightful who said, well, perhaps Jesus was waiting for John. Now, we’ll never know exactly why Jesus began his ministry at the time and age that he did, but Barbara was still on to something.

You see, while creation was God’s work alone, care for creation, what we might even call salvation. In some real way, that is care for one another, ensuring the health and equity and security of others and of the created world. That work has always been our work in union with God. It was, if you recall, to the first man and the first woman that God gave stewardship of creation, and it was to Abraham and Sarah whom God charged with building up a people of God. It was Moses, Aaron and Miriam that God sent to Egypt to free God’s people.

It was David, a ruddy shepherd from the tribe of Benjamin, whom God called to lead these people. It was Isaiah whom God inspired to stand up to the abuses of the monarchy. And it was John dressed in camel hair, standing at the riverside, whom God sent into the wilderness to proclaim the coming of a new kingdom. Each in their own way joined in the work of God. It’s tempting, a bit relieving even, to think that God works alone. That is if we just pray hard enough or faithfully enough that God will swoop in and fix the situation, but that’s never been the way of God.

Instead, God is always working with and through us. So during these last weeks of advent, let’s worry less about how we will receive Jesus and more about preparing ourselves to join in the work of God. Take stock of your role in the work of God. What is your role in creating a world in which all people are healthy, safe, and secure? Not just in your home, but in our community, the community of Grosse Pointe, the community, even more of Metro Detroit. What is your role? What is our role in ensuring that all people are healthy, safe, and secure?

Similar, what is your role? What is yours to do to ensure that all people are respected and honored in and for themselves? What must we do a community of faith within our community of Grosse Pointe and again within the greater community of Metro Detroit to ensure that all people are respected and honored for the dignity that they bear within themselves? And finally ask yourself, we must ask ourselves as a community, is our heart ready to do this work? Friends, advent is all about preparation. Maybe it’s just time we looked to preparing ourselves to do our part.