Sermon
December 16, 2001
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

rule1.gif (2367 bytes)

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and
blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy
and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of
Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our
God.

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who
are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will
come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf
unstopped;  then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the
speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and
streams in the desert;  the burning sand shall become a pool, and the
thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean
shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not
even fools, shall go astray.  No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous
beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall
walk there.  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion
with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain
joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his
disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to
wait for another?"

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind
receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear,
the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And
blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: "What did
you go out into the wilderness to look at?  A reed shaken by the wind?  What
then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who
wear soft robes are in royal palaces.  What then did you go out to see? A
prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

This is the one about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger
ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.'  Truly I tell you,
among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

rule1.gif (2336 bytes)

Sermon: This Magic Moment

In the weekly Forum on Faith in the Danbury paper, our friend Nigel Mumford
asked the question: Where are you, God?   It's a good question for a
sermon - particularly appropriate in Advent and especially urgent after the
events of this past fall.

Advent is a season that takes it shape in the darkness.  One of the great
advent hymns, which unfortunately is not in our new hymnal, is "Watchman,
Tell Us of the Night."

It is a dialogue between a watchman and a traveler, set in the night, before
the dawn, when the stars are bright.
Watchman, tell us of the night, what its signs of promise are.  Traveler, o'
re yon mountain's height, see that glory beaming star.

The figure of the watchman is taken from one of the most heartfelt prayers
of scripture, Psalm 130, often known by it's opening words in Latin: De
Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my
supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more
than those who watch for the morning.

Advent takes shape in the night, the night of winter and the night the soul
that experiences itself separated from the rightful object of it's love and
devotion, from it's source and destination, that is, separated from God.  As
we also read in the Psalms
Psalm 42 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O
God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and
behold the face of God?

To see the face of God you must come fully into the presence of God, and
repeating Nigel's question we ask: Where are you God, when will we see your
face, when will you be fully present in the world?

Two weeks ago the sermon looked at the expectation of the Rapture - that
time, somewhere in the future, when God would come and bring this world to
its end, evil would be punished, good would be rewarded, and the Saints of
God would be drawn up from the earth to meet their Lord in the middle of the
air.  In the apocalyptic view, that is the moment when God will be fully
present and the prayer to behold the face of God will be finally answered.

This is not to say that God is not present now in the world, for the world
could not exist apart from God, but God is not fully present - not yet.  As
St. Paul put it,
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.

The view that God will be fully present only at a future date, at the end of
time, is a view that gives one answer to the question, "Where is God?"  But
it's not the only answer.  There is also a school of thought that says God
is as present in the here and now as God will ever be in the future.  And if
we cannot see the face of God in there here and now, it is not because God
is waiting in the future, but because we have not opened our eyes to see.

In this view, the dimness in the mirror Paul speaks of is not due to God's
distance, but due to our sin, our distractions, our false expectations, and
our blurred vision.

This school of thought where God is fully present now, which you could call
the mystical view as opposed to the future oriented apocalyptic view, --
this school of thought is well expressed in the hymn: Spirit of God, Descend
Upon My Heart, which has this verse:
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies, no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies, but take the dimness of my soul away.

In this school of thought there is no special opportunity that will come to
us in a future moment that is not present in this magic moment, in the
eternal now where we are alive.

There are many distractions that keep us from being aware of the presence of
God fully in this magic moment, and let me name just two: worry about the
past and anxiety about the future.  Jesus addresses both these with
directness and clarity.

Concerning worry about the past, Jesus recommends to us repentance and
forgiveness.  Do you remember what he said to the woman caught in adultery
after he saved her from death by stoning and shamed the crowd into leaving -
Woman, where are those who accuse you?  Has no one condemned you? Neither do
I condemn you: go, and sin no more.

Concerning anxiety about the future, Jesus recommends that we observe the
world and learn to trust in God.
Matthew 6:25  "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you
will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of
these. indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But
strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these
things will be given to you as well.

Strive for the Kingdom of God, Jesus says.  In the mystical view this means:
Strive to be aware of God's presence right now and don't ignore it - respond
to it, be open to it, don't miss it for:
Psalm 118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be
glad in it.

There are many expressions of this mystical view in poetry, prayer, and
song -- really this is a subject too big for one sermon.  But let me end
today with a Christmas letter written by Giovanni Giocondo, an architect and
engineer who lived at the time of Christopher Columbus.  Giovanni entered
the Dominican Order but later became a Franciscan, which seems more suited
to the mystical vision he offers in this now famous advice for the season of
celebrating the birth of our Lord.  Even if you've heard it before, I urge
you to listen eagerly to its invitation to behold the face of God fully in
this magic moment.

I am your friend and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give
you which you have not got, but there is much, very much that, while I
cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little
instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is
joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see - and to
see we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by the covering, cast
them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering and you will find
beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's
hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing
presence. Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too,
conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty - beneath its
covering - that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the
knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown
country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you now and forever,
the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.
Amen.
Return to Homepage